U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, meets with Tunisia's President Moncef Marzouk at the Presidential Palace in Carthage, Tunisia, Feb. 25, 2012. (Pool,AP Photo/Jason Reed)
Sometimes a secretary of state is asked tough questions. How they are answered shows the underlying philosophy of official and government. I genuinely don't want to make too much out of a single exchange between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a Tunisian audience. Yet the problem is how the approach she took fits into consistent themes of the Obama Administration.
Whatever Clinton tried to do when talking to a group of young Tunisians (video below), it's also important to consider how her audienceinterpreted her statement. Either they thought she was saying that the United States doesn't really support Israel or they thought that she was telling them a transparent lie that made them more suspicious. Or both of the above.
The exchange also fits with Obama's own statement to Russian leaders who wants America to get rid of much of its nuclear arsenal, that elections are a nuisance that will only temporarily interfere with him doing what his government--and his interlocutor, too--wants him to do.
QUESTION: “After the electoral campaign start[ed] in the United States…we noticed here in Tunisia that most of the candidates from the both sides run towards the Zionist lobbies to get their support in the States. And afterwards, once they are elected, they come to show their support for countries like Tunisia and Egypt for a common Tunisian or a common Arab citizen. How would you reassure and gain his trust again once given the fact that you are supporting his enemy as well at the same time?”
This question has several significant factors. First, it assumes, as is typical in Arabic-speaking countries, that the Israel issue is a zero-sum game and that Israel is an enemy. One has to be for one side or the other. Second, it assumes that the United States is really hostile toward the Arabs because it supports Israel, indeed it is hinted that Zionists run America. Third, it suggests that America is lying to the Arabs about this and consequently about much else, too.
What Clinton did, however, was to reinforce all of these problems because, basically, she tried to propitiate her audience by lying to them. And they are not so stupid as to miss the fact that she lied to them. In doing so, she undermined supposed U.S. policy and encouraged the continuation of extremism and conflict in the region.