Middle East a major challenge for Hillary Clinton
She has been politically engaged with the Middle East and North Africa for around 25 years, including her time as first lady
Hillary Clinton has begun her bid for the U.S. presidency. Despite the advantage of being internationally known, she is viewed as a polarizing figure. In her 2014 book “Hard Choices,” Clinton distanced herself from how the Obama administration handled the Arab Spring.
She has been politically engaged with the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) for around 25 years, including her time as first lady. She is said to have close ties with some of the region’s ruling families.
“She was criticized for being seen with Suha Arafat, wife of Palestinian former President Yasser Arafat,” said Joyce Karam, Washington bureau editor for Al-Hayat newspaper and a regular columnist for Al Arabiya News. However, her regional relations “could offer a point of strength in leveraging U.S. influence and mediating conflicts.”
The Obama administration has been heavily criticized for its regional policies, which are viewed as having diminished U.S. influence. The current regional situation will be a major challenge for all candidates in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, but more so for Clinton, who spent four years as part of the Obama administration.
On Sunday, she resigned from the board of directors of the Clinton Foundation in order to begin her presidential bid. The foundation is said to have received as much as $40 million from four Gulf states since 2001, as well as donations from other MENA countries. This was while Clinton served as a senator, secretary of state and thereafter.
“Deals that the Clinton Foundation has done will be used by her opponents, but I’m not sure how damaging it’ll be given that the elections will focus more on the U.S. economy and social issues,” Joyce said.
Gulf money flowing to the United States is nothing new, but there are concerns about the amount of money that went to the foundation in comparison to Oxfam, the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations.
BBC Correspondent Kim Ghattas said: “It is a very valid concern [for Americans] when the Gulf gives money to a foundation. There could be conflict of interests there.” However, “the argument that some people would make is that it is better to have Gulf countries engaged than leaving them outside.”
Ghattas had reported on the State Department since 2008 and traveled with Clinton on a regular bases and wrote a book titled "The Secretary- a Journey with Hillary Clinton from Beirut to the Heart of American Power."
Clinton was heavily criticized during her first presidential campaign when she said she would “totally obliterate” Iran if it ever attacked Israel. Recently, she said Tehran had no right to enrich uranium. However, she is said to have laid down the foundational work of the negotiations with Iran by sending a close adviser to participate in the secret talks with Tehran over its nuclear ambitions.
Clinton will need to explain how she will shape U.S. policy toward the Middle East in general, but Israel and Iran in particular. For example, what is her stance on the two-state solution given Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rejection of a Palestinian state?
Also, will she honour the deal with Iran struck by the Obama administration? If so, how will the United States maintain close ties with Arab allies who openly oppose a relationship with Tehran?