Very concerning news from the very excellent Nelson Report tonight — that Dennis Ross will become Special Envoy for Iran, reporting directly to SecState-designate Clinton, rather than to the White House. Chris Nelson has great sources everywhere, and, while he is much more an Asia hand than a Mideast expert, I have to take his reports quite seriously. Of course, Ross, who has virtually no independent expertise or experience that I know of regarding Iran, signed on to that September Bipartisan Policy Center report drafted by hard-line neo-cons Michael Rubin and Michael Makovsky, as I reported here in October. Such an appointment should give pause to anyone worried about the lingering possibility of war with Tehran.
Nelson also reports that Richard Haass will be Special Envoy for Israel-Arab affairs, apparently something of a compromise between Ross and Dan Kurtzer. For the direction he is likely to take, particularly regarding the Palestinian and Syrian tracks, see my article on his recent report co-authored with Martin Indyk. They also wrote a version of their policy recommendations in the latest edition of Foreign Affairs.
Nelson reports that Richard Holbrooke will become and Special Envoy for India and Pakistan and Anne Marie Slaughter head of Policy Planning, among many other likely appointments of particular relevance to Asia policy.
Remember that SecDef Gates told the the Democratic Caucus last year that if we attacked Iran, “our grandchildren will be fighting jihadists.” There are significant people that Obama will listen to – Gates, Brzezinski, Scowcroft, Chuck Hagel – who do not support military action against Iran. Add to these the Joint Chiefs and, though less important, the entire left of the Democratic Party, and you have a bloc that Dennis Ross isn’t going to make a dent in. Nor is Hillary likely to come out for military action, having been burned by her Iraq experience.
Don’t forget as well that the war in Afghanistan has been going badly – it’s been missing from the headlines because both sides are, in effect, in winter quarters. Action will heat up again in the spring.
Given Afghanistan, a possible unraveling in Pakistan, and the worst economic crisis at home in 70 years, should we really worry that President Obama will start a war against Iran?
The appointment of Ross does seem counterintuitive, given what we believe Obama really thinks about the Middle East. I reserve my judgement for the time being as to why Ross might be selected, but in any case I can’t see his appointment as bringing us closer to a war with Iran.
“given what we believe Obama really thinks about the Middle East.”
We know what he thinks:
Israel is all important.
The US should kill more Afghans.
The US should kill more Pakistanis.
The US should kill somewhat fewer Iraqis and continue to occupy their country.
Palestinians, What’s a Palestinian?
Dennis Ross’s position as chairman of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute should be reason enough to exclude him from any position of influence on US policy. The American tradition teaches that “No man can serve two masters;” given Ross’s commitment to Israel’s long-term strategic interests, it’s extremely difficult to believe that the best interests of the United States would be central to Ross’s thinking.
Papers JPPPI has produced spell out quite clearly how Israel is positioning itself for the time when the US is no longer the world’s strongest economic & military power, which JPPPI says is fast approaching.
It is clear from tracing the chronology of Israel’s demonization campaign against Iran (begun by Ephraim Sneh in 1992), that Israel’s main concern is to replace revenue streams Iran had provided it through the reign of the shah — from Israel & Iran’s oil transshipment partnership, and from the major revenue enhancements Israel enjoyed from the sale of military equipment to Iran, both during the reign of the shah and throughout the course of the Iran-Iraq war (see Ronen Bergman, “The Secret War with Iran”). Israel and Israel’s advocates in the US, not least among them Dennis Ross, have pressed measure after measure through a cowed US Congress that disadvantages US commercial interests but works to Israel’s interests– read about it in Trita Parsi’s “Treacherous Alliance.”
The sentiment among the American people is strongly favorable toward Iran; it is far more advantageous to the people of the United States to have positive, even favorable relations with Iran rather than have that young and talented population as an enemy. Americans are entitled to a liaison to Iran who hold the best interests of America uppermost, and shares America’s values; Dennis Ross is not that person.
I agree with Ms. Linden on all but one point. There is in fact no evidence that “the American people” have warm feelings for Iran. These warm feelings may exist among the cocktail party set in some urban centers. However, if one moves in less exalted circles, one finds that people think Iran is our enemy – it took our people hostage, after all. And these are the moderates, people whose dislike for Iran is nothing compared to that of the millions of fanatical Christians who believe Iran is the devil incarnate. The slant of the U.S. media and political leadership, which follow imperatives that have nothing to do with the real interests of the American people, long ago succeeded in turning a majority of Americans against Iran.
I have no idea whether the majority of Americans today have a friendly, cautious or hostile attitude toward the people of Iran but the answer will become irrelevant once Iran explods a nuclear weapon, which it will in 2009. Because of this, Dennis Ross is a suitable selection. The real question is whether he can separate himself from his pro Israel affection sufficiently to understand and accept Iran’s concerns.
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