I understand from various sources that Dennis Ross’ prospective status as Middle East super-envoy and, as the WINEP memo disclosed by The Nelson Report claimed, Clinton’s “top advisor on a wide range of Middle East issues, from the Arab-Israeli peace process to Iran,” is not yet a done deal.
Media and other reports that Ross would not only get the Iran portfolio, but would also act as the effective overseer of virtually all U.S. Middle East diplomacy, including the work other possible special envoys (such as Richard Haass or Dan Kurtzer on Arab-Israeli affairs), was based virtually exclusively on the internal memo sent from WINEP’s top leadership to its board of trustees that was leaked to Chris Nelson. The memo itself appeared to be an effort by WINEP’s leadership to impress its funders with its influence and power. As to the leak to Nelson, it is unclear whether it was authorized — in order, for example, to make Ross’ exalted authority a fait accompli to ensure that no one important would speak out against the idea lest s/he antagonize the Ross — or whether it was the unauthorized initiative of a WINEP official who was trying to impress Nelson and his influential readers with his or her insider dope.
In any event, it appears that the leak provoked some influential Democratic donors to protest the idea of Ross’ reported pre-eminent status to the transition team and that they, in turn, were assured that the deal was not yet sealed. (There was already a lot of pre-existing resentment directed at Ross on the team because, unlike other prospective high-level foreign-policy officials, Ross has not been shy about speaking and commenting publicly about his policy preferences during the transition period. The assumption is also that it was Ross himself who informed WINEP, which then produced its triumphant memo — a version of events which, if true, suggests that the presumptive super-envoy may lack the kind of discretion and discipline that would normally be expected in a job of such potentially enormous import.)
From what I’ve been able to find out, Ross has been offered a new State Department position designed to effectively manage the relationship with Iran in all its various forms, from nuclear proliferation, to support for non-state actors like Hamas and Hezbollah, to Iraq, and the Gulf, etc. (although at least one anti-Ross source told me that even that much has not been nailed down completely). But what has almost certainly not yet been agreed is that Ross will enjoy some kind of pre-eminent status as was suggested in my and other reporting and in the WINEP memo. In other words, instead of effectively managing the work of other special envoys — or, for that matter, the work of the new Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs (Beth Jones?) — as it pertains to Iran, Ross will be expected to co-ordinate his work with theirs as one member of a team of equals.
Given Ross’ lack of experience with and knowledge about Iran — not to mention his long-standing ties to WINEP and other key components of the “Israel Lobby,” or his participation in and his endorsement of that dreadful Bipartisan Policy Center report by Michael Rubin and Michael Makovsky — the notion that he will have any major role on U.S. Iran policy under Obama is still alarming to those who hope for a fresh, less antagonistic approach toward Tehran. But the apparent likelihood that he will not be given the authority to effectively oversee all of Middle East policy from the “seventh-floor office …designed especially for him,” as the WINEP memo put it, offers at least some consolation. And, given WINEP’s boastfulness and indiscretion — as well as enough protests by major donors and Democratic activists to the transition team in the coming days, and particularly in advance of Clinton’s confirmation hearings next week — he may not even get that seventh-floor office, at least not one “designed especially for him.”