During her visits to Pakistan and the Middle East, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton managed to deepen the mistrust of Washington instead of improving relations. She also failed to strengthen her standing as top US diplomat.
How did this happen?
Her three days in Pakistan were particularly bruising, which may explain her sharp tone when she told journalists in Lahore on Oct. 30 that she found it “hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they (al Qaeda leaders) are and couldn’t get them if they really wanted to.”
Al Qaeda, she said, “has had a safe haven in Pakistan since 2002” – a blunt reprimand of the Islamabad government.
Before she left, Pakistani security forces announced the discovery of a passport belonging to Said Bahaji, a German national sought by the CIA as one of the plotters of 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US and a member of the “Hamburg Cell” alleged to have laid on the logistics and finances for the attacks.
Pakistani security sources deduced from the passport's dates, that Bahaji had left Hamburg and flew to Pakistan a week before the 2001 attacks on America. He then went to ground in the lawless South Waziristan tribal region. Gen. Khalid Rabbani, commander of the Pakistani army's 9th infantry division, said the passport was recovered with a weapons cache in Sherwangy, one of the region's insurgent strongholds under attack in Islamabad's current military offensive.
Also found there was a passport belonging to Raquel Garcia Burgos, the Spanish wife of a senior al-Qaeda operative, Amer Azizi, who is sought on suspicion of a role in the March 2004 attacks on commuter trains in Madrid and as one of al Qaeda's European leaders. His wife has not been seen by her Madrid family since 2001.
Pakistan counters Obama's distinction between Taliban, al Qaeda
Was the discovery of these documents straight after Clinton's critical remarks fortuitous?
This question may never be answered, but its consequences are clear.
The Obama administration advances the view that al Qaeda and Taliban are separate entities: It is in America's interest to eradicate al Qaeda, but not to defeat Taliban – only weaken the insurgents enough to prevent them providing the jihadists with new bases.
The passport trove supported the Pakistani government's arguments countering this view by demonstrating that Taliban-al Qaeda's operational links predated the 9/11 attacks on America, and were certainly forged before the deadly explosions in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005.
The discovery served two of the Islamabad government's policy objectives, say DEBKA-Net-Weekly intelligence sources:
The first was to validate the Pakistani army's unpopular military campaign against Taliban bastions in South Waziristan. The second was to justify continuing US support on the grounds that Pakistan is not only fighting the Taliban but simultaneously al Qaeda, America's sworn enemy.
This odd dialogue made no contribution to the success of the Clinton mission, any more than her remark about the Islamabad government's failure to find al Qaeda's top dogs.
The Pakistanis made it clear that their intelligence resources were not available for all-out war against al Qaeda's fighting strength, except to throw Washington a bone when it suits them, or arrest an operative after he retired.
The Secretary of State encountered outright hostility when she met Pakistani citizens, who challenged her on U.S. drone attacks on Pakistan’s territory. Asked if she thinks attacks that kill innocent civilians constitute terrorism – “execution without trial,” as one questioner put it – Clinton replied, “No, I do not,” and then refused to discuss the matter further.
Is Clinton sabotaging Obama's policy?
The next lap of Clinton's mission which took her to the Middle East was even more unfortunate.
The Secretary's talks with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Abu Dhabi and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem were billed as a bid to restart peace talks. But she failed to persuade the Palestinian leader to drop preconditions and then, standing beside Netanyahu at a press conference in Jerusalem, she said “What the prime minister has offered in specifics of a restraint on the policy of settlements … is unprecedented.”
This compliment, which conflicted with president Barack Obama's demand for a freeze on Israel's settlement expansion, was also a reminder of how the president backtracked on this demand to the detriment of his standing in Arab capitals. Then, when she traveled to Morocco to meet Arab foreign ministers in Marrakesh, they pounced on her with angry calls for clarifications, a tough demand for American collateral to back its Middle East policy – one never made before – and charges of a pro-Israel tilt.
From Morocco, the secretary of state flew to Cairo for an unscheduled conversation with President Hosni Mubarak, following which Wednesday, Nov. 4, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit endorsed his colleagues' demand: “We want to have guarantees for the Palestinians … that ensure them that these negotiations will not be used to waste time or to accomplish Israeli objectives against them,” he said.
“Egypt also wanted “guarantees of the Palestinians' right to a state.”
Thursday night, Abbas announced he would not run for reelection in the Palestinian elections scheduled for January. According to Palestinian sources, he blamed the Obama administration for failing to live up to its promises to deliver Israeli concessions and Hamas for refusing to let Gazans vote.
Some sources expect Abbas to be persuaded eventually to recant by mollifying US and Israeli gestures, or else the elections will be called off.
In any case, Clinton's visit to the region, far from promoting Obama's Middle East policies, has caused them to unravel still further.
Her motives are the subject of much speculation in Washington.
Was she positioning herself at the head of the opposition to Obama within the Democratic Party now that some critics have begun to be heard?
Was she reacting to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey, whereby 27 percent of voters think Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would be doing a better job as president while 49 percent gave them parity?
Time will tell.