18 March 2009

Hillary's envoy: not everyone is cheering

The 23 February announcement by an acting spokesman for the State Department that Mr Dennis Ross had been appointed Special Adviser to the Secretary of State for the Gulf and Southwest Asia might seem like progress in the normalisation of US-Iranian relations, but there are interesting aspects to both the appointment and the way it was announced.

First, it is a much more low key announcement than the other special envoy announcements. On 22 January the President, Vice President and the Secretary of State joined in announcing the appointment of George Mitchell as Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, and Richard Holbrooke as Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (see announcement), and on 20 February Mrs Clinton announced the appointment of Ambassador Stephen Bosworth as Special Representative for North Korea Policy.

Second, while these three will report to the President as well as the Secretary of State, Dennis Ross will simply be an Adviser to Mrs Clinton. And while he might seek to be in effect an envoy to Iran, his title does not say that.

Perhaps predictably, the response from Tehran was that the appointment signals that there will be no change in American policy towards Iran. Iranian State Radio reported that Ross “is influenced by Israel and that he supports Israeli actions against Iran’s nuclear program”.

Not all of the negative commentary emanated from Tehran. Here is one quite detailed Iranian-American critique, published under the title The Fox Guarding the Chicken Coop: Dennis Ross and Iran. The author, Sasan Fayazmanesh, is Professor of Economics at California State University at Fresno, and is the author of The United States and Iran: Sanctions, Wars and the Policy of Dual Containment, Routledge Studies in Middle Eastern Politics, 2008.

The thrust of Fayazmanesh’s argument is that Ross is too close to Israel, and is a well known proponent of containment of Iran. He speculates that Ross’s close ties with Israel and the fact that his containment plans were well known to the Iranians are behind a delay in making Ross’s appointment, and that the vague designation he carries derives from an assessment that appointing him Special Envoy to Iran would be too provocative in Tehran. On that analysis, it may be that while Mrs Clinton is enthusiastic about Ross, others in the Administration are more cautious.

Needless to say, the Iranian born, U.S. educated Fayazmanesh is attacked from the right as “anti-American” and “anti-Israel”. Not only that, his course on “The History of Economic Thought” contains “no fewer than five works on Karl Marx” including one he wrote himself. This attack posted on “DISCOVERTHENETWORKSW.ORG: a Guide to the Political Left” is in fact an unattributed straight lift from David Horowitz’s The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, Regnery Publishing, 2006 – see Google Books here. Note the absence of that hallmark of meticulous scholarship, the footnote.

If the contents of this piece is the best Fayazmanesh’s detractors can come up with, he doesn’t sound particularly dangerous to me. And if he really is one of the 101 most dangerous academics amongst the vast academic population of the United States, they must be a pretty tame lot. And at least Fayazmanesh cites his sources.

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