Aaron David Miller, the longtime U.S. peace processor who now hangs his hat at the Wilson Center, thinks he knows what's wrong with the Obama administration's faltering Middle East efforts: a lack of “adult supervision.”
The problem, he writes in Foreign Policy, is this: “when it comes to conducting the affairs of the country abroad, particularly toward the seemingly endless, seemingly intractable Arab-Israeli peace process, one historically proven bureaucratic model trumps all others: the willful president empowering the strong secretary of state who, in turn, runs everything. We don't have that structure now. And although what ails the United States in the Middle East certainly won't be fixed by rearranging the ship of state's deck chairs, it wouldn't hurt, might avoid needless failures, and may even set the stage for some success.”
The combination of domestic politics, the overheated passions endemic to the Middle East conflict and the perpetual wild cards of terrorism and violence demands a “focused organizational approach to avoid drift and confusion, let alone to produce success.”
And guess what: that's missing in the Obama administration, which helps explain a series of missteps that has left the Israeli-Palestinian peace process on life support.
Miller identifies “at least four” current power centers on the issue – the President and his political advisers, special envoy George Mitchell, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the National Security Council, a messy, confusing hierarchy that “hasn't served the United States well..
His answer: “Somebody -- the secretary of state -- has to take charge. And there's no doubt she is capable of doing it.”
I like his answer – which is based on years of hard-won experience and not a few failures in Middle East peacemaking. From the outset, Clinton has always struck me as the smartest player on the Obama team, the one with the best ability to cut through the crap. She's knowledgeable about the conflict, she understands Israel's special concerns, she gets along well with most of the Jewish community and her stature around the world is unparalleled.
If Obama is serious about making progress in the Middle East, maybe it's time to unleash his secretary of state.
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