Dennis Ross and Dual Loyalties
Defending the Obama administration’s Middle East strategist against a pernicious smear.
April 8, 2010 - 12:05 am
Walt then airs this complaint, presumably directed at Ross:
But when an individual’s own activities or statements give independent evidence of strong attachment to a particular foreign country, is it a good idea to give them an influential role in shaping U.S. policy towards that country?
Since Walt doesn’t cite any of these suspicious “activities” and “statements,” it’s hard to find the argument very persuasive. But let’s assume that Ross does have a “strong” attachment to Israel. He’s certainly more sympathetic than Walt, although that is saying little. In that case, so what? Why is this a drawback rather than an asset? Perhaps if the Obama administration had shown more appreciation for Israel’s position on the city it considers its rightful capital, it could have avoided the diplomatic fallout that has seen U.S.-Israeli relations plummet to the lowest point in decades, with the administration losing all standing in the eyes of the Israeli public: In the latest polls, just 9 percent of Israeli Jews view the Obama administration as pro-Israel. How the administration expects to forge a peace settlement when it is overwhelmingly viewed as hostile to Israeli interests is a diplomatic quandary that Ross’s nameless internal critics don’t seem to have considered.
In the interest of accuracy, it might be noted that Ross has a mixed record on issues of importance to Israel. Most misguidedly, he spearheaded the Clinton administration’s efforts to treat the late Yassir Arafat as a credible negotiating partner instead of the arch-terrorist he was. (To his belated credit, Ross later admitted in his book Statecraft that the administration had been wrong to assume that Arafat had any intention of ending the conflict. That was sufficiently obvious at the time, of course.) On the other hand, Ross at least has the good sense to reject the ridiculous canard that the creation of a Palestinian state should be a paramount American interest — ahead of, say, stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. And whatever his past errors of judgment, he also deserves the backing of Israel’s supporters in this latest row. If he is exasperating anti-Israel obsessives like Walt, Ross must be doing something right.