Update: Shortly after 12:30 p.m. ET, Egypt and the U.S. announced a cease-fire between Gaza and Israel set to begin at 2 p.m. ET. Read more here.
Hillary Clinton’s final trip abroad with President Obama ended swiftly Tuesday when she was dispatched to Israel, the West Bank, and Egypt with the urgent task of brokering an Israel-Gaza truce. The trip made a fitting conclusion for the woman who for the last four years has unrelentingly risen to the challenges of being secretary of state.
Before she and President Obama flew their separate ways, however, the two were able to wax nostalgic about their partnership and friendship, which has come a long way since the days when Clinton was merely “likable enough” to then-Senator Barack Obama.
“They spent basically the entire flight alone in his personal office on Air Force One just reminiscing about the last four years,” said Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes. “And I think what the president expresses and what he believes is not only has she done a great job as secretary of state, but they’ve really come to become not just partners, but close friends,” he added.
Robin Wright, senior fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Institute, also spoke of the evolving relationship between Clinton and Obama, and how theirs is unlike most partnerships seen in the past between a secretary of state and sitting president.
“They’re very much closer to equals,” said Wright on Hardball Tuesday. “Hillary came in as the far more experienced person when it came to knowing the world…Obama was the ingénue in foreign policy.”
Despite their initial experience gap, Clinton and Obama have grown smoothly into their respective roles, and the president’s decision to send Clinton to the Middle East was by no means a bow to her superior diplomacy skills. Rather, his decision to pursue an emergency peacemaking deal reflects a tougher stance in the region, and a marked shift to a more activist role.
Clinton’s presence serves as a strong signal to Israel that it should pull back its strikes against Gaza militants before the conflict escalates into a ground war, a risky posture to take given the tense relationship between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“The U.S.-Israeli relationship is sort of like a New Orleans levee,” said The Atlantic’s Steven Clemmons on Tuesday’s Hardball. “It’s working until a big storm comes.”
So far, an Israel-Hamas cease-fire remains elusive, but news is yet to trickle out from what could be Clinton’s most important meeting yet with newly elected Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, who has played “interpreter” for Hamas in conversations with both the U.S. and Israel.
The Wednesday meeting with President Morsi takes on greater urgency with the latest news of a bomb exploding aboard an Israeli bus in Tel Aviv, wounding 27 people, according to the Associated Press. Shortly after the blast, Clinton said the U.S. “strongly condemns” the bombing, calling it a “terrorist attack.”
If Clinton can help end the violence between Israel and Hamas, lay the groundwork for a durable peace deal, and strengthen U.S. ties with a new Egyptian government, her final diplomatic push will likely be “one of her most climactic acts in this business,” said Hardball host Chris Matthews Tuesday. “It could help define her legacy.”