With the 2008 presidential campaign at its end,
pundits have begun to discuss in earnest what expected winner Barack Obama's
administration might look like. An important piece of evidence is Obama's campaign
team, which largely escaped the harsh scrutiny that his opponent's lobbyist-laden
Because of Obama's relative inexperience on foreign policy, it is this part
of his team that is getting much of the attention, and one adviser in particular
Dennis Ross, Bill Clinton's Mideast envoy whose record includes supporting
the pro-Iraq War advocacy campaigns of the Project for the New American Century
and serving as a consultant to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy
(WINEP), a bastion of Israel-centric policy thinking in Washington.
Generally regarded as a political moderate who has the ear and respect of
both Republicans and Democrats, Ross, a former Soviet specialist, reportedly
has told friends and foreign officials that he hopes to nab a very senior post
in an Obama administration, one that at least covers Iran policy, if not the
entire Greater Middle East.
But Ross' record as a Mideast peacemaker during the Clinton years, longtime
association with hawkish political factions, and track record promoting a hard
line vis-à-vis Israel's Arab neighbors have spurred concern that he
would be a less-than-ideal pick for a Middle East portfolio in an Obama administration,
which many presume he will be offered.
As one Clinton official, asked about Ross' role in the Obama campaign, told
Time magazine earlier this year, "If Obama wants to embody something
new that can actually succeed, it's not just a break from [George W. Bush]
Bush that he's going to need, but a break from Clinton."
Despite some successes as Clinton's envoy crafting agreements between Israel
and its neighbors, Ross' efforts to negotiate an end to the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict were a failure. In his writings, Ross has emphasized Palestinian intransigence
in particular, Yasser Arafat's as being the cause for the failure,
although he doesn't exempt Israel from blame.
Other participants in those negotiations have pointed their finger at Ross.
In their book Negotiating
Arab-Israeli Peace, Daniel Kurtzer, who is also an Obama adviser, 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.
thought he was tilted too much toward the Israelis."
Ross got his start in high-level policy-making working under Paul Wolfowitz
in the Pentagon during the Carter administration. Wolfowitz who is better
known for his role pushing the Iraq War after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and
for his controversial tenure as World Bank head tasked Ross with helping
draft a study assessing threats to U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf. The
1979 study, titled the "Limited Contingency Study," concluded that
aside from the Soviet Union, a key threat to the region's oil fields was Iraq.
In his 2004 book the Rise
of the Vulcans, James Mann writes that this study, the Pentagon's "first
extensive examination of the need for the United States to defend the Persian
Gulf," would go on to "play a groundbreaking role in changing American
military policy toward the Persian Gulf over the coming decades."
When Wolfowitz was tapped to head the State Department's Policy Planning Staff
after the election of Ronald Reagan, he included Ross in his team of assistants,
which, according to Mann, would go on to become, over the next two decades,
"the heart of a new neoconservative network within the foreign policy
Other Wolfowitz team members from that time included I. Lewis Libby, a Washington
lawyer who later became notorious as the disgraced former chief aide to Vice
President Dick Cheney; James Roche, President George W. Bush's Air Force secretary
who resigned after being implicated in the Boeing tanker leasing scandal; Zalmay
Khalilzad, U.S. ambassador to the UN and post-invasion ambassador to Iraq;
Alan Keyes, the perennial Republican presidential candidate; and Francis Fukuyama,
the "end of history" theorist and erstwhile neoconservative ally
who turned against the faction after the Iraq invasion.
Ross' close association with neoconservatives has deepened over the years,
becoming especially pronounced in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He
supported the invasion of Iraq and, during the run-up to the 2008 presidential
elections, repeatedly teamed up with writers from groups like the American
Enterprise Institute (AEI) to craft hard-line policies toward Iran.
Ross served as the co-convener of WINEP's Presidential Task Force on the Future
of U.S.-Israel Relations, which issued the June 2008 report "Strengthening
the Partnership: How to Deepen U.S.-Israel Cooperation on the Iranian Nuclear
Challenge." The report was signed by a number of former Democratic and
Republican policymakers, as well as by several neoconservatives, including
former CIA director James Woolsey and Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman
who co-founded the rightist pressure group Empower America.
Interestingly, several other advisers to the Obama campaign added their names
to the document Anthony Lake, Susan Rice, and Richard Clarke.
Ross also helped produce the 2008 report "Meeting the Challenge: U.S.
Policy Toward Iranian Nuclear Development," which was published by a study
group convened by the Bipartisan Policy Center, a group led by several former
The lead drafter of the report was AEI's Michael Rubin, an outspoken proponent
of U.S. military intervention in the Middle East. Other participants included
hawkish arms control analyst Henry Sokolski; Michael Makovsky, a former aide
to Douglas Feith; Stephen Rademaker, who worked under former UN Ambassador
John Bolton in the State Department; and the neoconservative Hudson Institute
director, Kenneth Weinstein.
The report argues that despite Iran's assurances to the contrary, its nuclear
program aims to develop nuclear weapons and is thus a threat to "U.S.
and global security, regional stability, and the international nonproliferation
regime," a conclusion that stands in contrast to the CIA's November 2007
National Intelligence Estimate, which found that Iran had ceased its nuclear
Like the WINEP study, the report argues that "Cold War deterrence"
is not persuasive in the context of Iran's program, due in large measure to
the "Islamic Republic's extremist ideology." Even a peaceful indigenous
uranium enrichment program would place the entire Middle East region "under
a cloud of ambiguity given uncertain Iranian capacities and intentions."
Among the report's proposals are undertaking a major military buildup in the
Gulf; pressuring Russia to halt weapons assistance; and, if the U.S. agrees
to hold direct talks with Tehran without insisting that the country first cease
enrichment activities, setting a predetermined compliance deadline and be prepared
to apply increasingly harsh repercussions if these are not met, leading ultimately
to U.S. military strikes.
Calling the report a "roadmap to war," Inter Press Service's Jim
Lobe writes, "In other words, if Tehran is not eventually prepared to
permanently abandon its enrichment of uranium on its own soil a position
that is certain to be rejected by Iran ab initio war becomes
inevitable, and all intermediate steps, even including direct talks if the
new president chooses to pursue them, will amount to going through the motions.
What is a top Obama adviser [Dennis Ross] doing signing on to it?"
(Inter Press Service)