29 November 2011

The Middle East legacy of Dennis Ross

Readers of this blog will be aware that I am no fan of US Middle East “expert” Dennis Ross, one of those members of the US foreign policy establishment who migrates between the State Department and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and its offshoot and its offshoot the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), one of those people of whom I feel if you asked the question, “Do you serve the United States or Israel”, they would not understand the question.

Ross, who is known around Washington as “Israel’s lawyer” has never made any secret of his feelings towards Israel, so there is nothing stealthy or furtive about his manoeuvring in support of that country, but this being the case, the reliance that the Obama Administration, supposedly dedicated to creating a new relationship with the Muslim world and with Iran in particular, placed upon him is nothing short of extraordinary.

In March 2009, in Hillary's envoy: not everyone is cheering, I commented on his bizarre appointment as Hillary Clinton’s special adviser on Iran, and followed up with a post in May 2009 – Iran: Hillary’s envoy (contd.) – in which I noted the views of an Orthodox Jew who had served as US Ambassador to Israel and Egypt, who commented that in Middle East peace negotiations:

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.

Further posts included Dennis Ross on the move?, noting rumours that he was moving to the White House, and Making U.S. Iran policy, an extended analysis of the dysfunctional way in which the US Administration was approaching Iran, and Dennis Ross’s role in that.

Andrew Sullivan addressed this theme in March 2010 in a post Dennis Ross Bats for Netanyahu on The Atlantic’s blog The Daily Dish.

A more extended summary of Ross’s contribution to the failure of Obama’s Middle East policy may be found in my 15 January 2011 post Pro-Israel control of Obama’s Middle East Policy.

An interesting addition to the dossier was published as an op-ed piece in Al Jazeera, 23 November 2011, following the announcement that Ross is leaving his post. Entitled The incomplete legacy of Dennis Ross, it was contributed by Robert L. Grenier, chairman of ERG Partners, a financial advisory and consulting firm. Grenier retired from the CIA in 2006, following a 27-year career in the CIA's Clandestine Service. He served as Director of the CIA Counter-Terrorism Center (CTC) from 2004 to 2006, coordinated CIA activities in Iraq from 2002 to 2004 as the Iraq Mission Manager, and was the CIA Chief of Station in Islamabad before and after the 9/11 attacks.

During the Clinton era he was the deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia, and saw at first hand how Ross exercised his undoubted influence to undermine rather than strengthen efforts to create a durable peace following the signature of the Oslo accords.

Grenier’s summary assessment of Ross’s contribution over his time in US Government is:

During his eight years as chief architect of the peace process under Bill Clinton, Dennis was not so much a cause as a symptom of the deep, disqualifying political dysfunction at the heart of US policymaking in the Middle East. Without the dysfunction, you would not have had a Ross to exploit it.
And now, we are told, Dennis is leaving, after nearly three years in the Obama administration. His increasing prominence over those three years is a mark and a measure of Obama's growing disappointment and failure. For an administration which started with such elevated goals in the Middle East, it has come to this: Instead of engaging Iran constructively, as it had hoped, it has devolved instead to a sterile, sanctions-based stalemate, with scant international support, strongly shaped by Ross, who advocates an Israel-centric posture against the Islamic Republic. And instead of exerting judicious pressure on both Israel and the Palestinians to achieve the two-state breakthrough which US interests would dictate, Obama has had to cave instead to the overwhelming political influence of Binyamin Netanyahu, and has looked to Ross as his shield against a pro-Israel lobby which would otherwise turn against him, and may yet do so.

The problem is, as Grenier puts it:

In his many years of successful advocacy, he has precisely mirrored both the strengths and weaknesses of his client, and therefore must be assessed as having represented his client badly: Like the Israelis, he is a brilliant tactician and a strategic ignoramus. A better advocate might have saved his client from himself. Instead, Dennis' many years of successful temporising have helped to bring Israel to the point where a two-state solution is no longer possible. Thanks in some measure to Dennis' efforts, Israel in future can be Jewish, or it can be democratic: It cannot be both. Having served Israel to the point of helping to destroy Zionism: That is the very definition of catastrophic success.

Read the complete Grenier piece here.

No comments: