The Middle East Transition


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.