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Ms Clinton's Wild Ride: Is Dennis Ross in the Saddle on Iran?

Related Post: Ms Clinton’s Wild Ride - A US “Grand Strategy” on Israel-Palestine-Iran?

ross21In our analysis today of a possible US "grand strategy" linking its approach on Israel and Palestine to a change in policy on Iran, we speculated, "One explanation for this shift is the long-awaited entry of Dennis Ross, who has long advocated “Diplomacy Then Pressure”, into the State Department." Jim Lobe takes up the theme:

Ross Is Clearly a Major Player

Since Secretary of State Clinton set out for the Middle East over the weekend, it has seemed increasingly clear to me that Dennis Ross, contrary to my earlier speculation, pretty much got the job that he and WINEP [the Washington Institute for Near East Policy] were hoping for. Not only has he claimed an office on the coveted seventh floor, but Obama’s conspicuous placement of Ross’ name between those of Mitchell and Holbrooke in his speech on Iraq at Camp Lejeune last week strongly suggested that he considers Ross to be of the same rank and importance as the other two.

More to the point is what Clinton and those around her have been saying during the trip, including, most remarkably, the report by an unnamed “senior State Department official” that she told the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that she was “very doubtful” that diplomacy would persuade Iran to abandon its alleged quest for nuclear weapons. This, of course, very much reflects Ross’ own view (as well that of neo-conservatives) and will no doubt bolster hard-liners in Tehran who believe that Obama’s talk of engagement is simply designed to marshal more international support for eventual military action, be it a bombing campaign or a blockade to cut gasoline imports. That Obama essentially confirmed today’s New York Times report about a proposed deal with Moscow whereby it would go along with increasing sanctions against Iran in exchange for Washington’s non-deployment of anti-missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic only adds to the impression that some version of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s September ‘08 report on Iran strategy (drafted by hard-line neo-cons Michael Rubin and Michael Makovsky and signed by Ross), which I wrote about here, is in the process of being implemented. (I was going to write about this later this week, but the Moon of Alabama beat me to the punch. See also Stephen Walt’s analysis of Clinton’s scepticism on his Foreign Policy blog).

Adding to my growing sense that Ross occupies a critical role in policy-making, at least in the State Department, are what Clinton has had to say so far on her trip about Gaza, Hamas, and the Palestinian Authority. As Marc Lynch reports in his truly excellent blog, also on the Foreign Policy website, “her remarks suggest that rather than seize on the possibility of Palestinian reconciliation, Clinton prefers to double-down on the shopworn ‘West Bank first, Fatah only’ policy” strongly advocated by Ross. In that respect, you should definitely read Tuesday’s extended colloquy between Lynch, Brookings’ Tamara Wittes (who is more optimistic), and Carnegie’s Nathan Brown, who shares Lynch’s “disappointment” about Clinton’s performance. As Lynch notes, it seems that Clinton is stuck “in a bit of time-warp” regarding Hamas’ power in Gaza, the Palestinian Authority’s abject failure to enhance its legitimacy, and the Arab League’s renewed efforts to both unify itself and to reconstruct a Palestinian government of national unity. This insensitivity to Palestinian and Arab public opinion bears all the hallmarks of Ross’ failed Mideast diplomacy during the 1990’s.

I also have the impression that Ross and the so-called “Israel Lobby” whose interests he represents believe that enhancing conditions on the West Bank, combined with diplomatic engagement with Syria, will somehow be sufficient for Washington to regain its credibility in the region and rally the Sunni Arab states — along with the European Union, Russia, China, etc. — behind a policy of confrontation with Iran.

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Reader Comments (3)

I think you nailed it the first time, and possibly Obama dropped his name in to make him feel better after it became an issue in the press that Ross was unhappy.

In fact, on this assumption, we can even treat Clinton's leak about Iranian diplomacy in one of two new ways...

1. Clinton was cutting off Iran from Palestine (see my previous comment), and thus cutting off Dennis Ross from Iran policy, possibly in response to Obama elevating his position publicly.

2. Dennis Ross leaked the Clinton comments himself in order to tie Clinton, Dennis Ross, and Iran all into the same reports, thus elevating his status (that he's unhappy about).

What do you think? Any merit to that?

March 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterUJ

If Ross was the (unauthorised) leaker to NYT, then I think someone in Admin would have cut him off at the knees. Certainly Hillary wouldn't have followed up with the "client" swipe at Hamas. I don't think Ross is on the trip, and I think (authorised) leaker is there rather than in DC.

1 is a possible but I don't see a "cut-off" here (that may be because I think Iran military, as opposed to political, support of Hamas is overplayed and possibly overestimated) --- still reads to me as a linkage to make a play for a way forward with new Israel Gov't on the two-state/Palestinian Authority route....

March 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterScott Lucas

Here's what Haaretz has on the conditions Israel has for the US engaging Iran

1. Any dialogue must be both preceded by and accompanied by harsher sanctions against Iran, both within the framework of the UN Security Council and outside it. Otherwise, the talks are liable to be perceived by both Iran and the international community as acceptance of Iran's nuclear program.

2. Before the dialogue begins, the U.S. should formulate an action plan with Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain regarding what to do if the talks fail. Specifically, there must be an agreement that the talks' failure will prompt extremely harsh international sanctions on Iran.

3. A time limit must be set for the talks, to prevent Iran from merely buying time to complete its nuclear development. The talks should also be defined as a "one-time opportunity" for Tehran.

4. Timing is critical, and the U.S. should consider whether it makes sense to begin the talks before Iran's presidential election in June.

If this is to be believed, they don't mention Hamas at all. I think Clinton's comment was a "condition" to Iran, that overplayed or not, if Iran DOES do anything in Palestine it's a complete deal breaker for the US. It's not an all-together unreasonable condition either, given that Iran isn't that popular in Palestine, Hamas doesn't really need their help, and as you said, what presence they might already have is probably vastly overestimated. She's drawing a line between Palestine and Iran, with the US free to engage Iran as long as they don't get involved in that issue.

March 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterUJ

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