As the unusual confluence of the Jewish new year, Ramadan and September 11th has come and gone, I've been thinking a lot about the direct talks being pursued right now by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But this post is not about the talks' core issues, as they're called, or about the fact that the talks themselves are happening.
Rather, and perhaps especially because this is BlogHer, I want to focus on Secretary Clinton and the skills and talents she is using, will need and may possess that can help -- or hinder -- efforts to end violence and gain a permanent peace, whatever that ends up looking like, between the Israelis and Palestinians.
At least one article is calling the current negotiations a "second chance" for Clinton, after her husband Bill's efforts to forge a lasting peace agreement in the 1990s failed. Aaron David Miller, who advised numerous U.S. secretaries of states in the past and worked on peace process policy, seems to indicate that Clinton's skill set is very well-suited to getting the job done. From CNN:
[Miller says that] ... Hillary Clinton arguably has at least some of the qualities that America's top diplomat would need to help shepherd successful Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
First, she has a persona, or a star quality: "You need to fill a room up," Miller said. "You need to have the interlocutors not comfortably seated, but perched nervously from their chairs, wondering what they'll ask you to do."
He said she'll also need the president's support, which it appears she has, and an ability to be tough and devious.
"By devious, I don't mean constructing lies, but getting people to do things they don't want to do," Miller said. "I think in toughness and instrumentality, there's no question she has that."
But perhaps most intriguingly, Miller says she's tougher than her husband, former President Bill Clinton:
As for Clinton's influence, when asked about the differences between her diplomatic style and that of her husband, Miller answered: "She's a lot tougher than he was."
"I worked for him, and I have the greatest respect for him. He tried to take on something very hard, but couldn't do it, probably because the Arabs and Israelis weren't ready," Miller said. "They love him, but the reality was you don't want them to love him. You want them to fear him."
Walker said Hillary Clinton's businesslike manner and previous experience might help her.
"I think the people in the region appreciate that she does her homework. They take her seriously, and I think she commands respect," he said.
Based on results from a brand new Public Policy Polling survey, Miller is not the only one impressed:
PPP's new national survey looking at arguably the 5 most significant Democratic figures in the country finds Hillary Clinton as the most popular followed by Michelle Obama, then Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, and Barack Obama.
Hillary Clinton is the most popular among Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike.
Furthermore, in a just-published article, The Glass Cliff: When and Why Women are Selected as Leaders in Crisis Contexts, research supports the strength seen in women, as opposed to men, when critical problems arise and need to be solved. (The glass cliff is defined as, " ... women being more likely to rise to positions of organizational leadership in times of crisis than in times of success, and men being more likely to achieve those positions in prosperous times.") From "Why are Women Chosen to Lead Organisations in a Crisis?":
Real life examples are supported by lab studies in which male and female participants show a bias for selecting female candidates to take charge of fictitious organisations in crisis. Further investigation has ruled out possible explanations for the glass cliff - it's not due to malicious sexism nor to women favouring such roles.
Now a brand new study suggests the phenomenon occurs firstly, because a crisis shifts people's stereotyped view of what makes for an ideal leader, and secondly, because men generally don't fit that stereotype." ... [I]t may not be so important for the glass cliff that women are stereotypically seen as possessing more of the attributes that matter in times of crisis," the researchers wrote, "but rather that men are seen as lacking these attributes ... "
I'm not sure if "chronic crisis" is an oxymoron or not, but if we're going to call the Israeli-Palestinian situation a crisis (and I do think it is, in some sense of that word), I do think we'd have to call it a chronic crisis. And so these findings support the expectation that Clinton can do well, and better than her predecessors.
So if Clinton has strengths that others lacked when approaching the Mideast conundrums, where have they fallen down and how might Clinton avoid that trap?
Aaron David Miller, the foreign policy adviser previously mentioned, reportedly sees the question mark over Clinton's ability to succeed in her Mideast negotiations role as dependent upon whether she can " ... look at life as a chessboard and figure out what the next move is and the next move after that."
Since, really, that's pretty much what is at the root of all diplomatic troubles, then I would say, if Clinton does indeed have the qualitative advantages over previous diplomats, particularly of toughness, then maybe, just maybe, something's coming, something good.
Do you think Clinton can succeed where others have failed? Why or why not?
NB: Although I cannot convincingly say that I come to this topic without baggage (I am Jewish, I lived in Israel for a year, visited there two years ago again, and am on the board of the local chapter of one of the most highly respected Jewish diplomatic organizations, American Jewish Committee), I think having many of the firsthand perspectives that I've had are helpful in assessing the strength of an effort led by Clinton.
Because who can ever tire of this topic (that's a little bit of sarcasm, though I personally do not tire of it!):
Freedom's Challenge, a blog by StacyX that is devoted to "foreign policy & the Secretary of State."
HIllary in Jerusalem slideshow at Still4Hill blog.
Video from today's briefing in Jerusalem with Shimon Peres (who looks the whole 25 years older than he is when I met him in 1985.)
And from our own PunditMom, Joanne Bamberger, "Middle East Peace Talks, Venus & Mars Style"