Explaining Hillary Clinton

05/23/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Yesterday Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told AIPAC's annual conference that American support of Israel was "rock solid, unwavering, enduring, and forever." What can explain this astonishing statement? Three possibilities suggest themselves:

First, Clinton is acting like a fool. She doesn't understand that she has just signaled the Israeli government that no matter what it does, no matter how morally disgraceful its behavior towards the Palestinians, no matter how much that behavior endangers Israel's own long-run security, and no matter how much it undermines America's own national interests, it has nothing to fear from the American government -- least of all that it might start making US aid conditional upon changes in Israeli policy. Trivial minor flaps, like the "timing" of Israeli announcements of new or expanded Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas, need not concern the Netanyahu government. Yes, the Obama administration might whine and wring its hands, but the matter will blow over in a few days, and everything will be back to normal. Which they are.

Second, Clinton is a complete cynic. She fully understands that she has just sent the Israeli government an unmistakable message that it can do anything it wants -- including disregarding the unserious hurt pride of Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton after a particularly egregious Israeli insult to the United States -- for there will be no real consequences from the Obama administration, let alone, it goes without saying, from Congress. The only thing that counts for this administration is the politics of the matter, meaning the appeasement of the Israel lobby in general and AIPAC in particular.

Third, she is being disingenuous. She is telling AIPAC what it wants to hear, but in fact the administration understands how disastrous Israel's course is -- to itself, to the Palestinians, and to the United States -- and real pressures will soon be brought to bear on Israel.

If only the third explanation were the correct one. Not a chance, I fear. My guess is that the right explanation combines the first two: of course Clinton is a cynic who will say anything for political gain, but in a larger sense she is also foolish, for only a fool would be so heedless of the consequences of allowing cynical calculations of immediate political gain to prevail over the national interests of both Israel and the United States.