Clinton's New Foreign Affairs Team: Good on Bosnia, Bad on Palestine

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Clinton's New Foreign Affairs Team: Good on Bosnia, Bad on Palestine

The good news is that President Bill Clinton has replaced all but one of the top seven players on his first-term foreign policy team. The bad news is that of the six who were pulled out, three are right back in as top players on his second-term foreign policy team.

That's good news for the Muslim-led government of Bosnia. It's bad news for the Palestinians and U.S. relations with every Middle East country but Israel. And it probably presages no change at all in U.S. South Asian policy, since the Clinton administration seemingly had none during its first term.

The only top player still in the same place is Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott. He was Clinton's roommate when both were Rhodes scholars at Oxford. Clinton has great confidence in him and probably would have preferred him as secretary of state. However, Talbott, whose specialty is U.S.-Russian relations, became politically radioactive because of a frank assessment of Israel and the Middle East he wrote as a Time magazine correspondent before Clinton brought him to the State Department.

Because Talbott is anathema to the Israel lobby, he has stayed away from Middle East policy. Instead, Israeli-Arab peace negotiations have been handled during Clinton's first term by Bush administration holdover Dennis Ross, who is Jewish and a former fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a "think tank" spun off by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Israel's principal lobby in Washington, DC.

Other Near Eastern and South Asian matters in the State Department are directed by Assistant Secretaries Robert Pelletreau and Robin Rafael, respectively, both of whom are career foreign service officers. Unfortunately, Pelletreau is leaving and will be replaced by U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, who is Jewish and a former AIPAC official. This probably means the Arab-Israel negotiations, such as they are, will be handed over to him.

Leaving are first-term Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Secretary of Defense William Perry, both of whom wanted to resign, and CIA Director John Deutch, who fell from grace last summer when he said publicly that Iraq's Saddam Hussain had emerged politically strengthened from futile Clinton administration cruise missile attacks on Iraqi air defenses. All three of the departing officials made frequent trips to the Middle East, but Christoper's record of 24 trips, consuming 40 percent of his total travel time, trying to keep the peace process on track, set a record in futility. Sandwiched between a knee-jerk pro-Israel president and Ross, he never had a chance to convince Clinton that there would be no peace in the Middle East in the absence of an even-handed policy that would be as quick to put pressure on Israel as on the Palestinians or Syrians.

Unfortunately, there's no indication that Christopher even tried. And that's the problem with the incoming team. There's nothing in the records of any of the four holdovers to indicate that they will try very hard, either.

As as for newly appointed Secretary of Defense William Cohen, in his 18 years as a Republican senator from Maine he accepted $162,462 in campaign contributions from pro-Israel political action, committees, and earned every bit of it with his votes for foreign aid and on other matters in which the Israel Lobby was interested. On Bosnia, he was one of the Republicans who was most skeptical about sending U.S. ground troops into Bosnia to enforce the cease-fire.

Cohen was born to an Irish Protestant mother and a Jewish agnostic father who worked as a baker. Raised as a Christian, he has followed the independent family tradition by listing his own religion as Unitarian, which is neither specifically Christian nor Jewish. He was divorced in 1987 and in 1996, the same year he announced he would not run again for the Senate, he married an African-American television talk show hostess. …