Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
News, December 2008
Dennis Ross and the Outlines of Obama's Emerging Middle East Policy
By Stephen Sniegoski, Justin Raimondo, and Glenn Greenwald
War Without End, January 17, 2009
Dennis Ross and the Outlines of Obamas Emerging Middle East Policy
Obama has appointed Dennis Ross as his special envoy to Iran and overall Middle East czar. Outside of the hard-line neocons such as Douglas Feith, Norman Podhoretz, Richard Perle, etc., it would be hard to come up with someone who would be less of an honest broker in the Middle East.
Dennis Ross was Bill Clinton's Middle East envoy where he was somewhat pro-Israel and he seems to have become more of an neocon-oriented Israel Firster since that time. His post-Clinton record includes supporting the pro-Iraq War campaigns of the neocon Project for the New American Century and serving as a senior fellow with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a significant pro-Israel think tank in Washington
Mearsheimer and Walt have described WINEP as part of the core of the Israel lobby. In The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, they write:
Recognizing the need for a prominent but seemingly objective voice in the policy area surrounding Israel, former AIPAC president Larry Weinberg; his wife, Barbi Weinberg; AIPACs vice president; and AIPAC deputy director of research Martin Indyk founded the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in 1985. Although WINEP plays down its links to Israel and claims that it provides a balanced and realistic perspective on Middle East issues, this is not the case. In fact, WINEP is funded and run by individuals who are deeply committed to advancing Israels agenda. Its board of advisors includes prominent pro-Israel figures such as Edward Luttwak, Martin Peretz, Richard Perle, James Woolsey and Mortimer Zuckerman, but includes no one who might be thought of as favoring the perspective of any other country or group in the Near East. Many of its personnel are genuine scholars or experienced former officials, but they are hardly neutral observers on most Middle East issues and there is little diversity of views within WINEPs ranks. (pp. 175-176)
In recent years, Ross also has served on the board of the Jerusalem-based Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, a think tank that promotes the thriving of the Jewish people via professional strategic thinking and planning on issues of primary concern to world Jewry.
Significantly, Ross has taken a very hostile position toward Iran Ross helped to produce the 2008 report Meeting the Challenge: U.S. Policy Toward Iranian Nuclear Development, The report argues that despite Irans assurances to the contrary, its nuclear program aims to develop nuclear weapons and is thus a threat to the U.S. This conclusion is contrary to the CIAs November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, which found that Iran had put its efforts to develop nuclear warheads on hold. Moreover, the report contends that if Iran had nuclear weapons it could not be deterred, like all other countries that have had nuclear weapons, because of its extremist ideology.
The report actually calls for the new US president to expand American military forces in the Middle East! This would entail pre-positioning additional U.S. and allied forces, deploying additional aircraft carrier battle groups and minesweepers, emplacing other war material in the region, including additional missile defense batteries, upgrading both regional facilities and allied militaries, and expanding strategic partnerships with countries such as Azerbaijan and Georgia in order to maintain operational pressure from all directions. This would seem to represent the neocons wildest dream.
The report goes on to state that if the new administration would hold talks with Iran it should set compliance deadlines which if not met would lead to an American attack on Iran. The military strikes would have to target not only Irans nuclear infrastructure, but also its conventional military infrastructure in order to suppress an Iranian response.
Commentator Jim Lobe quite accurately refers to the report as a roadmap to war, pointing out that if Tehran is not eventually prepared to permanently abandon its enrichment of uranium on its own soila position that is certain to be rejected by Iran ab initiowar becomes inevitable, and all intermediate steps, even including direct talks if the new president chooses to pursue them, will amount to going through the motions (presumably to gather international support for when push comes to shove.)
In appointing people like Ross to key roles, is Obama, the presumed proponent of peace, actually preparing for a policy of war in the Middle East?
As Raimondo writes: With Hillary and Ross at the helm of State, expect prolonged negotiations in the form of a series of ultimatums directed at Tehran, punctuated, perhaps, by a series of incidents, close calls that don't quite spark a war but keep the embers burning. All this drama leading inexorably to a preordained denouement the third gulf war.
As I have pointed out in earlier messages, Obamas image as a proponent of peace would make it easier for him to launch war. His move to war could much more easily be perceived by the public as the only option remaining, in contrast to skepticism that Bush/Cheney would face as known warmongers. Many more liberals and Democrats would support a war launched by Obama than a war launched by a Republican. And conservatives and Republicans would tend to give Obama about as much support for war as they would give to Bush/Cheney or McCain; in fact, many probably would criticize him as moving too slowly toward war.
Now I realize that Obamas peace supporters have continued to maintain that Obamas appointment of Middle East hawks represents some sophisticated strategy to achieve peace. Raimondo addresses this argument: We keep hearing Obama is making all these business-as-usual appointments in order to disarm his critics in advance when he starts taking those really bold initiatives, but doesn't there come a point when that somewhat dubious strategy becomes suspiciously repetitive? Is he really appointing Dennis Ross just so he can usher in a new era of equal justice and sustained peace in the region? Come off it, you Obama-ites there won't be any change in our foreign policy, except for the worse.
Anti-war commentator Glenn Greenwald, on other hand, gives limited support to the peace argument (in a longer article that deals with the Rasmussen Poll and the Congress resolution on Gaza, which I should have included in the previous email, but include here)
Greenwald writes Some argue that Obama has filled key positions with politicians who have a history of virtually absolute support for Israeli actions . . . because Obama intends to continue, more or less, the Bush policy of blind support for Israel. Others argue the opposite: that those appointments are necessary to vest the Obama administration with the credibility to take a more active role in pushing the Israelis to a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.
Greenwald writes that he finds the peace theory marginally more persuasive, but there is simply no way to know until Obama is inaugurated.
Greenwald doesn't seem to see the need to provide much evidence here. Obviously, no one can definitely know what will happen in the future. However, by looking at past events one gets a better understanding of what will probably happen in the future probability not certainty. This is simply how people plan for the future.
Now we can only judge Obama by what he has done so far.. From past experience it would seem that an administrations policy is largely shaped by high-placed policy advisors . By selecting pro-Israeli hawks such as Ross, Obama has guaranteed that the Iranians will be suspicious, and probably non-cooperative, as illustrated in the following article from the Washington Times. The same could probably be said for the Palestinians.
Since the US has been anything but an honest broker in the Middle East, one would think it would be more important to calm the suspicions of the Iranians and the Palestinians than to soothe the Israelis. Putting people such as Ross at the helm would tend to confirm Iranian suspicions that the US did not intend to deal with them fairly, thus precluding the chance for diplomatic agreement, and opening the door for more forceful action, even war against Iran because of its failure to co-operate, as Dennis Ross recent study advocates.
Now, Obama might not intend this. He might reasonably believe that for political reasons he has to please the Israel Lobby. He might think he can overcome the views of the hawks he has surrounded himself with. He might view himself as a genius who can devote himself to multiple serious issuesespecially the economyand still outfox representatives of the Israel Lobby on Middle East policy (who are experts on the subject, with multiple significant ties to Israel, and are devoting all their time to the issue) and establish a policy contrary to theirs and force them to carry it out properly. It is hard to think of an American leader who did something comparable this or how it could be done. Most American presidents are highly influenced by their advisorsWashington/Hamilton, Wilson/Lansing and House, Nixon and Ford/Kissinger, Elder Bush/Baker, Younger Bush/Cheney and the neocons. And when American presidents dont adhere to the views of a particular advisor/advisors and it is because they have significant advisors with contrary views. These counterweights in Middle East policy have yet to been seen in Obamas emerging administration. .
The only partial exception to my argument was Bill Clinton, who in his second term surrounded himself with some pro-Israel hawks such as Madeleine Albright. Albright and other hawks, plus the hawkish media, did get Clinton involved in the war on Serbia over Kosovo, but Clinton would only go part way (largely bombing civilians) and did not commit ground troops. And he would only fire some missiles at Saddam, though maintaining the blockade and the no-fly zones. So in a way, Bill Clinton, the consummate conman, was able to avoid the war policies of some of his leading advisors, keeping in mind the thinking of his mentor Senator J. William Fulbright,* but his policies certainly did not establish long-term peace. Moreover, Clinton did not have to confront the serious government decisions facing Obama, who must deal with the economic meltdown, which could make or break his administration. So even to achieve results of the Clintonian level, Obama would have to be a far more able manipulator of people than Bill Clinton.
*J. William Fulbright was not only a major opponent of the US war policy in Southeast Asia and overall American military intervention, but was a critic of the Israel Lobby, saying "Israel controls the United States Senate. Around 80 percent are completely in support of Israel; anything Israel wants it gets. Jewish influence in the House of Representatives is even greater. in CBS Face the Nation on April 15, 1973. In 1974 Fulbright suffered defeat in the Democratic primary election, due in large part to the Israel Lobby. Fulbright had been head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee since 1959.
January 9, 2009
The Same Old Change
Obama's Middle East 'czar' signals the Lobby's still in charge
by Justin Raimondo
The news that Dennis Ross will be appointed the special envoy to Iran and, more, that he will function as a Middle East "czar" is "staggeringly bad news," as Philip Weiss so trenchantly put it. The appointment, Weiss avers, is "illustrative of the fact that neoconservatism by one of its more amenable names is still in our lives, and the Israel lobby is a big component of the Establishment. Dennis Ross, who pushed the settlements in '92. Dennis Ross, who moved from party to party with indifference, because he had a bigger power than party behind him. ...A friend says that Dennis Ross in Arabic means, Expletive you!"
The appointment, and it is a prominent one, is no surprise to my regular readers, who were warned last summer of what a Ross in this position would have to mean:
"The appointment of Dennis Ross as[Obama's pre-election] principal Middle East adviser is good news for the War Party, specifically for that crucial branch of it that specializes in promoting Israel's ambitions over America's national interests.
"No matter which president Ross worked for, Democrat or Republican and he's worked for both his interventionist agenda and his sympathy for the interests of a certain Middle Eastern nation were no secret. His sympathy, too, for poor, persecuted Scooter Libby prompted him to endorse that convicted felon's defense fund. And he was right in there with Bill Kristol and the Project for a New American Century in agitating for war with Iraq.
In a future Obama administration, the so-called liberal hawks will have their chief factotum in Ross."
In short, Ross represents what Leon Hadar described as "neoconservatism with a smiling Democratic face." He will serve under Hillary Clinton, at State, which is looking to be the locus of the Lobby's power base. The question is: will a rival locus of power coalesce elsewhere, perhaps at the National Security Council, or within the military? The CIA under Leon Panetta looks like its going to be awfully partisan, whatever that may come to mean in foreign policy terms in the coming years.
We keephearing Obama is making all these business-as-usual appointments in order to disarm his critics in advance when he starts taking those really bold initiatives, but doesn't there come a point when that somewhat dubious strategy becomes suspiciously repetitive? Is he really appointing Dennis Ross just so he can usher in a new era of equal justice and sustained peace in the region? Come off it, you Obama-ites there won't be any change in our foreign policy, except for the worse. Just remember: you were warned.
This is not to say that progress isn't being made in this field: it just isn't at the policymaking level, as yet, unless, as I hope but I'm not counting on it a locus of opposition develops elsewhere in the administration. In any case, intellectually the Lobby is on the defensive. A great awakening has taken place among foreign policy analysts, and concerned citizens. What we're seeing is a rebellion against our Israel-centric foreign policy and public pronouncements, a stance that is more and more at odds with our authentic national interests. In the vanguard of this intellectual glasnost are the two most prominent "realists" in foreign policy wonk-dom, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, authors of The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy.
The free flow of thought and discussion that has been engendered by this heartless military operation in Gaza has given rise to a number of thought experiments analogies in which, for one example, the historic roles are reversed, and the Israelis become the Palestinians. As Professor Walt writes in his new blog at Foreign Policy magazine:
"Imagine that Egypt, Jordan, and Syria had won the Six Day War, leading to a massive exodus of Jews from the territory of Israel. Imagine that the victorious Arab states had eventually decided to permit the Palestinians to establish a state of their own on the territory of the former Jewish state. (That's unlikely, of course, but this is a thought experiment). Imagine that a million or so Jews had ended up as stateless refugees confined to that narrow enclave known as the Gaza Strip. Then imagine that a group of hardline Orthodox Jews took over control of that territory and organized a resistance movement. They also steadfastly refused to recognize the new Palestinian state, arguing that its creation was illegal and that their expulsion from Israel was unjust. Imagine that they obtained backing from sympathizers around the world and that they began to smuggle weapons into the territory. Then imagine that they started firing at Palestinian towns and villages and refused to stop despite continued reprisals and civilian casualties.
"Here's the question: would the United States be denouncing those Jews in Gaza as "terrorists" and encouraging the Palestinian state to use overwhelming force against them?
"Here's another: would the United States have even allowed such a situation to arise and persist in the first place?"
Yes, the dam is really breaking, intellectually. More prominent voices are being raised, demanding a thoroughgoing re-examination of the basic assumptions of US policy in a very turbulent and politically significant region of the world. One that has a direct impact on American politics in a way that, say, US actions in South Asia, Africa, or South and Central America normally would not.
The realists aren't alone in their experimentalism. Weiss reports on a conference call in which Daniel Levy, of the New America Foundation, said:
"We all hear, oh, the U.S. would do the same thing if Canada or Mexico were firing rockets at us. We would have a duty to respond. And yes, I think, Israel has a duty to respond, Levy said.
"But then he went on to explode that analogy, and get at the core issue: Lack of Political Sovereignty. Canada and Mexico are states. Palestinians have no state. Remember, he said, that Gaza is just 4 percent of the Palestinian territories. The other 96 percent are still occupied. They have been for 40 years. And imagine that the 4 percent had been under siege, since they were unoccupied 3 years ago. And the occupied parts were crisscrossed with checkpoints and colonies.
"Would it really be that surprising if in Canada or Mexico there was a hardline opposition that took over the government? And was deeply opposed to the occupier? 'I'll leave that to your imagination.'"
This is responded to with the usual invective: I'll only note that David Rothkopf just can't help himself from going all the way and dragging the specter of Iran into his argument this being the Lobby's ultmate target. They'll stay on message for as long as it takes the Obama administration to lay the groundwork for a conflict with Iran.
With Hillary and Ross at the helm of State, expect prolonged negotiations in the form of a series of ultimatums directed at Tehran, punctuated, perhaps, by a series of incidents, close calls that don't quite spark a war but keep the embers burning. All this drama leading inexorably to a preordained denouement the third gulf war.
No, it isn't inevitable, but, given present trends, it's all too likely a scenario, one that won't be stopped unless the revolution in foreign policy thinking reaches the halls of government. I'd be personally delighted to see such a development, and I empathize with those Obama voters and supporters who were hoping for change in this area, but I must confess I see no sign of it. Indeed, the evidence points in the opposite direction. Neoconservatism without Bush, without Cheney, and without the GOP can a parasitic organism long exist without a host? It looks like the neocons have found a new home in the Obama administration, where they're settling in quite comfortably, and acting as if they owned the place. And maybe they do .
This time around, however, they're going to have a much harder time of it. The tragic history of the past eight years has given rise to a growing network of groups such as "J Street," in addition to lots of dissent from the conventional pro-Israel wisdom in the liberal-left blogosphere e.g., Glenn Greenwald, who has a scintillating critique of the media bias that permeates the "mainstream" when it comes to Israel, and certainly Philip Weiss, who has done much to extend the boundaries of the permissible when it comes to Israel and the problem posed by the power of its American lobby. Katrina vanden Heuvel has been a rare voice of reason, and there's life over at The Nation yet. Matt Yglesias is another principled voice, added to such old reliables as Alex Cockburn, and, of course, our very own columnists here at Antiwar.com.
Intellectual change precedes political change, and because of this progress often seems imperceptible even when it's imminent, as such things go. That's why we keep plugging away with our message and with the most honest coverage of the Gaza massacre and its consequences anywhere, constantly updated and comprehensive to a fault.
We couldn't do it without you, our readers, and we appreciate your ongoing financial and intellectual support especially your letters, which are usually heartfelt, positive, and very often informative. Keep those letters and contributions coming. There is every indication that we're winning our fight but remember, we can't do it without you, our readers and supporters. As the War Party takes us into a new year, rife with fresh opportunities for armed conflict, we know we can count on you to stand by our side and fight the good fight against the same old enemy albeit one with a different party label, and under a new administration. Change? In the foreign policy realm, and especially in the central arena of the Middle East, it's the same old "change" for sure.
~ Justin Raimondo
# Washington Institute for Near East Policy: Consultant
# Project for the New American Century: Signatory
# Former U.S. Special Envoy to the Middle East
Dennis Ross is a former U.S. diplomat who has served both Republican and Democratic administrations in negotiations on Middle East peace and other foreign policy issues.1 Although generally considered a political moderate, Ross has been closely associated with a number of neoconservative-led organizations and policy initiatives. A consultant for the hawkish Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), Ross supported the advocacy efforts of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC),2 which played a key role advocating invading Iraq in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He also frequently promotes aggressive Mideast policies in his writings and congressional testimony, and regularly teams up with scholars from organizations like the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) to craft policy approaches toward Tehrans nuclear program and other issues in the region.3
During the George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations, Ross was a leading architect of negotiations aimed at resolving conflicts between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Several participants in those negotiations criticized Ross for his Israel bias. In their account of the negotiations, Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace, Daniel Kurtzer and Scott Lasensky cite a number of anonymous officials who were critical of Ross. Said one Arab negotiator, "The perception always was that Dennis [Ross] started from the Israeli bottom line, that he listened to what Israel wanted and then tried to sell it to the Arabs. He was never looked at as a trusted world figure or as an honest broker."4 Likewise, a former Clinton administration representative told the authors, "By the end, the Palestinians didn't fully trust Dennis. [T]hey thought he was tilted too much towards the Israelis."5
Rosss role in Middle East policy came under renewed scrutiny in 2008 when it was announced that he was advising the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL). WINEP was prompted to issue a press release after the New York Times identified Ross as an Obama advisor in March 2008. The press release said, [Ross] will continue to offer advice on the substantive issues of our foreign and national security policy to the Obama campaign on a nonexclusive basis. In accordance with our organization's policy on nonpartisanship, Ambassador Ross has not endorsed any presidential candidate.6
Time magazine reported, It is somewhat surprising to see Ross emerge as an official member of Obama's team. When Ross left the State Department in 2000, he was so critical of Yasser Arafat that some friends thought he was considering working for George W. Bush, who cut ties with the late Palestinian leader.7
Some observers pointed to the ultimate failure of the initiatives crafted by Ross as the most surprising aspect of the Obama campaigns decision to use him as an adviser. One former Bill Clinton official told Time, "If Obama wants to embody something new that can actually succeed, it's not just a break from Bush that he's going to need, but a break from Clinton."8
From Jimmy Carter to Bill Clinton
Ross got his start in high-level policymaking working under Paul Wolfowitz in the Pentagon during the Jimmy Carter administration, where Wolfowitz headed up a project called the Limited Contingency Study, the results of which, writes author James Mann, would play a groundbreaking role in changing American military policy toward the Persian Gulf over the coming decades.9
The study, coauthored by Ross, was aimed at assessing potential vulnerabilities outside of Europe. Under Wolfowitzs direction, it became the Pentagons first extensive examination of the need for the United States to defend the Persian Gulf.10 It stated, We and our major industrialized allies have a vital and growing stake in the Persian Gulf Region because of our need for Persian Gulf oil and because events in the Persian Gulf affect the Arab-Israeli conflict. It went onto to assert that if the Soviet Union controlled the Gulfs oil, it would probably destroy NATO and the U.S.-Japanese alliance without recourse to war by the Soviets. It also assessed whether countries within the region could also threaten to take control of oil fields, specifically Iraq, which the study argued had become militarily pre-eminent in the Persian Gulf, a worrisome development because of Iraqs radical-Arab stance, its anti-Western attitudes, its dependence of Soviet arms sales, and its willingness to foment trouble in other local nations.11
After the election of Ronald Reagan, Wolfowitz became head of the State Departments Policy Planning staff, where he assembled a team of advisors that included a number of figures who later became closely involved in neoconservative-led campaigns, including Ross, I. Lewis Libby, James Roche, Zalmay Khalilzad, Alan Keyes, and Francis Fukuyama. Discussing this period, Mann points to Ross in arguing that not everyone on [Wolfowitzs] staff was a neoconservative. The fact remained, however, that Wolfowitzs policy planning staff turned out to be the training ground for a new generation of national security specialists, many of whom shared Wolfowitzs ideas, assumptions, and interests.12
Also during the Reagan presidency, Ross served as director of Near East and South Asian Affairs on the National Security Council staff and as Deputy Director of the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment, according to his biography on the website of the Harry Walker Agency,13 a speakers bureau that also promotes, among others, former George W. Bush aide Peter Wehner, the neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, and alarmist antiterror wonk Steven Emerson.
During the administration of George Bush senior, Ross was appointed head of States Policy Planning Staff, where he played a prominent role in U.S. policy toward the former Soviet Union, the unification of Germany and its integration into NATO, arms control negotiations, and the development of the Gulf War coalition.14 Mann writes that Ross and Wolfowitz, who had been given a post in the Dick Cheney-led Pentagon, were two of the administrations most vociferous proponents of using the U.S. military to defend Shiite and Kurdish rebellions after the end of the first Gulf War.15
President Bill Clinton appointed Ross as his special envoy to the Middle East. Rosss Harry Walker bio recounts a number of successes during the period: As the architect of the peace process, he was instrumental in assisting the Israelis and Palestinians in reaching the 1995 Interim Agreement, and he successfully brokered the Hebron Accord in 1997. He facilitated the Israeli-Jordan peace treaty and intensively worked to bring Israel and Syria together. Mr. Ross has been credited for managing the peace process through periods of crisis and stalemate.16
But the peace process failed to produce any enduring agreements to the Palestinian situation; Ross endeavored to explain this failure in his 2004 book The Missing Peace. According to New York Times reviewer Ethan Bronner, Ross points to two explanations, one simple and one messy but no less true or important. The simple answer is that in the end Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader, was the principal cause of the failure. The second explanation, the messier one, is that neither side had taken sufficient steps to grasp the needs and neuroses of the other.17 Although Ross considers Israeli culpability, he appears to emphasize the failures of the Arabs and Palestinians. Ross writes, The kind of transformation that would make it possible for the Arab world to acknowledge that Israel has needs has yet to take place. Regarding the United States, Ross writes, ''Our great failing was not in misreading Arafat. Our great failing was in not creating the earlier tests that would have either exposed Arafat's inability to ultimately make peace or forced him to prepare his people for compromise.''18
Rosss role in the Clinton administration was later assessed by the international relations scholars John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt in their controversial 2006 paper for Harvards Kennedy School of Government, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. Mearsheimer and Walt wrote, During the Clinton Administration Middle East policy was largely shaped by officials with close ties to Israel or to prominent pro-Israel organizationsincluding Martin Indyk, the former deputy director of research at AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee] and co-founder of the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP); Dennis Ross, who joined WINEP after leaving government in 2001; and Aaron Miller, who has lived in Israel and often visits there. These men were among President Clintons closest advisors at the Camp David summit in July 2000. Although all three supported the Oslo peace process and favored creation of a Palestinian state, they did so only within the limits of what would be acceptable to Israel.19
Ross criticized the paper, telling the New York Sun that it had a lack of seriousness and was masquerading as scholarship.20
The Post-9/11 Period
During the presidency of George W. Bush, Ross continued his policy work as a consultant to and fellow at WINEP, authoring policy papers, penning op-eds, and providing congressional testimony on Middle East issues. He repeatedly joined forces with neoconservatives, signing open letters for PNAC, advising advocacy groups like United against Nuclear Iran (whose leadership include former CIA director James Woolsey and hawkish weapons proliferation expert Henry Sokolski),21 and joining AEI scholars Michael Rubin and Reuel Marc Gerecht in discussing Mideast policies with their counterparts at the Brussels-based Transatlantic Institute,22 a think tank founded by the American Jewish Committee to serve "as an intellectual bridge between the United States and the European Union." Ross also served on the board of the Jerusalem-based Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, an independent think tank that promotes the thriving of the Jewish people via professional strategic thinking and planning on issues of primary concern to world Jewry.23
In 2006, Ross joined a cast of neoconservatives and foreign policy hawks in supporting the I. Lewis Libby Defense Fund, an initiative aimed at raising money for the disgraced former assistant to Vice President Dick Cheney who was convicted in connection to the investigation into the leaking of CIA agent Valerie Plames name. Ross served on the groups steering committee along with Fred Thompson, Jack Kemp, Steve Forbes, Bernard Lewis, and Francis Fukuyama.24 The groups chairman was Mel Sembler, a real estate magnate who serves as a trustee at AEI and has funded the group Freedoms Watch.
Commenting on his reason for supporting the fund, Ross, who served with Libby under Wolfowitz in the Reagan State Department, said, He's been a friend of mine for 25 years and I believe in him as a person and that he has a right to defend himself. It's a measure of friendship that you're there when people need you, not just when it's convenient."25
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Ross supported the advocacy work of PNAC, a neoconservative-led letterhead group that advocated overthrowing Saddam Hussein in response to the attacks, even if he was not tied to the them.26 Ross signed two PNAC open letters on the situation in post-war Iraq, both published in March 2003. The first of these, Statement on Post-War Iraq, was issued on March 19, 2003, the day before the United States began its invasion. The letter argued that Iraq should be seen as the first step in a larger reshaping of the regions political landscape, contending that the invasion and rebuilding of Iraq could contribute decisively to the democratization of the wider Middle East. Other signatories included Max Boot, Eliot Cohen, Thomas Donnelly, Joshua Muravchik, and several other core neoconservatives.27
Ross was just one of several so-called liberal hawks who signed the letter. Tom Barry of the International Relations Center counted six of the twenty-three signatories as representing this group: Among the Democrats were Ivo Daalder of the Brookings Institution and a member of Clinton's National Security Council staff; Martin Indyk, Clinton's ambassador to Israel; Will Marshall of the Progressive Policy Institute and Democratic Leadership Council; Dennis Ross, Clintons top adviser on the Israel-Palestinian negotiations; and James Steinberg, Clinton's deputy national security adviser and head of foreign policy studies at Brookings.28 According to Barry, this clearly demonstrated the willingness of liberal hawks to bolster the neocons overarching agenda of Middle East restructuring.29
In the aftermath of the invasion, Rossas well as a number of neoconservativesexpressed deep skepticism about the course of the war and the future prospects in Iraq. In 2007 congressional testimony, Ross stated: The administration was never unified in its purpose or execution. Our assessment was faith-based not reality-based, leaving the Bush administration assuming that everything would fall into place when Saddam was removed, not fall apart. When it fell apart the administration was left without a workable strategy and it has grappled for the last four years with trying to come up with one.30
However, in critiquing Bushs Mideast policies, Ross has limited his criticism to issues of implementation, while giving the White House high marks for its objectives. He told the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in July 2007: The larger purpose of the Bush administration has been democratic transformation, believing that ultimately the way to defeat terrorists is to produce democratic governments to replace the oppressive and corrupt regimes that breed anger and alienation throughout much of the Muslim world. Much like in Iraq, the Presidents goals are laudable and far-reaching. The problem has been that the president promoted an ambitious agenda of transformation but has presided over an administration that has consistently sought to employ only minimalist means. Trying to get by on the cheap has characterized the administrations approach whether it was in Iraq or Afghanistan or even on pushing a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.31
Rosss approach to Iran appears to have grown increasingly belligerent over time. In 2007, he sought to preserve a role for diplomacy in U.S. efforts to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, arguing in congressional testimony: The Europeans, Japanese, Indians and the Arab Gulf states represent the economic lifeline to Iran. They see the use of force against Iran as worse than an Iran with nuclear weapons. If they thought their current posture of slowly ratcheting up pressures on Iranand not cutting them off from credit guarantees, new investments, or provision of gasolinemade the use of force more and not less likely might not they change their behavior? Similarly, if the Bush administration offered to join negotiations now with Iran on the nuclear issue in return for these countries cutting the economic lifeline might not they agree to do so?32
During the run-up to the 2008 presidential elections Ross participated in two study groups aimed at influencing the next presidents policies toward Iran, both of which proposed extremely aggressive approaches. During 2007-2008, Ross acted as the co-convenor of WINEPs 2008 Presidential Task Force on the Future of U.S.-Israel Relations, which drafted the June 2008 report Strengthening the Partnership: How to Deepen U.S.-Israel Cooperation on the Iranian Nuclear Challenge. The report was signed by a number established Democratic and Republican policy-makers, as well as by a number of leading hawks like James Woolsey, Vin Weber, and James Roche. Several advisers to the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama also signed the document: Ross, Anthony Lake, Susan Rice, and Richard Clarke.33
Arguing that Irans nuclear program "hovers above all other items on the U.S.-Israel agenda, the WINEP study proposes that the next U.S. president, upon taking office, should immediately initiate a policy forum to discuss options on how to compel a change in Iranian behavior on the nuclear issue. Among the items the forum should cover are diplomatic engagement and political and economic pressure, as well as coercive options (such as an embargo on Irans sale of oil or import of refined petroleum products), and preventive military action.34
The report pleads that Americans try to see the Iranian situation from the Israeli perspective, arguing: "Americans should recognize that deterrence is, in Israeli eyes, an unattractive alternative to prevention, because, if deterrence fails, Israel would suffer terribly." The report also assails what is sees as the growing criticism in the United States of the U.S.-Israeli relationship (i.e. the Mearsheimer-Walt paper on the Israel Lobby), stating, "[The] U.S.-Israel relationship has come under unprecedented attack. Some of these critics argue that Israel has manipulated the U.S. government to act counter to the American national interest, which if properly understood would see Israel as a liability... We reject that critique."35
Ross also helped produce the 2008 report Meeting the Challenge: U.S. Policy Toward Iranian Nuclear Development, which was published by a study group convened by the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), a policy group led by several former government officials, including Sen. Daniel Coats (R-IN) and Sen. Charles Robb (D-VA). The lead drafter of the report was AEIs Michael Rubin, an outspoken proponent of U.S. military intervention in the Middle East. Other participants included Sokolski; Michael Makovsky, a former aide to Douglas Feith in the Donald Rumsfeld Pentagon; Stephen Rademaker, the husband of AEIs Danielle Pletka who worked under John Bolton in the State Department; and Kenneth Weinstein, CEO of the Hudson Institute.36
The report argues that despite Irans assurances to the contrary, its nuclear program aims to develop nuclear weapons and is thus a threat to U.S. and global security, regional stability, and the international nonproliferation regime,37 a conclusion that stands in stark contrast to the CIAs November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, which found that Iran had put its efforts to develop nuclear warheads on hold.38 The report states, As a new president prepares to occupy the Oval Office, the Islamic Republics defiance of its Non-Proliferation Treaty safeguards obligations and United Nations Security Council resolutions will be among the greatest foreign policy and national security challenges confronting the nation. In contrast to many realist assessments of the situation, the report contends that Cold War deterrence is not persuasive in the context of Irans program, due in large measure to the Islamic Republics extremist ideology. Thus, even a peaceful uranium enrichment program would place the entire Middle East region under a cloud of ambiguity given uncertain Iranian capacities and intentions.39
The report advises that the new U.S. president bolster the countrys military presence in the Middle East, which would include pre-positioning additional U.S. and allied forces, deploying additional aircraft carrier battle groups and minesweepers, emplacing other war material in the region, including additional missile defense batteries, upgrading both regional facilities and allied militaries, and expanding strategic partnerships with countries such as Azerbaijan and Georgia in order to maintain operational pressure from all directions. In addition, the new administration should suspend bilateral cooperation with Russia on nuclear issues to pressure it to stop providing assistance to Irans nuclear, missile, and weapons programs. And, if the new administration agrees to hold direct talks with Tehran without insisting that the country first cease enrichment activities, it should set a pre-determined compliance deadline and be prepared to apply increasingly harsh repercussions if the deadlines are not met, leading ultimately to U.S. military strikes that would have to target not only Irans nuclear infrastructure, but also its conventional military infrastructure in order to suppress an Iranian response.40
Calling the report a roadmap to war, Jim Lobe of the Inter Press Service wrote, In other words, if Tehran is not eventually prepared to permanently abandon its enrichment of uranium on its own soila position that is certain to be rejected by Iran ab initiowar becomes inevitable, and all intermediate steps, even including direct talks if the new president chooses to pursue them, will amount to going through the motions (presumably to gather international support for when push comes to shove). What is a top Obama adviser [Dennis Ross] doing signing on to it?41
In 2007, Ross published Statecraft: And How to Restore America's Standing in the World (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), described by Publishers Weekly as an avowedly neo-liberal rebuke of Bush's unilateralist, faith-based foreign policy blundering. Indeed, with its call for virtuoso state craftsmanship and its detailed proposals on everything from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or Iranian nuclear ambitions to relations with China, it could well be Ross's application for the 2009 secretary of state opening.42
Ross: Hamas cannot be allowed to rebuild
January 4, 2009
WASHINGTON (JTA) -- Dennis Ross said the United States should back a cease-fire in Gaza only if it ensures that Hamas "can't rebuild."
"We want some stability," said Ross, a former top Middle East negotiator in the Clinton administration, in a talk at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, Md.
"If Hamas is left with the capability to rearm," he said, then the current conflict will have been "just a prelude" to the next round. He hoped that some sort of "enforcement mechanisms" to restrain the terrorist group could be developed in any kind of truce.
Ross, a counselor and distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said achieving an Israeli-Palestinian agreement now would be much different than his last attempt in 2000. Not only is the Palestinian Authority divided and much weaker, he said, but the Israeli public doesn't believe such an agreement is possible.
Israel left Lebanon and Gaza, and in both instances, "things got a whole worse" -- which doesn't provide much confidence about a withdrawal from the West Bank, he said.
Ross' talk was part of a series of programs on Israel at the synagogue and planned before the current Gaza conflict broke out.
Friday Jan. 2, 2009 05:34 EST
More oddities in the U.S. "debate" over Israel/Gaza
(updated below - Update II - Update III)
This Rasmussen Reports poll -- the first to survey American public opinion specifically regarding the Israeli attack on Gaza -- strongly bolsters the severe disconnect I documented the other day between (a) American public opinion on U.S. policy towards Israel and (b) the consensus views expressed by America's political leadership. Not only does Rasmussen find that Americans generally "are closely divided over whether the Jewish state should be taking military action against militants in the Gaza Strip" (44-41%, with 15% undecided), but Democratic voters overwhelmingly oppose the Israeli offensive -- by a 24-point margin (31-55%). By stark constrast, Republicans, as one would expect (in light of their history of supporting virtually any proposed attack on Arabs and Muslims), overwhelmingly support the Israeli bombing campaign (62-27%).
It's not at all surprising, then, that Republican leaders -- from Dick Cheney and John Bolton to virtually all appendages of the right-wing noise machine, from talk radio and Fox News to right-wing blogs and neoconservative journals -- are unquestioning supporters of the Israeli attack. After all, they're expressing the core ideology of the overwhelming majority of their voters and audience.
Much more notable is the fact that Democratic Party leaders -- including Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi -- are just as lockstep in their blind, uncritical support for the Israeli attack, in their absolute refusal to utter a word of criticism of, or even reservations about, Israeli actions. While some Democratic politicians who are marginalized by the party's leadership are willing to express the views which Democratic voters overwhelmingly embrace, the suffocating, fully bipartisan orthodoxy which typically predominates in America when it comes to Israel -- thou shalt not speak ill of Israel, thou shalt support all actions it takes -- is in full force with this latest conflict.
Is there any other significant issue in American political life, besides Israel, where (a) citizens split almost evenly in their views, yet (b) the leaders of both parties adopt identical lockstep positions which leave half of the citizenry with no real voice? More notably still, is there any other position, besides Israel, where (a) a party's voters overwhelmingly embrace one position (Israel should not have attacked Gaza) but (b) that party's leadership unanimously embraces the exact opposite position (Israel was absolutely right to attack Gaza and the U.S. must support Israel unequivocally)? Does that happen with any other issue?
Equally noteworthy is that the factional breakdown regarding Israel-Gaza mirrors quite closely the factional alliances that arose with regard to the Iraq War. Just as was true with Iraq, one finds vigorous pro-war sentiment among the Dick Cheney/National Review/neoconservative/hard-core-GOP crowd, joined (as was true for Iraq) by some American liberals who typically oppose that faction yet eagerly join with them when it comes to Israel. Meanwhile, most of the rest of the world -- Europe, South America, Asia, the Middle East, the U.N. leadership -- opposes and condemns the attack, all to no avail. The parties with the superior military might (the U.S. and Israel) dismiss world opinion as essentially irrelevant. Even the pro-war rhetorical tactics are the same (just as those who opposed the Iraq War were demonized as being "pro-Saddam," those who oppose the Israeli attack on Gaza are now "pro-Hamas").
Substantively, there are certainly meaningful differences between the U.S. attack on Iraq and the Israeli attack on Gaza (most notably the fact that Hamas really does shoot rockets into Israel and has killed Israeli civilians and Israel really is blockading and occupying Palestinian land, whereas Iraq did not attack and could not attack the U.S. as the U.S. was sanctioning them and controlling their airspace). But the underlying logic of both wars are far more similar than different: military attacks, invasions and occupations will end rather than exacerbate terrorism; the Muslim world only understands brute force; the root causes of the disputes are irrelevant; diplomacy and the U.N. are largely worthless. It's therefore entirely unsurprising that the sides split along the same general lines. What's actually somewhat remarkable is that there is even more lockstep consensus among America's political leadership supporting the Israeli attack on Gaza than there was supporting the U.S.'s own attack on Iraq (at least a few Democratic Congressional leaders opposed the war on Iraq, unlike for Israel's bombing of Gaza, where they virtually all unequivocally support it).
Ultimately, what is most notable about the "debate" in the U.S. over Israel-Gaza is that virtually all of it occurs from the perspective of Israeli interests but almost none of it is conducted from the perspective of American interests. There is endless debate over whether Israel's security is enhanced or undermined by the attack on Gaza and whether the 40-year-old Israeli occupation, expanding West Bank settlements and recent devastating blockade or Hamas militancy and attacks on Israeli civilians bear more of the blame. American opinion-making elites march forward to opine on the historical rights and wrongs of the endless Israeli-Palestinian territorial conflict with such fervor and fixation that it's often easy to forget that the U.S. is not actually a direct party to this dispute.
Though the ins-and-outs of Israeli grievances and strategic considerations are endlessly examined, there is virtually no debate over whether the U.S. should continue to play such an active, one-sided role in this dispute. It's the American taxpayer, with their incredibly consequential yet never-debated multi-billion-dollar aid packages to Israel, who are vital in funding this costly Israeli assault on Gaza. Just as was true for Israel's bombing of Lebanon, it's American bombs that -- with the whole world watching -- are blowing up children and mosques, along with Hamas militants, in Gaza. And it's the American veto power that, time and again, blocks any U.N. action to stop these wars.
For those reasons, the pervasive opposition and anger around the world from the Israeli assault on Gaza is not only directed to Israel but -- quite rationally and understandably -- to America as well. Virtually the entire world, other than large segments of the American public, see Israeli actions as American actions. The attack on Gaza thus harms not only Israel's reputation and credibility, but America's reputation and credibility as well.
And for what? Even for those Americans who, for whatever their reasons, want endlessly to fixate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, who care deeply and passionately about whether the Israelis or the Palestinians control this or that West Bank hill or village and want to spend the rest of their days arguing about who did what to whom in 1948 and 1967, what possible interests do Americans generally have in any of that, sufficient to involve ourselves so directly and vigorously on one side, and thereby subject ourselves to the significant costs -- financial, reputational, diplomatic and security -- from doing so?
It's one thing to argue that Israel is being both wise and just by bombing the densely populated Gaza Strip. It's another thing entirely to argue that the U.S. should use all of its resources to support Israel as it does so. Those are two entirely separate questions. Arguments insisting that the Gaza attack is good and right for Israel don't mean that they are good and right for the U.S. Yet unstinting, unquestioning American support for whatever Israel does is just tacitly assumed in most of these discussions. The core assumption is that if it can be established that this is the right thing for Israel to do, then it must be the right thing for the U.S. to support it. The notion that the two countries may have separate interests -- that this may be good for Israel to do but not for the U.S. to support -- is the one issue that, above all else, may never be examined.
The "change" that many anticipate (or, more accurately, hope) that Obama will bring about is often invoked as a substance-free mantra, a feel-good political slogan. But to the extent it means anything specific, at the very least it has to entail that there will be a substantial shift in how America is perceived in the world, the role that we in fact play, the civil-liberties-erosions and militarized culture that inevitably arise from endlessly involving ourselves in numerous, hate-fueled military conflicts around the world. Our blind support for Israel, our eagerness to make all of its disputes our own disputes, our refusal to acknowledge any divergence of interests between us and that other country, our active impeding rather than facilitating of diplomatic resolutions between it and its neighbors are major impediments to any meaningful progress in those areas.
UPDATE: One related point: I have little appreciation for those who believe, one way or the other, that they can reliably predict what Obama is going to do -- either on this issue or others. That requires a clairvoyance which I believe people lack.Some argue that Obama has filled key positions with politicians who have a history of virtually absolute support for Israeli actions -- Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Rahm Emanuel -- because Obama intends to continue, more or less, the Bush policy of blind support for Israel. Others argue the opposite: that those appointments are necessary to vest the Obama administration with the credibility to take a more active role in pushing the Israelis to a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians, and that in particular, Clinton would not have left her Senate seat unless she believed she could finish Bill Clinton's work and obtain for herself the legacy-building accomplishment of forging an agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians (this morning's NYT hints at that scenario).
I personally find the latter theory marginally more persuasive, but there is simply no way to know until Obama is inaugurated. Whatever else is true, the more domestic political pressure is exerted demanding that the U.S. play a more even-handed and constructive role in facilitating a diplomatic resolution, the more likely it is that this will happen.
UPDATE II: Donna Edwards, the newly elected, netroots-supported Democratic Congresswoman from Maryland, who removed the standard establishment Democratic incumbent Al Wynn from office this year, has the following to say about Israel/Gaza:
I am deeply disturbed by this week's escalation of hostilities in the Gaza Strip, as I have been by the ongoing rocket fire into southern Israel. To support Israel and to ease the humanitarian crisis facing the people of Gaza, the United States must work actively for an immediate ceasefire that ends the violence, stops the rockets, and removes the blockade of Gaza.
That's much further than most national Democrats have been willing to go. And it illustrates that primary challenges can -- slowly but meaningfully -- change the face of the Democratic Party.
Dr. Stephen Sniegoski discusses his 'Transparent Cabal' book:
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