THE SPINE JUNE 15, 2009
The news that Dennis Ross, long time State Department strategist and peace processor, is being bounced as special envoy to Iran comes from an article by Barak Ravid in the reliable (at least on these matters) Ha'aretz. The story seems to assume that Ross was declared persona non grata by Tehran either because he was a Jew or because he believes that Iran should not be permitted to acquire nuclear weapons. If the Obama administration so readily capitulated to Dr. Ahmadinejad's masters or minions, there's another reason to be worried about its seriousness in this very serious encounter between antagonists. No, we are actually enemies. To have crumbled precisely while the regime of the ayatollahs is facing a real crisis of confidence at home and something of a challenge to its legitimacy abroad is, well, just that: crumbling. It certainly does not testify to American resilience, even diplomatically. My instinct here is that the president and Mrs. Clinton are so eager to engage--engage even for its own sake--that they'll do anything to please the other. This does not come as a result of analysis. It is, I am sorry to say, a predicated formula. I had an inkling of trouble a few weeks ago when The New Republic was negotiating to publish a small part of a new book, Myths, Illusions and Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East, which Ross co-wrote with David Makovsky. Yes, the text of the book raises the possibility of a strike of last resort against Iran's nuclear installations. In any event, the State Department wouldn't give its approval. And you now know why. Or do you? I believe it's because the administration has given up the military option.Now, as Ha'aretz has it, Ross may be moved into the Israeli-Palestinian peace process on which he worked forever and a day, for both George H.W. Bush (which also means James Baker) and Bill Clinton. He no longer is saddled with the illusions of their administrations about how you negotiate on that issue. But George Mitchell is, if anything, more encumbered by the make-believe reality that is basic to carrying on of the process. That would not be a good match for Ross. He knows too much. And Mitchell knows only ... well, pretty close to nothing but cliches.