Email exchanges recently released by the State Department reveal that Hillary Clinton regularly took foreign-policy advice from a longtime confidant whose partisan mistrust of the British and Israeli right
Although Clinton insists she never asked for advice from Sidney Blumenthal, she was in regular contact with the man who served as a senior advisor to her husband, Bill, when he was president in the late 1990s.
At the time, Blumenthal developed a reputation as someone fiercely loyal to the Clintons — something that compelled Rahm Emanuel, President Barack Obama’s first chief of staff, to bar him from holding any position in Hillary Clinton’s State Department.
Clinton is now a candidate to succeed Obama in 2016.
As secretary from 2009 to 2013, she used a private email account and server to conduct government business. More than a quarter of the emails have been released so far under a Freedom of Information ruling. The latest batch, published this week, includes dozens of exchanges between Blumenthal and Clinton.
Britain’s New Statesman magazine reports that at the time of the last Labour Party leadership contest in that country, Blumenthal and Clinton both seemed more supportive of former foreign secretary David Miliband’s candidacy than his brother’s, Ed.
Blumenthal recognized that when the latter won, it represented “something of a regression” for Labour which had moved to the political center at the same time as Bill Clinton moderated the Democratic Party in the United States. Ed Miliband moved the party back to the left and predictably lost the general election against David Cameron’s Conservatives in May.
Blumenthal’s characterizations of the Conservative Party, however, were far removed from reality.
Before Cameron won the 2010 election, Blumenthal predicted that a Tory government would be “aristocratic,” playing on a left-wing stereotype of the party as out of touch with ordinary voters (when it was Labour that abandoned Middle England in this year’s election).
After the election, which brought the Conservatives to power in coalition with the pro-European Liberal Democrats, Blumenthal warned Clinton not to trust the new foreign secretary, William Hague. He is “deeply anti-European and will be disingenuous with you,” Blumenthal wrote.
Calling Hague “deeply anti-European” when he is at best mildly Euroskeptic was misleading and, looking back, there is no indication he was ever disingenuous with Britain’s most important ally.
When it came to the Israeli right, Blumenthal was even more biased.
In remarks reported by Buzzfeed, Blumenthal alleged that Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “stage managing” Jewish lobby groups in the United States. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), he wrote — the largest and probably most influential of its kind — had become an “organ” of Netanyahu’s Likud.
Blumenthal offered nothing to substantiate either claim and Clinton did not take his advice for a speech she gave at AIPAC in 2010.
But Politico reports she did seem appreciative of a suggestion to stir conflict in the Israeli government.
In a message headlined “an idea, perhaps useless, but nonetheless,” Blumenthal argued that the United States should reveal their own position on the latest attempt at peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, incorporating “what the Israeli government has already agreed to in the final status negotiations at Camp David” that took place during Bill Clinton’s presidency.
“This puts the burden on Bibi [Netanyahu] to repudiate [former prime minister Ehud] Barak in principles and details if he pushes back,” Blumenthal wrote, “splitting his coalition and appearing to be the rejectionist.”
Barak was Netanyahu’s defense minister at the time of the email.
Clinton replied, “Not useless — thx.”
She didn’t follow Blumenthal’s advice — which would have involved publicizing details from confidential, high-level talks and likely undermined both Israeli and Palestinian trust in American diplomacy. But then why would she thank a former aide for such an outrageous suggestion?
Maybe Clinton just didn’t want to hurt Blumenthal’s feelings. Maybe his advice was unsolicited and she didn’t even read all of it. Or maybe she shared some of his views, in which case voters ought to know before they trust her again to manage America’s relations with other countries.