I recently had the opportunity to ask former US Middle East envoy Dennis Ross this question: Should the US create foreign policy on the basis of what Israel perceives or threatens to do? His answer was startling and ominous.
Dennis Ross is a bright shining lie. He is the type of brilliant bureaucrat that can lie the US into a war with the credibility of a Colin Powell and the blind dedication of a Douglas Feith. His war of choice is Iran, and if all goes according to his envisioning, he will be a prominent player in an Obama administration when the first American-supplied smart bomb is dropped in a US-sanctioned Israeli attack on Iran in 2010.
Ross claims to be an accomplished diplomat, and an objective and dispassionate analyst of the Middle East. He was in fact an abject failure as Bill Clinton’s Middle East coordinator1 and is a zealous advocate on behalf of the Israeli government and its American supporters. As Clinton’s envoy and negotiator, Ross’ forte was justifying Israeli non-compliance with their own previous agreements, (many of which were formal and signed) and then renegotiating those agreements on Israel’s behalf. This tactic directly led to the breakdown of Syrian/Israeli peace talks in 2000. Ross’ duplicitous style also proved extremely deleterious in negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. The Palestinians, and even some American diplomats, asked President Clinton to replace Ross because of his dishonesty and bias, but Clinton always refused to do so. Somehow, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, Ross has been able to successfully cultivate and maintain his false public image as a successful and dispassionate mediator.
A couple of weeks ago, Ross, who is presently advising and campaigning for Presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama, gave a lecture at Colgate University, a small liberal arts school in Central New York. It was during the question and answer period that I brought up a prominent report in the Israeli press which said former member of parliament and former cabinet minister Ephraim Sneh, speaking for his government, sent identical memos to both Senators Obama and John McCain. The memos declared that Israel would attack Iran in 2010 unless the “Iranian nuclear threat” is negated by a US attack or a regime change in Tehran.1
Subsequent to having received the memo, Barack Obama was asked at a campaign stop in Iowa if Israel felt it had the “green light” from the US to attack Iran. Obama chose not to answer the question directly, claiming any answer would be speculation. Instead the candidate responded, “my job as President would be to try to make sure that we are tightening the screws on Iran… before Israel feels its back is to the wall.”2
My question to Dennis Ross, a logical choice for a senior foreign policy appointment in a Democratic administration, was whether he believes it was wise for Obama to imply that he would create US foreign policy on the basis of what Israel perceives or threatens to do. This is especially important since we are apparently talking about a massive Israeli military assault on Iran which could escalate into a wider war and have a grave impact upon American interests and armed forces in the region.
Ross’ answer was astounding. He said he sees nothing wrong with Obama’s statement since the candidate was only stating a fact. Ross then said if the Israelis want to attack Iran there is nothing the U.S. can do to stop them. Unfortunately, I did not have an opportunity for a follow-up since a visibly agitated Ross concluded his response with his back toward me and quickly went on to the next questioner. If I had had a chance for a follow-up, I would have pointed out to Ross that to say that the US cannot stop Israel from attacking Iran is simply not true. One proof is that the Bush administration prevented such an attack just last summer. This has been widely reported and publicly confirmed by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Is Ross saying that although the Bush administration blocked Israel, our Barack will not consider stopping their Barak if Israel chooses to assault Iran? Didn’t the American people vote for a less militaristic approach to foreign policy in 2006, thinking that by electing a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives they were voting for peaceful solutions? Is anybody in the Democratic Party listening?
Ross’ bellicose stand on Iran actually comes as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with his slavish obeisance to whatever is the current Israeli policy. Last week Ross wrote that the Bush administration is failing in regard to Iran, opining that we cannot afford “four more years of US policies that are tough rhetorically but soft practically.”3 In a recent Wall Street Journal article4 co-authored with Richard Holbrooke and James Woolsey, with whom he has founded the group called United Against Nuclear Iran, Ross and his colleagues beat the drums for war with the usual exaggerated warnings of imminent danger and a dubious list of past and future Iranian transgressions.
In an article in the Financial Times5, Daniel Dombey and James Blitz wrote that Ross, working with the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think-tank, has produced a report calling for the Americans and Europeans to bypass the United Nations and impose tougher sanctions on Iran. In addition to the sanction campaign, the report, which is titled “Meeting the Challenge: US Policy Toward Iranian Nuclear Development,”6 recommends taking military steps such as “pre-positioning additional US and allied forces, deploying additional aircraft carrier battle groups and minesweepers [and] emplacing other war materiel in the [Gulf] region.” The report further urges that these military actions should be taken by the new President on his first day in office!
During the Oslo peace negotiations, far from being an honest broker, Ross was actually Israel’s lawyer, working tirelessly to achieve what he believed to be the best possible outcome for his client, then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. After negotiations failed, like any good lawyer, he praised his client and immediately and deceptively placed all fault for the breakdown of the Camp David summit on Yasser Arafat, despite a prior agreement not to do so. Arafat had been reluctant to participate in the summit since he correctly believed that the timing and the “make or break” nature of the planned meeting would be disadvantageous for his side. The Palestinian leader only agreed to attend when President Bill Clinton promised that neither side would be publicly held responsible if the talks failed. Ross has been violating that agreement continually and vociferously for the past eight years by unjustifiably blaming the Palestinians for the failure of Camp David. Mercifully, this was not a part of his stage show at Colgate.
At Colgate, Ross was introduced as a Soviet scholar and diplomat who has been devoted to pursuing peace in the Middle East. No mention was made of his long association with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) which is a prominent pro-Israel think-tank founded by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The introduction did not state that Ross is currently an advisor to Barack Obama and that he is campaigning for the candidate among Jewish voters using a talking point that Obama will stop Iran from threatening Israel. Finally, the introduction did not mention that Ross is Jewish, with many professional and personal ties to the State of Israel. Interestingly, Ross himself did not voluntarily allude to any of these very relevant details during his talk, which was mostly about Middle East diplomacy, although some of these facts surfaced during the question and answer session.
Dennis Ross bristles when he is characterized as a member of the pro-Israel lobby. He was, however, one of the public intellectuals who were prominent in the vociferous and disingenuous attacks on John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, two academics whose recent book, The Israel Lobby, angered many in the pro-Israel camp. Yet Ross differs with many in the American pro-Israel community in that he always seems to side with the current Israeli government even when most members of pro-Israel American organizations such as AIPAC, do not. Ross will advocate territorial compromise if the present Israeli government supports it. Thus he was a champion of the Oslo peace process, is a supporter of talks with Syria and was an advocate on behalf of Ariel Sharon’s disengagement from Gaza. On the other hand, a vast majority of pro-Israel American organizations and their members are more in tune than Ross is with the settler movement and right-wing Likud party line, and are prone to reject any Israeli negotiation or territorial compromise.
Before I arrived at Colgate, I considered raising some issues during the question and answer session about Ross’ unsuitability to represent US interests in regard to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and with the Arab world generally. In addition to his affiliation with WINEP, a lesser known conflict of interest and one that may be an even greater indication of Ross’ bias, is his chairmanship of the Jerusalem-based think-tank the Jewish People Planning Policy Institute (JPPPI). JPPPI is a part of the Jewish Agency for Israel. The Jewish Agency or the Sochnut (Agency), as it is usually referred to in Hebrew, is an important Israeli quasi-governmental entity which originally was the government-in-waiting under the British Mandate. Today the Jewish Agency has a more limited role but still is an important well-funded institution in Israeli-Jewish society.
On the subject of Iran, Ross is a fervent and active advocate for Israel and their ill-conceived planned military attack. Like Vice President Cheney did with Iraq, he ignores all evidence which does not support his preconceived view. Like Cheney, he even ignores the reports of the U.S. intelligence community. (The National Intelligence Estimate of 2007 casts doubt on the view that Iran will shortly possess nuclear weapons.) He also ignores the fact that Israel wants to destabilize Iran because of Tehran’s support of its enemies, Hamas and Hezbollah. This may be the main reason for any Israeli aggression against Tehran and not the alleged nuclear threat.
The U.S. Secretary of State Robert Gates has stated that a US or Israeli attack on Iran at this time would not be in the best interests of the United States. Gates averred that such an attack would play havoc with the price of oil and cause massive Iranian retaliation, possibly coordinated with Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria against US forces and against Israel. Not everyone in Israel wants to attack Iran. Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit cautioned that “Israel must on no account attack Iran, speak of attacking Iran or even think about it…. [A]ttacking Iran on our own initiative is a megalomaniacal reckless idea.”7
The current decision-makers in the Israeli government, however, are willing to either ignore or accept the disastrous consequences of an attack on Iran even though they have agreed to delay it. If elected, Barack Obama probably will have to decide whether the United States will regard Iran’s “nuclear threat” from an Israeli perspective and agree to their planned attack. If he has to make that decision, let’s hope Dennis Ross will not be one of his key Middle East advisors.
- For a particularly good account see Swisher, Clayton, E., The Truth About Camp David, Nation, 2004. [↩]
- Bohan, Caren, “Obama: World Must Press Iran Or Israel May Respond,” Reuters, August, 25, 2008. [↩]
- Ross, Dennis, “Why I Support Barack Obama,” The Jewish Journal, October 9, 2008. [↩]
- Ross, Dennis, et al., “Everyone Needs To Worry About Iran,” Wall Street Journal, September 22, 2008. [↩]
- Dombey, Daniel and Blitz, James, “US and EU Plan Iran Sanctions,” Financial Times, October 13, 2008. [↩]
- Coates, Daniel et al., “Meeting The Challenge: U.S. Policy Toward Iranian Nuclear Development,” Bipartisan Policy Center, September 19, 2008. To download, right click on “Download Report.” [↩]
- Mualem, Mazal and Verter, Yossi, “Israel Must Not Attack Iran, Except In The Line Of Defense,” Ha’aretz, n.d. (but within the last two months). The page also contains a video reporting that the Bush administration refused to send Israel equipment that would improve its ability to attack Iran. [↩]