Fares Lecture

Clinton says U.S. has rare chance to change Mideast dynamic

At this pivotal moment in history, the United States needs to become “re-engaged” in the Middle East peace process, U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton told a large and enthusiastic Tufts audience on November 10.

U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton © Mark Morelli

“We are at a crossroads,” said Clinton, D-N.Y. “Although the United States cannot ordain the outcome, we cannot, must not, turn our backs. We must become re-engaged again for a peaceful resolution of these problems…our futures are intertwined.”

Clinton delivered the 2004 Issam M. Fares Lecture at the Gantcher Family Sports and Convocation Center on the Medford/Somerville campus to a near-capacity crowd of 5,100 that responded often to her comments with sustained applause.

In her address, “Policy Challenges in the Eastern Mediterranean after the Presidential Election,” Clinton urged the Bush administration to take a more active role in trying to negotiate a peace settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians, particularly in light of the expected change in Palestinian leadership. (Longtime Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat died in Paris just hours after Clinton’s lecture concluded.)

She also addressed the challenges the United States faces in Iraq; the nuclear threat posed by Iran; the importance of membership for Turkey in the European Union; America’s longstanding commitment to Israel; and the pressing need for women’s rights throughout the Middle East.

‘Change in emphasis’
Clinton began her talk by acknowledging that “I wish I were here to speak about the prospects of President Kerry” rather than offering advice for the returning President George W. Bush. In his second term, she said, Bush will have a chance for a “fresh start,” both in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to the war in Iraq.

“I hope there will be changes in direction and emphasis,” Clinton said. “I hope now that the election has concluded…that we get to have a serious conversation” about these foreign policy issues. “And I hope we’re guided by reality and evidence, not ideology and partisanship. I hope we will have a policy that will further the interests of our own nation as well as [of] the region that means so much to our future. It can be done. Now may be the moment to try again.”

Clinton cited three “broad general principles” to guide the United States in Middle Eastern affairs: that America continue to support the “security and freedom” of Israel; that the “dream of democracy and human rights” belongs to people all over the Middle East (“On this issue, President Bush and I see eye to eye,” she said); and that women in the region deserve legal rights. “It’s hard to imagine that progress can either be maintained or sustained [in the region] if there is unwillingness or resistance to including half the population,” she said.

At the moment, the most significant change in the Middle East landscape is the shift in leadership following the death of Arafat, who headed the Palestine Liberation Organization, and later, the Palestinian Authority, for more than 30 years and had become the face of Palestinian nationalism.

Calling the situation “a rare opportunity to change the dynamic,” Clinton said that Arafat had failed to take the necessary steps toward peace. “Yasir Arafat could not lead his people into a new and more hopeful future,” she said. “Now, the Palestinian people have the chance to do that for themselves. It’s an opportunity to break the cycle of violence and engage in meaningful dialogue.

“In order for that to happen, America should be engaged…the president should become engaged,” she said. “When people talk, there is some measure of hope; the outcome can be better, and fewer people die. I hope that President Bush puts that at the forefront of American policy again.”

‘A real threat’
Also in the headlines as Clinton presented her speech was the battle for Fallujah. At this point, Clinton said, regardless of the reasons the United States entered Iraq or how the war has been executed thus far, “we’re in for the long haul,” and we owe it to the U.S. troops fighting in Iraq as well as to so many other people in that part of the world to be successful in defeating the insurgents and securing stability. And, she said, “it’s still important to bring in more support from around the world and from that particular region.

“No nation is safe if Iraq descends into chaos,” she said. “We have a second-term president with, in his words, a lot of political capital. I hope he would use it.”

Another threat to U.S. security lies in Iran, Clinton said. “This time, the weapons of mass destruction threat is very real,” she said. “A nuclear-armed Iran would shake the ground of global security like a 7.0 earthquake.”

The United States, she said, should be more supportive toward efforts by the Europeans to talk to the Iranians. “I have yet to understand the administration’s attitude toward regimes like North Korea and Iran,” she said, reminding the audience that throughout the Cold War, U.S. leaders continued to talk with the Soviets. “It’s time for the administration to be more engaged in dealing with the Iranians…I see no other realistic, short-term alternative.”

The lecture series is supported by an endowment from the Fares Foundation and was conceived by Fares I. Fares, A93, a trustee and member of Tufts’ International Board of Overseers and the Board of Overseers for Arts & Sciences, who continues to be active on the lecture committee. It is named in honor of Fares’ father, Issam M. Fares, the deputy prime minister of Lebanon and a trustee emeritus of the university.