Here’s Clinton speaking in Tunisia. Note that the questioner operates under the assumption that to be pro-Israel is to be against the “common Arab citizen,” and Clinton not only fails to challenge that assumption, but implies that rhetoric that pleases the “Zionist lobby” is somehow anti-Muslim. She then suggests that Americans (and others) are fools if they take seriously anything said during campaign season [note that “our” in the title therefore refers to Americas’ political class as a whole, not just (but not exclusive of) the Obama administration].
QUESTION: My name is Ivan. After the electoral campaign starts in the United States – it started some time ago – we noticed here in Tunisia that most of the candidates from the both sides run towards the Zionist lobbies to get their support in the States. And afterwards, once they are elected, they come to show their support for countries like Tunisia and Egypt for a common Tunisian or a common Arab citizen. How would you reassure and gain his trust again once given the fact that you are supporting his enemy as well at the same time?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, let me say you will learn as your democracy develops that a lot of things are said in political campaigns that should not bear a lot of attention. There are comments made that certainly don’t reflect the United States, don’t reflect our foreign policy, don’t reflect who we are as a people. I mean, if you go to the United States, you see mosques everywhere, you see Muslim Americans everywhere. That’s the fact. So I would not pay attention to the rhetoric.
Secondly, I would say watch what President Obama says and does. He’s our President. He represents all of the United States, and he will be reelected President, so I think that that will be a very clear signal to the entire world as to what our values are and what our President believes. So I think it’s a fair question because I know that – I sometimes am a little surprised that people around the world pay more attention to what is said in our political campaigns than most Americans, say, are paying attention. So I think you have to shut out some of the rhetoric and just focus on what we’re doing and what we stand for, and particularly what our President represents.
I’m sure Clinton didn’t mean it the way it came out, but it’s embarrassing nevertheless. As Glenn Reynolds likes to say, the country is in the best of hands.
UPDATE: Several early commenters suggest that Clinton’s comments were directed at GOP rhetoric in this campaign season. That makes sense [better put, it makes Clinton’s comments more comprehensible], but the questioner wasn’t asking about what one commenter suggested was the GOP’s “belligerent” rhetoric. Rather, he was clearly asking about both sides‘ rhetoric–I’ve now highlighted the “both sides” in the original question so it’s clear what the questioner was saying: every campaign season we see both Republican and Democratic candidates [including, obviously, Pres. Obama] appealing to pro-Israel constituencies, and then when they get into office we see they aren’t as hostile to Arab individuals as we thought, even though they still support the Arabs’ “enemy”. “Don’t believe what you hear in campaigns” isn’t even the beginning of an adequate answer to that.
FURTHER UPDATE: Some commenters are also insisting that Clinton’s comments are directed at GOP rhetoric on Iran. I don’t see any indication in either the question or the answer that Iran is under discussion. Moreover, Iranians are not Arabs–I’m sure Clinton is aware of this–and the questioner references only Arab countries (Tunisia and Egypt) and the “common Arab on the street.” Indeed, it’s kind of odd that Clinton segues into a discussion of Muslims in the U.S.; the questioner didn’t suggest that the U.S. is hostile to Muslims, but to Arabs because the U.S. supports Israel. I’m guessing that Clinton had some talking points she wanted to express, and tried to awkwardly shoehorn them into an answer to a question they weren’t responsive to. So awkwardly, in fact, that when she tried to circle back to answer the question she wound up saying “don’t pay attention to anything American politicians say during campaign season.”
FINAL UPDATE: Even for those inclined to read Clinton’s comments in what they think of as charitably–I’m not inclined to think it’s “charitable” to suggest that rather than simply misspeaking, she, in her capacity as Secretary of State in a foreign country, was actually implicitly attacking Republicans, one of whom may be the president soon–she still failed to address various nefarious ideas embedded in the question, including the idea that Israel is an enemy of the “common Arab citizen”, that American support for Israel implies a hostility to Arabs, and that U.S. support for Israel, rhetorical or otherwise, reflects the power of “Zionist lobbies” as opposed to a widespread consensus among Americans. Indeed, she seemed to (but I doubt meant to) suggest that Obama administration policies are actually a lot less pro-Israel than that might appear at first glance.