The grip that the Israeli lobby has over both
political parties means that any real shift in U.S. Middle Eastern policy is
unlikely, whoever is elected president today. It might also be argued that no
change in policy outside the Middle East is likely either, except that Obama
might talk before he bombs. Given Joe Biden's warning that Obama will respond
decisively to a foreign policy test in his first six months, it might even be
suggested that a new regime could prove more trigger-happy than the current
That said, there is a real substantive difference between the Obama's foreign
policy team and John McCain's. The latter is neocon-dominated, with advisers
such as Bill Kristol, John Bolton, Robert Kaplan, and the Kagan brothers, not
to mention key spokesman Randy Scheunemann. Such an administration would be
virtually guaranteed to see the world in Manichean terms and use the military
as the preferred foreign policy option. When McCain ran against George Bush
in 2000, he was the choice of the neocons, who saw him as the candidate mostly
likely to engage in an assertive foreign policy that would, inter alia,
be "good" for Israel. He is still their man, and, since it has also
become clear that the choice of Sarah Palin originated with the neocons at National
Review and The Weekly Standard, McCain-Palin is very much their ticket.
Barack Obama has inherited much of the old Bill Clinton foreign policy team,
including Richard Holbrooke, Susan Rice, Anthony Lake, and Madeleine Albright.
One might reasonably critique much of Clinton's foreign and security policy
most particularly the horrific sanctions against Iraq, war in the Balkans,
invasion of Haiti, and chaotic counterterrorism efforts but his advisers
were mostly old-school realists who believed that there was such a thing as
a national interest and that dealing with other nations required the give-and-take
of diplomacy in addition to the threat of force.
If Obama wins, it is generally believed that the position of Secretary of State
will go to Richard Holbrooke. Holbrooke is not shy when it comes to the use
of force, having been the architect of U.S. military engagement in Bosnia in
the mid-1990s, but his current views on Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan are
not completely clear. Regarding Iraq, he initially supported removing Saddam
Hussein but has lately called for a "new strategy" for redeployment
of U.S. forces in the region. Holbrooke's aggressiveness combined with Joe Biden's
prediction that there will be a major challenge together suggest that Obama
will quite likely be supported by his advisers if he is keen to prove that he
is not a wimp, so the first six months or so could be a wild ride.
But what is really scary about a possible Obama administration is Dennis Ross.
Ross claims that he believes in diplomacy and has even written a book on the
subject, though his one major foray in that area, Camp David in 2000, demonstrated
that he was more interested in advancing Israeli interests than he was in creating
a viable peace with the Palestinians. He was the architect of so-called "no
surprises" negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis in which
all positions supported by the U.S. had to be cleared by Israel before they
were even placed on the table. If the Israelis said "no," the U.S.
would back down. Ross was also one of the most vocal critics of former Democratic
President Jimmy Carter after Carter wrote Palestine:
Peace Not Apartheid.
Ross has most recently been in the news for his participation on a task force
organized by the Washington-based Bipartisan Policy Center, headed by ex-senators
George Mitchell, Daniel Coats, and Charles Robb. In this case, bipartisan most
definitely does not mean objective. The task force included Ross; Steve Rademaker,
husband of Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI); Michael
Rubin, also of AEI; Kenneth Weinstein of the Hudson Institute; Kenneth Katzmann
of the Congressional Research Service; as well as two generals, an admiral,
two former Defense Department officials who worked for Paul Wolfowitz and Doug
Feith, and a Lehman Brothers economist. Rubin drafted the report assisted by
the project director Michael Makovsky, who is the brother of David Makovsky,
senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a pro-Israeli
think-tank that was founded by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee
(AIPAC). No one on the task force was an independent expert on Iran who might
have been willing or able to express Iran's concerns or point of view. Indeed,
apart from Rubin, no one on the task force knew anything about Iran at all,
except possibly that it was part of the axis of evil.
Not surprisingly, the task force's report, "Meeting
the Challenge: U.S. Policy Toward Iranian Nuclear Development" [.pdf],
issued in September, concluded that Iran has no right to enrich nuclear fuel
for any purpose. It 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 U.S. forces should remain in the area after Iran is bombed
into submission, vigilant and ready to react to any possible resurgence by the
mullahs. On Oct. 23 an op-ed appeared in the Washington Post by Coats
and Robb that summarized the "bipartisan" conclusions without identifying
the members of the task force itself, as many readers would certainly have realized
from the names that the report was the latest neocon snow job. The Washington
Post apparently did not care that it was being exploited to promote a bad
policy wrapped in a deceptive fog of bipartisanship.
Ross is a commentator for Fox News and the Ziegler distinguished fellow at
WINEP, which he helped found in the 1980s. He is also chairman of the Jerusalem-
based Jewish People Policy Planning Institute.
He would only be a spear-carrier in the latest neocon absurdity if it weren't
for the fact that he is a major player in the Obama campaign as Obama's top
adviser on the Middle East and a key link to AIPAC. Ross reportedly has been
helping the Obama campaign formulate positions that AIPAC would be comfortable
with. It has been reported that Ross has aspirations to become secretary of
state, but he lacks the seniority for that position and may instead focus on
the Middle East, either at the State Department or the National Security Council.
Ross-watchers believe that if he is put in charge of Middle Eastern policy,
he will guarantee that only Israeli security concerns will matter to the new
administration, because that is the position he has always taken in the past.
If the bipartisan report is any indication, he will be particularly interested
in defanging Iran, a position that he has made clear in speeches to Israeli
My focus on Dennis Ross and what he represents is not intended to single him
out for demonization. Rather, it is a word of caution to the electorate not
to expect too much from Obama if he is elected, as he is surrounded by people
who already have agendas. There are many Dennis Rosses out there, and they are
scattered throughout the government bureaucracy, Congress, and the media. For
some of them, Israel is a key issue, but there are many others intent on returning
to a Cold War with Russia and thwarting China, starting new quarrels over issues
unrelated to the national interest. Closer to home, Obama and McCain both made
a point of disparaging Venezuela in their last debate. President Hugo Chavez
is a despicable clown in many respects, but his country provides much of the
oil Americans consume. Does Washington need to go after him too? Looking for
new dragons to slay in an unstable world has brought the Bush administration
to its knees. Americans do not need four more years of the same kind of policies
from Obama or McCain.