President Obama has dispatched Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from Cambodia to Israel to try to broker a ceasefire that will end the conflict in Gaza. The deepening violence, which comes as the administration is trying to pivot its foreign policy away from the Middle East and toward Asia, recalls a previous crisis in which America’s top diplomat shuttled between the two regions in a precarious balancing act.
In July 2006, I traveled with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as she led a high-level U.S. diplomatic mission to end an earlier battle in which Islamic militants fired thousands of rockets over a border into Israel. Today the clash is with Hamas in Gaza, then it was Hezbollah in Lebanon. In each, the conflict quickly escalated with Israel’s superior firepower taking a disproportionate toll on its enemy and the international community demanding an end to hostilities.
Then as now there were questions about how hard the White House would press the warring factions to stop the conflict. Back then, the small traveling press corps secretly choppered from Cyprus into Beirut with Rice to meet with Lebanese leaders. Here is my audio report from Beirut:
Our next stop was Rome for a hastily convened meeting of representatives from 15 nations. The conference failed to end the fighting thanks to foot-dragging by President George W. Bush’s administration, which quietly favored giving Israel more time to pound Hezbollah’s forces before calling a truce. Listen to my audio report on the conference:
From Rome we were off to Malaysia for a previously scheduled forum of Southeast Asia nations. We would cool our heels for two days in Kuala Lumpur while backroom talks continued in the Middle East. Then it was back to Jerusalem once more before we headed home to Washington with a refueling stop in Shannon, Ireland, where we filed our last trip dispatches.
The UN Security Council would approve a ceasefire two weeks later. How the current crisis will end remains to be seen.