Dodging Tomatoes and Dissent

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to newly democratic Egypt was met by some protesters throwing tomatoes, but her stop in Israel, which included no overt signs of dissension, may have had more turmoil just below the surface, writes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

There is nothing new, of course, in disconnects between a polite veneer of international diplomacy and significant conflicts of interest between governments. Nor is there anything new in a lack of correlation between happenings on the surface and the extent to which an underlying relationship is cooperative or conflictual.

But on Secretary of State Clinton’s just-completed Middle East trip, the lack of correlation was especially marked.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meeting with Israel's right-wing Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in Jerusalem on July 16, 2012. (Photo credit: Department of State)

In Egypt, the secretary’s motorcade was pelted with shoes and tomatoes. Although it was not entirely clear what the anger encompassed, the protesters evidently were a combination of Christians wary of anyone having dealings with an Islamist government and some die-hard supporters of the deposed Hosni Mubarak. Clinton responded with aplomb, later expressing as her only regret that the protest was a waste of good tomatoes.

Despite anger in the street, current bilateral frictions between the United States and Egypt do not extend much beyond consequences of the Egyptians’ sharp differences among themselves, making it difficult for any outsider to do business with any one Egyptian element without offending other Egyptians.

There is much commonality of interest between the United States and each of the major Egyptian political elements. President Mohamed Morsi is the product of a free electoral process that was missing from Egypt for decades and that the United States has rightly endorsed and supported.

The military brass, although currently standing in the way of a fully representative democracy, nonetheless stand for other things also important to the United States, including domestic stability and a continued strong U.S.-Egyptian security relationship.

By contrast, when Secretary Clinton was in Israel there were no flying tomatoes or shoes. Also by contrast, the decorum and friendship on the surface masked severe problems in the relationship and serious conflicts of interest.

At the center of the problems, partly because of the pervasive effect on U.S. relations and standing through the region, is the Israeli retention and colonization of occupied territory seized in war.

Regarding democratization in nearby Arab states such as Egypt, Israel has views different from those of the United States, for reasons unique to Israel and that Israel has largely brought on itself through its handling of the Palestinian issue. Israel also is the source of another major regional problem for the United States, turning a long-term issue of Iran’s nuclear activities into a preoccupying crisis by threatening to start a war.

The current Israeli government occasionally has let the conflicts of interest surface in ways that have tested the patience of U.S. leaders and their ability to maintain the decorum. When the Israeli prime minister visited Washington, he presented the spectacle of lecturing the President of the United States at a White House photo op.

When the Vice President of the United States visited Israel, he was insulted by having the Israeli government pick that moment to announce its latest expansion of settlements in the occupied territories.

This time, the Netanyahu government pursued the same objective in ways that would not be seen as an open insult. Over the weekend we learned that Netanyahu’s government has quietly agreed to subsidize the construction of more than 500 new Israeli homes in the West Bank, notwithstanding a promise earlier this year to deny such subsidies.

Despite all the conflicts of interest, it has become de rigueur to exude harmony in U.S.-Israeli relations. Much commentary in Washington treats harmony in this relationship as if it were an end in itself, which it isn’t.

Amid a U.S. election campaign the exuding is all the more de rigueur. Secretary Clinton’s trip to Israel will be followed in a couple of weeks with a visit there by Mitt Romney, and there will be much gauging of whose visit was friendlier.

During the past three-and-a-half years, Hillary Clinton has thrown herself into the job of secretary of state with much energy and dedication. She has well earned a rest, if she wants one, when she leaves the position. She probably especially will welcome no longer needing to bite her diplomatic tongue when the surface of international diplomacy is sharply at odds with the underlying reality.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

7 comments for “Dodging Tomatoes and Dissent

  1. F. G. Sanford
    July 19, 2012 at 09:06

    Didn’t our Congress just approve a nine billion dollar aid package to Israel? And they couldn’t afford even one lousy tomato? That’s gratitude for you.

  2. Hillary
    July 18, 2012 at 20:06

    “Netanyau” is Not descended from ancient Hebrews.

    He is a Polish Ashkenazi Jew who’s original family name was Mileikowsky who’s Eastern European ancestors converted to Judaism in the middle ages.

    BTW there is little to suggest that Jerusalem, touted by the Bible as David’s capital, was little more than a village during the time of David and of Solomon, and Judah remained little more than a sparsely populated rural region, until the 7th century BCE.

    Careful examination of the archeology of the period shows that the mighty Davinic empire as described in the bible could not have existed. Judah at that time was a backwater. Jerusalem the supposed capital of this mighty empire would have had a population of around 1,500 and was a small hamlet.

    Where are the remains ? Nothing has survied from the period. No examples of the construction of cities and no historical records.

    The Davidic kingdom of the bible is just another myth and or tribal legend.

    • Pastor Ron
      July 18, 2012 at 20:30

      Prophecy of Our Heavenly FATHER is coming together EXACTLY as HE said it would thousands of years ago….All you Kenites be ready.

  3. incontinent reader
    July 18, 2012 at 10:05

    Re: Mme Clinton’s reception amid flying tomatoes and shoes, however it was reported, one could also imagine that it reflected a much broader discontent with U.S. policies in the Middle East, including our role in the overthrow of Iraq, Libya and Syria, our sanctions against Iran, and our alignment with the Likud Occupation policies, and an identification of the U.S. with Mubarak and the Egyptian army. The Egyptian army may be a force for stability, but to the extent it is perceived as corrupting the political process- as it seems to have done with the seating of Parliament- or enforces policies that are otherwise viewed as inimical to the interests of the people, and also, for example, continues to keep closed access from Egypt to Gaza, the tension will remain. I believe there is widespread dissatisfaction in Egypt with the U.S. right now that will only increase, and that Mme Secretary’s public haranguing and threats against the Syrian government, together with our continuing attempts to overthrow that government, and the terrible violence that has been escalating there, have not fallen on deaf ears in Egypt, but instead made her an obvious target.

    It brings back memories of the “Ugly American” and Nixon getting pelted with eggs (and stones) in Venezuela in 1957.

    • rosemerry
      July 19, 2012 at 16:59

      “stability” can just mean no change, because that suits the USA, whose close friends include Saudi Arabia and its GCC democratic partners whose money keeps the US arms industry n billions.

  4. Fibonacci65
    July 18, 2012 at 08:21

    A few days ago, CBC here in Canada reported that the most notable fact of Clinton’s trip was how very little influence the U.S. actually has in the region, that both Israel and the Palestinians said no to any of her suggestions. Now where might that be reported in the States, eh?

    • Frances in California
      July 18, 2012 at 15:38

      Oh, Fib . . . Hil’s only there as a representative of Carlyle Group!

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