US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said nothing new on her recent visit to the Middle East. Picture: Reuters

Blessed assurance for Israel, renewed military threats for Iran and indifferent ambiguity laced with guesswork for the oppressed people of Palestine – that, by all accounts, seem the total summation of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent whirlwind nine-nation tour of North Africa and the Middle East.

During her 24-hour diplomatic fancy footwork in Jerusalem, during which she met top officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and Defence Minister Ehud Barak, Clinton really said nothing new or surprising.

Iran, an object of constant ridicule and long-time subject of military threats by Washington, was left in no doubt about the beckoning “shock and awe” of the US military if Tehran does not halt its ambition to develop nuclear capability. Said Clinton: “We will use all elements of American power to prevent Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon.” The US strongwoman said her country was working closely with Israel in thrashing out the best strategy to deal with an Iranian nuclear threat.

Granted, Iran, situated shouting distance from Israel, is a hostile neighbour to the Jewish state. But in attempting to bring about a harmonious co-existence between two ideologically-opposed neighbours, the US would do itself a great favour by doing all in its power to be seen not only by Israel, but by the entire international community, as an “honest broker”.

The unashamed slant towards Israel, the US’s traditional ally, creates more stumbling blocks than it provides building blocks toward a sustainable peace deal in the Middle East.

As for the people of Palestine, they must be wondering what on Earth their sin is. No matter how hard Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas tries to extend an olive branch, or fit the Western mould – often at great cost to his domestic political reputation – Israel never seems to play back fairly. And the US stands idly by. The example of the continuing illegal construction of controversial Jewish settlements on Palestinian soil, opposed even by the UN, is an example of a belligerent regime hell-bent on showing the middle-finger to weaker and stronger opponents alike, knowing full well that it is insulated from harm by Big Brother US.

Instead of exerting more pressure on the exceedingly powerful state of Israel to do more to attain peace with the oppressed and occupied state of Palestine, where the hellish living conditions are often described, including by globally-respected statesman such as Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, as worse than living under apartheid, Washington is viewed more as a problem than a solution-provider by detractors of its foreign policy.

The benign approach of the US to the re-ignition of the stalled Palestinian-Israeli talks is deeply regrettable. As she left Jerusalem, Clinton told the media that it was up to both countries to “work harder” themselves. This is not the same approach that the US is applying in the Iran-Israel matter.

Amid this hurly-burly of diplomatic work, the obvious beneficiary of the power and might of the world’s only superpower, the US, is Israel. On the US and Israel’s attitude towards Iran, Clinton had the following to say: “I think it is fair to say we are on the same page at this moment, trying to figure our way forward to have the maximum impact on affecting the decisions that Iran makes.”

On the evidence of such pronouncements, any country in conflict with Israel need not be left in any shadow of doubt about which side Big Brother would take. This is sad indeed. Sad, because too many countries around the world hold the US in high esteem for its democratic political culture and enormous free entrepreneurial traditions which inspire innovation by individuals and groups alike, all “living the dream”.

I’ve lived and worked in the US – from Atlanta to Washington, DC, and New York – and I was truly privileged to undergo mid-career journalism training in Florida. America, oh America, the beautiful. Even the people are beautiful. It is really from this standpoint that I sometimes feel like shedding a tear over America’s flurry of missed opportunities to have a meaningful impact on others.

George W Bush, he of Iraq invasion infamy, was a reputed warmonger who once prompted his predecessor, Bill Clinton, to warn him matter-of-factly: “You can’t kill all your enemies.”

The power to persuade is generally more useful than the power to coerce. In this light, therefore, sporadic military threats against Iran by the US, and at various intervals by Israel, are a recipe for World War III.

My biggest fear, too, is in efforts by the US to squeeze smaller countries like SA into toeing the US line, such as Washington’s unilateral imposition of sanctions against Tehran which, all of a sudden, Pretoria must abide by.

Such bully tactics need to be resisted, or SA’s sacred sovereignty could be whittled down to a mere but effective extension of the US in the southern tip of Africa. Demands, therefore, such as the recent calls by Washington that SA’s bilateral relations with Iran must be downgraded from top-notch economic ties to basic conviviality of no consequence are an affront to SA’s sovereignty.

Iran is responsible for 30 percent of our imported oil. We have cordial one-on-one relations of high economic importance with Tehran. If Washington declares war on any of its enemies, surely the Zuma administration should not be dragged along unwillingly? That, in short, is what democracy is all about – the fundamental right to exercise freedoms of choice, speech, association and other liberties.

Clinton’s visit to Cairo, where she met with new President Mohamed Morsi, will turn out to have been sound only if Washington recognises the rights of Egyptian citizens to security and prosperity as it does for Israel. The three-decade-old peace treaty between Egypt and Israel will only hold further if it is based on the will of the people on both sides.

Otherwise, with Mubarak languishing in prison, Washington will have to redouble efforts to convince not only Morsi (as was the case with dictator Mubarak) but ordinary Egyptians that civil liberties are not being sacrificed beneath the US’s enormous investments in Cairo in order to ensure peace next-door – in Israel.

l Makoe is the founder and editor-in-chief of the Royal News Services.