Who is Dennis Ross?
Here's the pertinent part of his bio at Rightweb:
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. 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), 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 Tehran’s nuclear program and other issues in the region.
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." 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."
Ross’s 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.”
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.”
Some observers pointed to the ultimate failure of the initiatives crafted by Ross as the most surprising aspect of the Obama campaign’s 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."
More disturbing are specific reports on the Ross position toward Iran, which--as Patrick Krey points out--places him squarely in the John Bolton bomb-them-into-rubble-immediately school:
Former CIA Officer Phillip Giraldi has warned that top Obama adviser Dennis Ross was part of a task force consisting mostly of neocons that issued a report that "advocated talking to Tehran to give it a chance to surrender on all key issues before attacking it, urging the next president to build up forces for the assault from day one of the new administration." The task force recommended that failure of the talks be followed up with a "show of force" in the region, involving a blockade of Iranian gas imports and oil exports, which would in turn be followed up with "kinetic action," a U.S. assault on Iran. That doesn't exactly sound like the diplomatic approach trumpeted by Obama on the campaign trail. Ross has worked closely with neocon think tanks like PNAC and WINEP, as well as for FOX News, where he was a strong advocate for war against Iraq.
Krey also provides another piece of information about the Obama national security team of which I was not aware--one specific earlier piece of advice from the new National Security Advisor nominee, James L. Jones:
The appointment of Marine Corps Gen. James L. Jones as national security adviser is also a bad omen according to Doug Bandow of the American Conservative Defense Alliance. Bandow writes that Jones is "an advocate of higher military spending, and his most famous proposal was disastrously bad: to place a NATO force, presumably including Americans, in the West Bank. Is there a dumber region in which to station American soldiers and Marines? Maybe Iraq, but then the Palestinian territories come in at a strong second place."
This is particularly important information, as today there are unsubstantiated accusations from a Muslim newspaper in London that American troops are already assisting the Israelis right now in locating and collapsing tunnels out of Gaza. According to Jason Ditz at Anti-war.com:
According to respected London-based Arabic language newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi, the United States deployed troops to the Egypt-Gaza border weeks ago, at Israel’s behest, and the Army Corps of Engineers is currently helping the Israeli military unearth the tunnels used to smuggle both weapons and goods from Sinai into the blockaded strip.
If true--and I emphasize again that this is a single, unsubstantiated report--it is a particularly dangerous escalation of direct US military involvement in Israel's conflicts with her neighbors, one that will have profound consequences for any foreign policy pursued by the incoming administration.
Among other things, with this line-up in his national security team, President Obama will have to act swiftly if it is his intent to be seen as an honest broker rather than purely an advocate for Israeli policies, notes WaPo:
"The Gaza crisis has weakened all those on the Arab side who would be Obama's partners," said Martin Indyk, author of "Innocent Abroad," a just-published memoir of serving as a peace negotiator in the Clinton administration. "Obama will have to mobilize Arab leaders in support of a major effort" to resolve the conflict. Otherwise, he said, groups such as Hamas -- who are threatened by Obama's popularity in the Arab world -- "will brand him as the same as George Bush."
It is a tough situation to inherit--orders of magnitude worse than the Somalian situation Bill Clinton inherited from Bush 41, and the early indications are not re-assuring--unless you really liked the foreign policy of the past eight years.
Barack Obama has promised new ideas and new thinking, but you have to wonder how you get new ideas and new thinking out of pretty much the same old faces, with a history of trotting out the same old ideas?
Titanic? Deck chairs? That sort of thing?
A final note for all my fans (?) who think I'm piling on way too early: one of your chief complaints about the past eight years was that everybody gave Dubya a free ride at the start, when the course of events could still have been changed. Well, that's where we are now. I have applauded Obama on several foreign policy issues thus far, specifically his comment about extending our nuclear umbrella to protect Israel, his selection of Leon Panetta for CIA Director, and his finally making a statement on the Gaza situation. I will continue to applaud him when I think he does the right thing. But intellectual consistency and the best interests of our country requires the same sort of scrutiny on the more questionable aspects of his foreign policy agenda. Presidents have to be able to multi-task (Obama himself has reminded us), but current indications are that his domestic agenda is going to consume most of his attention, and that he is setting up a very conventional, bureaucratized approach to foreign policy with too many of the "usual suspects" in positions to keep following the same disastrous road the US has now been following for several decades: imperial interventionism.