For Clinton, Fewer Crowds in Mideast than Far East
By Glenn Kessler
BRUSSELS, March 5--Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has tried to make public outreach an important part of her busy diplomatic schedule, hoping to get outside the grand halls and meeting rooms of foreign governments and actually talk to ordinary people.
But on this Mideast trip, her outreach campaign has not been nearly as successful as her boffo Asian tour last month. There, the former first lady and New York senator spoke to crowds huge (more than 2,000 students at a women's university in Seoul) and small (an intimate gathering of women activists in China.) Clinton's overseas appeal was readily apparent, and she garnered impressive news coverage.
Not so on this trip. In Israel, Clinton met with a handful of women entrepreneurs and representatives of a nongovernmental organization, but it was an awkward event and Clinton was clearly tired. And since the event was unconnected to the administration's peace efforts, which is what reporters in the Mideast focus on, it generated no news coverage.
In the Palestinian territories, Clinton visited a student program supported by U.S. funds. About 15 students sat around in a circle working on a vocabulary lesson having to do with astronaut Sally Ride. Clinton mentioned that she had once wanted to be an astronaut as a child (a favorite line of hers--she said it twice in Asia.)
After the lesson, the students asked questions, mostly personal stuff about balancing family and work. Only one boy, named Rafiq, brought up political issues--How would the United States help reconstruct Gaza after the war?
Again, not much news coverage was generated by the event--perhaps because it broke little new ground after similar and more widely covered interactions during the Asia jaunt. Maybe scoring news coverage is not the point, but it's unclear what Clinton learns by meeting with student groups that mostly ask her questions related to her celebrity.
The secretary might have gained more useful information, for example, by meeting with representatives of Palestinian nongovernmental groups. They could have described their struggles under Israeli occupation and the efforts to build a less corrupt government structure in the Palestinian territories.
Such groups did meet with Clinton's predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, during her visits to the region. Rice apparently wanted to get beyond the predictable talking points of the Palestinian officials. Her meetings with NGOs were not publicized, however.
By Washington Post Editor |
March 5, 2009; 6:25 AM ET
Clinton in Mideast, March 2009
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