For more on this, see these great Politico pieces by Laura Rozen and Ben Smith. Laura, who’s been traveling with Clinton abroad, reports that the secretary of state has been walking back her Netanyahu presser:
“Israel has done a few things but needs to do much more,” Clinton said, adding that the Obama administration’s position is that it does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlment activity. But she also said Israel has put some limitations on itself, which if acted upon would be “unprecedented.”
To keep this straight: Clinton leaned harder on Israel than the administration intended, infuriating the Israelis while putting the Palestinians far out on a limb. Then she sawed off the limb.
The early questions about her role in Middle East politics — would she be as hawkishly pro-Israel as she was in the Senate — haven’t really been answered, and her actual views remain unclear. But in this most delicate, closely parsed of diplomatic arenas, her inexperience as a diplomat, and her tendency toward incautious statements (disguised by a campaign image of “competence”) has really turned into a liability for the administration.
I think that’s kind of harsh, and overlooks the role that administration policy plays in this stuff. Clinton is not a freelancer. Laura quotes a perceptive administration-watcher:
While saying he is a friend and admirer of the Obama foreign policy team, the source said, “I think [they are] in over their head and there is no strong, capable person navigating this ship. It all seems unprofessional, a policy drifting in different directions. Thus projecting weakness to a savvy and cynical region that studies and looks for signs of strength and weakness. Very dangerous and full of implications for Iran and Af-Pak policy.”
In other words: don’t think things are so bad. In a few months, they’ll be much worse!