01 May 2009

Iran: Hillary’s envoy (contd.)

In Hillary's envoy: not everyone is cheering I suggested that the appointment of Mr Dennis Ross as her Special Adviser for the Gulf and Southwest Asia might be a less than felicitous one for the Obama Administration’s aspirations to establish a more productive relationship with Iran.

Certainly contributing editor Louis Dreyfuss, writing in The Nation on 8 April 2009, is not cheering (see Dennis Ross's Iran Plan: Is Obama's dialogue with Iran already doomed?).

Dreyfuss writes that Ross’s critics had hoped that his influence would be marginal, but Ross, who has a pronounced pro-Israel tilt and a track record of favouring drastic military action against Iran, is a skilled operator and it has not turned out that way:

But diplomats and Middle East watchers hoping Ross would be sidelined are wrong. He is building an empire at the State Department: hiring staff and, with his legendary flair for bureaucratic wrangling, cementing liaisons with a wide range of US officials. The Iran portfolio is his, says an insider. "Everything we've seen indicates that Ross has completely taken over the issue," says a key Iran specialist. "He's acting as if he's the guy. Wherever you go at State, they tell you, 'You've gotta go through Dennis.' "

Not all of Ross’s critics are persons unsympathetic to Israel. Dreyfuss quotes from a book co-writtten by Daniel Kurtzer, an Orthodox Jew who served as US ambassador to Israel and Egypt and who was one of Obama's top Middle East advisers last year:

The perception always was that Dennis started from the Israeli bottom line, that he listened to what Israel wanted and then tried to sell it to the Arabs.

This could all end in tears for the Obama Administration. President Obama, who is no doubt serious about establishing a better relationship with Iran, has many other preoccupations – the Global Financial Crisis, the fate of the United States auto industry, the withdrawal from Iraq, the war in Afghanistan and the closely related problems in Pakistan, masterminding a two state solution in Palestine, and now the swine flu issue. He has only a limited time to give to the US-Iran issue; Dennis Ross has all the time in the world.

In a Westminster style polity one would expect the relevant Cabinet Minister to prevent government officials from running off with their own agenda, but Washington is no ordinary polity. Hillary Clinton, who could hardly be accused of being a team player, will do what is good for Hillary Clinton and her own continuing ambitions. Dennis Ross’s appointment by Clinton was no accident; like Ross, Clinton is very much a part of the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) crowd, as her opening lines at its Annual Conference on 4 June last year attest:

It is wonderful being here with all of you, among so many friends and I feel like this is a giant family reunion. The largest AIPAC gathering in history and I feel like I am among family and thank you for the warm welcome.

Read Mrs Clinton’s full AIPAC address here.

Building a more productive relationship with Iran flies in the face of all that these people stand for.

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