Could Dennis Ross Set the Stage for Future War with Iran?

The threat that the United States would launch a military attack on
Iran has never been "taken off the table," but you'd be hard pressed
to find many people who think that a U.S. attack on Iran in the near
term is a realistic possibility.

Even the Bush Administration nixed an Israel attack on Iran, as the
New York Timesreported
Sunday. (Haaretzreported this
months ago.) President-elect Obama pledged as a candidate to abandon
the "strategy" of isolation and engage Iran diplomatically. And the
U.S. already has two wars going (three, if you count the war on Gaza,
which is being waged with U.S.
weapons and approval, and which is doing as much political damage
to the U.S. in the Muslim world as any war waged by the U.S.
directly.)

But many of the decisions and actions that led to the U.S. attack on
Iraq in March 2003 were not taken in 2003, but long before. If we had
the opportunity for a do-over, wouldn't we scrutinize those decisions
and actions much more carefully? Decisions are being taken now which
could set the stage for war with Iran in the future.

Recent press reports have indicated that Dennis Ross has the inside
track to be a "super-envoy" in the Obama Administration with
responsibility for diplomacy concerning Iran. Putting Dennis Ross in
charge of diplomatic outreach to Iran would be a akin to putting
Bernard Madoff in charge of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Ross's views on diplomatic engagement with Iran are the mirror image
of the diplomatic engagement President-elect Obama promised during the
campaign.

A November 3rd article in the New York Times noted that a report from
the "Bipartisan Policy Center" proposed blockading Iran's gasoline
imports - an act of war - and says that "a military strike is a
feasible option." The article noted that the report's authors included
Dennis Ross.

According to press reports, Ross's portfolio at State would include
the issue of the relationships between Iran and Palestinian groups.
During the Clinton Administration, Ross played a leading role in
failed U.S. negotiations with the Israelis and Palestinians.

Daniel Kurtzer, an adviser to Obama, has written
that
American and Arab negotiators saw Ross as biased and not "an
honest broker." One Arab negotiator said, "The perception always was
that Dennis [Ross] started from the Israeli bottom line, that he
listened to what Israel wanted and then tried to sell it to the
Arabs." Aaron David Miller, who also served on the U.S. team, has written
that
under Clinton U.S. negotiators acted as "Israel's
lawyer
," rather than focusing on what would enable both sides to
reach agreement.

We're seeing today the disastrous consequences in Gaza of Dennis
Ross-style "diplomacy." Do we really want "Israel's
lawyer
" in charge of U.S. diplomacy with Iran?

I fear that if Dennis Ross succeeds in obtaining this position, he
will be the Elliot Abrams of the Obama Administration, sabotaging the
reasonable initiatives of other officials, as Abrams did in the Bush
Administration. The Guardian recently reported
that sources close to the Obama transition team say the incoming
administration is prepared to abandon Bush's doctrine of isolating
Hamas by establishing a channel to the group. This is the sort of
realistic and reasonable initiative - one that could prevent war in
the future - that Dennis Ross could easily thwart.

Indeed, U.S. diplomacy towards Iran under Dennis Ross would likely be
akin to the "face bargaining" that anti-union employers in the U.S.
often engage in (and which the Employee Free
Choice Act
would significantly curtail, at least with respect to a
first contract, by providing the opportunity for binding arbitration.)
After the "failure" of Dennis Ross's fake diplomacy, we'd be told that
"diplomacy has been tried" and "now there's no option but military
force."

In such a scenario, the opponents of military conflict with Iran might
very well be in a much weaker position politically than they are
today. The folks who voted for Obama, expecting him to pursue
diplomacy with Iran, should insist on the real thing, not the fake
version that Dennis Ross will likely supervise.

The appointment of Ross is not a done deal. Tuesday and Thursday,
Hillary Clinton is scheduled to appear before the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee for confirmation hearings as Secretary of State.
It has been reported that there is opposition to Ross on the Obama
transition team and that Hillary herself is not convinced Ross should
be appointed to this position. If Senators point out the contradiction
between Team Obama's promise of real diplomacy and Dennis Ross's
advocacy of confrontation, it could tip the scales to the "real
diplomacy" faction of Team Obama.

If your Senator is on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee - you can
find the list here
- you can use this link to
urge them to
ask Hillary a question
about Dennis Ross. [Note that the committee
list still formally includes Senator Biden, but he will not be
participating in the hearing, for obvious reasons - the hearing will
be chaired by Senator Kerry.]

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