Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL) erupts at a constituent who asked about the bank lobby
The 15 freshmen Republican representatives in the House Tea Party Caucus each ran in 2010 on a populist anti-Wall Street message, highlighting their opposition to bank bailouts like the 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and criticizing Washington for enabling the banking sector as it became “Too Big to Fail.” After winning, all fifteen received significant PAC contributions from the banking industry — and have become a reliable vote and mouthpiece for the financial industry, a ThinkProgress analysis of campaign contributions, voting records and public statements reveals.
Dennis Ross, who most recently served as a special State Department envoy to Iran, will abruptly be relieved of his duties, sources in Washington told Haaretz. An official announcement is expected in the coming days. [...] A diplomatic source in Jerusalem speculated that perhaps Ross preferred to work for the National Security Agency, which answers directly to President Barack Obama, and would thus be considered a more enhanced role.
The second part of that doesn’t make much sense to me; it’s hard to imagine what job a life-long diplomat like Ross would take at the NSA. Nor is it clear why “a diplomatic source in Jerusalem” would be in the know on something like that. But leaving the Iran post for some kind of other job seems plausible. As Spencer Ackerman writes, the whole Ross situation has been fraught from the get-go and the nature of his policy brief as a State Department special advisor has been unclear.
I’ve heard it speculated that this may be a copy error and the report is supposed to say National Security Council, which would make sense of the “answers directly to President Barack Obama” thing.
A few Dennis Ross items. One — Greg Sargent reports that his appointment to some kind of Iran envoy gig is still on track despite the fact that the announcement keeps getting delayed. Two — Mike Crowley reports that “the holdup has nothing to do with Ross — but rather the fact that the administration hasn’t quite decided on its early public positioning and rhetoric towards Iran.” Three — Ross was initially rumored to be in line for a post with broader responsibilities than just Iran, but then it got whittled down, but Greg says it’s been whittled back up. Three — The Washington Post reminds us that Ross doesn’t actually favor sending an envoy to Iran:
“Keeping it completely private would protect each side from premature exposure and would not require either side to publicly explain such a move before it was ready,” Ross wrote in a lengthy paper, titled “Diplomatic Strategies for Dealing With Iran,” published by the Center for a New American Security in September. “It would strike the Iranians as more significant and dramatic than either working through the Europeans or non-officials — something that is quite familiar.”
Ross said the United States should ask the Iranian representative during the private talks to explain how his government sees U.S. goals toward Iran and how Iran thinks the United States perceives Iranian goals. The purpose of this dialogue, he wrote, is to “find a way to show the Iranians that we are prepared to listen and to try to understand Iranian concerns and respond to them, but ultimately no progress can be made if our concerns cannot also be understood and addressed.”
This all adds up to Spencer Ackerman’s question of what the heck is an “Iran envoy” for anyway? The difference between Richard Holbrooke, special envoy, and our ambassadors to Pakistan and Afghanistan is that his ambit covers both countries. Similarly, George Mitchell’s not just an ambassador to Israel, he’s an envoy charged with facilitating diplomacy between Israel and its neighbors. But if our envoy to Iran only goes to Iran, then why isn’t he just an ambassador? And if he’s not even going to go to Iran, then what’s he doing at all? And if talks are going to be done in secret, then why publicly appoint someone to be in charge of secret talks? And to reiterate my earlier concerns, it seems to me that the official charged with negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program should have expertise in either Iran or else in disarmament negotiations.
I’m going to suggest that this whole Ross-Iran idea doesn’t really make sense—the job Ross is well-suited to is Mitchell’s job. But Obama, wisely, decided to go with Mitchell rather than retreading with Ross. The Iran issue is, however, important in its own right. And it should be given to the right man. Not given to Ross to use as a platform from which to not negotiate with Iran, while meddling in vaguely defined ways throughout the region.
For those of us who weren’t exited by the prospect of Mideast Peace Envoy Dennis Ross, the trouble was that Ross was too much a neocon, too much a hawk, too much “Israel’s Lawyer”. But by the same token you could see why a president might want to go in that direction. Plenty of people agree with Ross’s approach, and Ross was—and is—certainly well-qualified for an Israeli-Arab conflict post if you favor his approach. But Obama went in a different direction and was right to do so.
But Iran? This seems like a job for which you’d want either an Iran specialist, or else a non-proliferation specialist. But Ross is neither. He doesn’t have a background negotiation disarmament deals, and he’s not an Iran expert—he doesn’t speak Persian as far as I know.
So what’s the appeal here? It seems like the idea is perhaps to keep Ross “on the inside pissing out” without actually putting him in charge of the peace process portfolio. Or else it’s an effort to appease the Abe Foxmans of the world who can’t handle the idea of a fair envoy. But is this just creating a situation in which the Iran envoy would be undermining the Israel envoy? And how would this advance U.S. interests vis-à-via Iran? The Iran nuclear issue is a very important one, President Obama has proposed a significant departure from status quo Iran policy, and Secretary of State Clinton has emphasized the need for the groundwork for such a departure to be carefully laid. That seems to call for putting in charge someone who’s skills and background are more closely tailed to the ask.
I’m watching Hillary Clinton announce the appointment of George Mitchell as a special envoy to the Israeli-Arab conflict, and Richard Holbrooke as a special envoy to India-Pakistan. Both excellent choices. Also interesting is that Dennis Ross, who’d been widely rumored to be a third envoy—tasked with Iran—wasn’t at the event. Perhaps the President and Secretary of State are having some doubts about Ross? I have some doubts myself. After leaving the Clinton administration, where Ross was widely criticized in the Arab world for being too tight with the Israeli side during the Camp David process, Ross went to the Washington Institute for Middle East Policy, a pretty neoconnish outfit. More recently, he was a member of a task force that recently released a report on Iran policy whose lead author was the very neoconnish Michael Rubin. The report’s basic point of view was that talks with Iran are fine and well, but the basic point of holding such talks would be to garner more support for military action—not to actually produce a breakthrough.
Ross’s recent writing and speaking on Iran hasn’t been terribly clear, but I don’t see much of anything in it to suggest that he’s optimistic about the idea of diplomatic engagement leading to real results. He told The Jerusalem Post on April 17, 2007 “I favor engaging Iran, but only if it is guided by an understanding that penalties more than inducements are the key to altering the Iranian position.” The general view isn’t against diplomatic engagement, but it’s primarily oriented toward the idea that engagement will help persuade allies to engage in more coercion, not that the engagement should be undertaken in good faith in the way I took Obama to have been arguing during the campaign. And while skeptical about the use of unilateral preventive military force in Iran, Ross believes it—rather than deterrence—to be the best option if diplomacy fails. He’s written that “the alternative of using force to prevent or forestall the Iranians’ going nuclear does not look much better” than letting Iran go nuclear. But he does think it’s better.
And he’s wrong. As Joe Cirincione and Andrew Grotto wrote in their CAP report “Contain and Engage”, “The third option, to conduct military strikes against Iran’s known nuclear facilities, is the option least likely to achieve U.S. national security objectives.” You can see Cirincione and Grotto talk about contain and engage, which I think is close to the strategy Obama articulated during the campaign, here:
This isn’t wildly inconsistent with what Ross has written—as I’ve said, I don’t think he’s been terribly clear—but it’s important that before any envoy is appointed the president make sure he’s on board with a serious, good-faith effort to negotiate a resolution to the nuclear standoff and not just use negotiations as a PR ploy.
Washington DC is, of course, currently full of people jockeying for jobs. In most of these cases, the stakes are very high for the individuals involved, but pretty low for the country and the world. That’s because on most issues, the policy disagreements between Democrats mainstream enough to be seriously in contention for positions aren’t that huge. But on a couple of issues the personnel fights could have big policy implications. One such fight concerns education personnel and another concerns policy toward the Middle East peace process where the battle seems to be coming down to Dennis Ross versus Dan Kurtzer.
I could imagine a scenario in which Ross is appointed to something key, his appointment reassures the more Likud-friendly elements of American Jewish opinion, and then he turns in an inspired Nixon-goes-to-China performance. But that would be a hope.
It’s a little bit difficult to ever ascertain anyone’s exact views on Israel-Arab issues because everyone is for peace and everyone is against terrorism. But Ross has a disturbing habit of palling around with neocons. He was, for example, a big fan of invading Iraq. He signed a report on Iran policy authored by AEI’s Michael Rubin that basically called for sham negotiations as a prelude to military action. At the Washington Institute for Near East Policy he has a number of neocon associates, including the odious Daniel Pipes.
At a few stages during the campaign, and with some of his early national security picks — perhaps most notably General James Jones as National Security Adviser — Obama has indicated a desire for a bold new approach to these issues. Leaning on Ross as the major policymaker for Israel and its neighbors would signal the reverse — an approach to the issue dominated by caution and domestic politics in a way that would make serious progress unlikely.