Just how inept is Ross as a ‘Mideast expert’??

Short answer: extremely.
In case anyone is in any doubt, they should read the transcript of what Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said at the end of his meeting with Hillary Clinton in Washington yesterday.
The core of what he said there:

    I would be remiss if I didn’t express our thanks and appreciation to President Obama and to Secretary Clinton for their early and robust focus on trying to bring peace to the Middle East…
    It is time for all people in the Middle East to be able to lead normal lives. Incrementalism and a step-by-step approach has not and– we believe– will not achieve peace. Temporary security, confidence-building measures will also not bring peace. What is required is a comprehensive approach that defines the final outcome at the outset and launches into negotiations over final status issues: borders, Jerusalem, water, refugees and security.

This is a resounding slap in the face for the approach of using lengthy “interim” periods and “confidence building measures” (CBMs) that was a hallmark of Israeli-Palestinian conflict management (not conflict termination) diplomacy, as practiced by Dennis Ross for eight years under Pres. Clinton.
CBMs, of course, were a concept first developed in great detail in US-Soviet diplomacy in the ramp-down phase of the Cold War. That, indeed, was the field in which Dennis got his core academic training. He later rebranded himself, never terribly credibly, as a “Middle East expert.” His main credential in this new field ended up being the abysmal record he racked up as a failed “peacemaker” for those eight years in the Clinton administration.
Oh, and then there was the term he served as founding president of the Jerusalem-based Jewish People Policy Planning Institute from 2006 through earlier this year… Did that make him a “Middle East expert”, I wonder?
This whole concept of CBMs has made an eery comeback into Washington’s Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy since the arrival of Dennis Ross in the White House at the end of June.
Laura Rozen blogged last week that she had,

    confirmed that President Barack Obama has sent letters to at least seven Arab and Gulf states seeking confidence-building measures toward Israel, which Washington has been pushing to agree to a freeze of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
    One former senior U.S. official who was aware of the letters said they had been sent “recently” to seven Arab states, including the leaders of Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The letters reinforce “the Mitchell message re: the need for CBMs [confidence-building measures] in exchange for [settlement] freeze and to [get] peace talks restarted,” the former senior official said by e-mail.
    “These letters were sent some time ago,” a White House official told Foreign Policy Sunday, when asked about them. “The president has always said that everyone will have to take steps for peace. This is just the latest instance of this sentiment.”
    The official declined to provide a date of the letters, but said, “they’d been reported before a month or two ago.”

Coincidentally– or not– one of the big campaigns that AIPAC is currently running is to get US legislators to sign onto a letter “urging” Obama to push Arab states to give up-front CBMs to Israel…
Arab leaders and their citizens have seen this movie before.
In the 1990s, many Arab states moved to end the “secondary boycott” they had previously maintained against international companies doing business with Israel; and some, like Qatar, even took some other small steps toward “normalization” like opening an Israeli trade office in their capitals. That was entirely predicated on Israel making the real progress that was mandated by the Oslo Accord to concluding a final-status peace agreement with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), before the defined deadline of May 1999.
Never happened. The deadline came and went. The Israeli government just went on waffling, with the ever-eager help of Dennis Ross in the White house. And the Israeli government also kept on shoe-horning additional tens of thousands of new illegal settlers into the occupied territories each year…
In the piece that Roger Cohen has in tomorrow’s NYT magazine on US policy toward Iran, there is a telling vignette that reveals just how deeply Dennis Ross does not qualify as anything even approaching a “Middle East expert”:

    On April 29, in Dammam, in Saudi Arabia’s eastern province, Ross sat down with King Abdullah. He talked to a skeptical monarch about the Obama administration’s engagement policy with Iran — and talked and talked and talked. When the king finally got to speak, according to one U.S. official fully briefed on the exchange, he began by telling Ross: “I am a man of action. Unlike you, I prefer not to talk a lot.” Then he posed several pointed questions about U.S. policy toward Iran: What is your goal? What will you do if this does not work? What will you do if the Chinese and the Russians are not with you? How will you deal with Iran’s nuclear program if there is not a united response? Ross, a little flustered, tried to explain that policy was still being fleshed out.

Dennis Ross, let’s remember, supposedly dealt closely with the Saudis throughout the eight years he was Pres. Clinton’s chief Middle East adviser. He also dealt closely with them, though in a subordinate role, when he worked for Sec. of State James Baker during and after the 1990-91 Gulf crisis and war.
But then, he didn’t even really know to deal with them at all, come 2009? He just talked (and talked and talked…) at the Saudi monarch– and couldn’t even deal with the few, to-the-point questions that the king came back to him with?
I don’t know if he tried to raise the issue of CBMs-for-Israel with King Abdullah during that meeting. But evidently, this issue has been pitched to Riyadh as well as other Arab capitals in recent weeks.
And now, Prince Saud has come to Washington to give a definitive and very public answer on the CBMs question.
Of course, it riles the heck out of many Americans, including especially many members of Congress, that they can’t just wave the wand of economic aid over the big Arab oil-exporting countries like Saudi Arabia to get to do what they (and AIPAC) want them to do….
Also significant: In that same State Department transcript, Sec. Clinton uses a significant– and in my view, significantly flawed– way to describe the US’s role in the current Israeli-Palestinian pre-negotiation.
She said,

    There is no substitute for a comprehensive resolution. That is our ultimate objective. In order to get to the negotiating table, we have to persuade both sides that they can trust the other side enough to reach that comprehensive agreement.

This is completely, still, that same “trust-building” or “confidence-building” approach to mediation/negotiation that was used to such dismally unsuccessful effect during the Bill Clinton administration when– acting on Dennis’s advice– Pres. Clinton saw his role as only that of a facilitator trying to build “trust” between the two parties.
No. The US is not just a “facilitator”. The US is a party with a strong and direct national interest in getting all the strands of the Arab-Israeli conflict speedily and finally resolved in a way that is sufficiently fair to all sides that the outcome is sustainable for many generations to come.
So the role of the US “mediator” is not just to “persuade” and nudge the countries to the point where they can “trust each other” (and to do this prior to the negotiation starting???) But rather, the US role should be to:

    1. Reaffirm its own strong interest in a speedy, fair and sustainable end to all dimensions of the Israeli-Arab conflict;
    2. Reaffirm that the outcome it seeks is one based on international law and the longstanding resolutions 242 and 338 of the UN Security Council;
    3. Affirm (for the first time in many decades) its readiness to use all the instruments of national power at its disposal to win the speedy, fair, and sustainable final peace agreements between Israel and all its Arab neighbors; and
    4. Reaffirm that it stands ready to work with its partners in the Quartet to provide all the guarantees the parties might need regarding monitoring all steps of the (most likely phased) implementation of these peace agreements.

In other words, it is at that stage– the stage of implementing the different phases of a final peace whose full content has already been agreed– that the sides themselves can really start to build the “confidence” or trust of the other side…. And the US and its peace-monitoring partners can certainly help that process along.
But to imply that you need full trust between the two sides to the dispute before you expect them even to sit down at the peace table?? That’s nuts!
The process of so-called “confidence building” that Dennis Ross was so happy to see dragging on for years and years in the 1990s did not end up building up any trust at all. Just the opposite. It built mistrust– on both sides. Not least, because people still locked into the dispute on the ground had no idea where the final process was heading– so every little altercation between them became a huge existential issue that had to be fought over “to the death.”
And meanwhile, Ross’s good friends in the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute were able to implant thousands of additional settlers into occupied Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank. How “lucky” for them, eh?
This time, someone should tell Sec. Clinton– and best of all her boss, the president– that you don’t need to build full trust between the sides before the negotiation starts.
What you need to build is a healthy and realistic recognition from each of the parties that:

    * the US has its own strong interest in the success of this peacemaking project,
    * the US is prepared to use its national power to secure fair and sustainable final peace agreements between all the parties, and
    * the US stands ready to use its national power to help guarantee the implementation of these agreements.

So now, Pres. Obama, let’s get on with it.
I also note, parenthetically, that Saud al-Faisal seemed to be placing more emphasis on getting the final peace negotiations started than on getting Obama’s demand for a complete Israeli settlement freeze implemented. I think that’s the right emphasis.

17 thoughts on “Just how inept is Ross as a ‘Mideast expert’??”

  1. This is a resounding slap in the face for the approach of using lengthy “interim” periods and “confidence building measures” (CBMs) that was a hallmark of Israeli-Palestinian conflict management (not conflict termination) diplomacy, as practiced by Dennis Ross for eight years under Pres. Clinton.
    The truth about the lengthiness is the last 42 years after 1967 war until now.
    Let be clear and open, part of this lengthy neglect of peace not putting things on right tracks is some ME regimes had their part by using this case politically serving their long stand and keep their own corruptions running specially Saudis with billions of dollars of arm deals with US, UK France and finally Russia.
    More importantly the bribes Saudi regime got leaving their nations to breads terrorists that gave them wakeup call on such disaster that they created in their own nation, same can be apply in other nation with less wealth.
    The second part of this long outstanding conflict is The Israelis. They used it to grab land to expand to get support, sympathy from most of western world. They were well done it, well marketed as they did with Holocaust tragic crimes for support their long goals in the region without any respect whatsoever to international laws or UN resolutions. That made people in ME lost their faith in any international convoy, agency and UN, as done nothing to a state that brooking international laws and UN resolutions so long with immunity of any punishment with the power of Veto States.
    Finally, the support of US/West to Israel for so long, they thought that Israel capable to find and built herself in the region on their own with full support financially/ military from US/West, which obviously Israelis use it effectively to their own goals.
    This long historical game “biblical” story as marketed between you “the westerners” with some exceptions, made US with its conservative domain they made US to come by herself to fix Israel problem with more problem created with US on the land in the region that ended by invading and occupying Iraq.
    If there are really truly efforts to end this story to put end to ME problems, what should done is FORCE the Israeli to come to the table on one end and all her neighbours on the other end. Time comes there are no longer fake deals had no support whatsoever from the people of those states. Where deals signed between regimes not the nation, like Egypt or Jordan deals.
    This negotiable summate should be supervised by those Veto power states not just US and let them set their parameters for the punishment to states that breaks the international laws or UN resolutions should used all means of their support to all military power to treat Israel as they treated Iraq or other nations for so long.

  2. Helena,
    What is the difference between the phased implementation of your point 4 and the CBM approach of Dennis Ross?

  3. David, phased implementation is of a complete final agreement the whole terms of which are known to all sides and have been agreed by them. The CBMs that Hillary Clinton, AIPAC, etc are pushing for are an “upfront payment” by one side allegedly to help tempt Israel to START negotiating the final deal. But as I wrote, people in the Arab world have been down this road before, with disastrous consequences.
    Phased implementation of a previously agreed deal is quite a different matter and provides a context within which, over time, trust can be built– and even if that takes a long time, in the meantime there are externally provided monitoring and verification mechanisms that can assure the security of the parties.

  4. Helena,
    The only difference I can see between them is you want the final deal to be spelled out ahead of time and the phases are just steps to that end.
    The CBM’s as well as Oslo are/were a way for both parties to figure out what their bottom lines were in a final deal.
    It’s easy for you and many of your readers to accept that here are the terms for a final deal, now lets implement them by phases is that the final deal you envision isn’t one that Israel can live with. Israel is not going to accept a right of return. Israel is not going to return Jerusalem.
    You state several times in your post how we have all been down that road before. Yes we have. And all Israel found down that road was terror and rockets to the point that Israel doesn’t think it’s where the border lies that the problem, it’s that there is a border. The CBMs are needed because Israel doesn’t think there is an acceptance that there is, and will continue to be a state of Israel.

  5. President Bashar al-Assad today addressed the Syrian Armed Forces, through The People’s Army Magazine, on the occasion of the 64th anniversary of the foundation of the Syrian Arab Army.In his address President al-Assad expressed his heartfelt and best wishes to the armed forces on the foundation anniversary of the Syrian army.
    President Bashar al-Assad said: “We really aspire for just and comprehensive peace, but there is a big difference between true call for the establishment of the basis of this peace in line with the resolutions of international legitimacy and accepting the Israeli demands that contradict the factors of peace and deviating from its requirements …because peace and occupation are contradictory and can not coexist …and the return of the occupied territories is non-negotiable and can not be compromised ….. the Arab Syrian Golan will remain Arab as far as the hand, the face, and the tongue are concerned….having Syrian air, water, land , and man…..it will wholly return to the main land.”

  6. Samarra is a city in north-central Iraq. ” An appointment in Samarra” is a phrase indicating the inevitability of death in an old Arabic tale (first in Eng. apparently in W. Somerset Maugham’s play “Sheppey,” 1933), in which a man meets Death one day in the marketplace in Baghdad and flees him/her to Samarra. When questioned, Death replies, “I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”
    Inevitable #1. Israelis and their American supporters have to accept the reality that Eretz Israel aint gonna happen.
    Inevitable #2. Arabs have to accept the reality that until they get to match israel’s military capabilities “sweet talk will get them nada”.
    Inevitable #3. Americans have to accept the reality that their
    “super power” influence and prestige are no longer what they used to be and therefore the Ross’s, Indyks, et “amies” policies have already met their Samarra’s.

  7. CBM is just a euphemism for “Israel gradually gets everything it wants and needs in exchange for agreeing to talk about issues, but never really doing anything or giving anything up”. If the Palestinians giving up more than half of their UN mandated country and recognizing Israel in its self-created 1967 borders did not build confidence, nothing ever will. Israel has not complied with any of its commitments or agreements yet. No one should be asked to give up anything until Israel actually does the many things it “agreed to do” already.

  8. Examples of ‘phased implementation’: The Golan disengagement agreement of 1974, and the Egyptian and Jordanian peace agreements with Israel of 1979 and 1994. All have stood the test of time.
    CBMs along the path to an unspecified goal: Oslo.

  9. the Egyptian and Jordanian peace agreements with Israel of 1979 and 1994. All have stood the test of time.
    I was in Jordan years ago I heard by normal Jordanians their unhappiness of the deal peace with Israeli, in Egypt some members called to uncover the secret sections of the Egypt-Israeli peace deal that their country signed with Israel, that call was blocked by majority of regime’s member.
    So YES “All have stood the test of time” but let be clear with the US aid for two regimes.
    What should Arab regimes do is be clear and open with their people what they sign and the fact is I hope this peace deal should be in public domain for voting in this way will give strong support last for ever.
    The other point I would raise selecting these official prove to Arab people and the world are lairs and criminals to deal with this sensitive case and push Arab to the corners with their good relations with dictators and corrupted regimes official this will be negative and untransparent deals from the starts.
    Tony Blair was put as top official for ME, what a liar how be trusted or rewarded a person like this way?
    Now Gregory Levey writing in Newsweek “Bush and Obama could play good-cop, bad-cop with Israel” he go one saying:

    Obama claims that the peace process is an essential plank of his program for the region, but it will be impossible to make progress if he can’t convince Israel to defer to American leadership. In the history of U.S.-Israel relations, probably no president has earned adoration and unequivocal trust from Israel like Bush. (An Israeli diplomat once told me that the former president gave a speech at the U.N. during his second term that attracted so many adoring Israeli diplomats that even the deputy U.N. ambassador couldn’t score a seat.)

    During the Bush years, Israelis were consistently among the few foreign populations that gave the American president high approval marks—often in far greater proportion than Americans themselves. Senior officials in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, where I worked, spoke on their cell phones daily with their White House counterparts—circumventing the State Department and the Israeli Foreign Ministry entirely.

    So bringing these lairs to the table is just clear that Arab people are more and more unhappy with all scenario that these two lairs be trusted for defending Arab and Muslim rights on the ground in peace.

  10. Helena, the Egyptian, Jordanian and Golan examples were all preceded by confidence building measures. In the first two cases, years and and decades of them. What are you talking about? There IS no agreed deal. That’s what the Obama Admin is trying to achieve?
    Will keep Dennis Ross employed for the next 8 years. Fertile source for Just Perfidious Israel News threads. One has to wonder what happened at or after that meeting with the Saudi king that caused Obama to immediately promote Ross into the WH. It’s not as if Obama is short on zionists in his inner sanctum!

  11. Helena if you think the king’s remarks targeted the envoy you maybe less smart than you look. An envoy by definition cannot possibly be a man of action, he is just the messenger for our President, the rub is that the king was passing judgment on the charlatan tendencies of Obama and his childish notion that with smooth talk we can all get along. Maybe Obama will do a beer summit between Saudis and Iranians now.
    I am not sure if the Saudi king is indeed a man of action, but on this one I am fully with him, a subtle yet clear way of sending a message on Obama’s ineffectual vice.

  12. Helena,
    Thank you for the examples. I thought long and hard over them and fail to see the difference. The disengagements, both with Syria and Egypt were CBMs intended, at that time, to lead to a comprehensive peace agreement. The comprehensive peace didn’t occur but peace with Egypt did and as you point out has stood the test of time. Why didn’t the disengagement lead to peace between Syria and Israel? There are several books on the subject and anyone can pretty much take their pick of who they want as the good guys and bad guys.
    You can’t go from war to peace overnight. I’m going to repeat myself here, I don’t see the difference between “phased implementation” and CBM.

  13. I am with Jack. In the hands of Ross and his ilk CBM should be called TBM – time buying measures – and that is exactly how they have been used by Israel. There is no better example than Oslo. While the Israelis were demanding CBM’s from the Palestinians they were busy creating conditions that made them almost impossible for the Palestinians to accomplish, and while railing against the Palestinians’ inability to comply with demands made virtually impossible by Israel’s own actions, they were frantically colonizing the territories that were supposed to comprise the Palestinians’ reward for compliance.
    Lewis Carrol and Franz Kafka working together could not have done it better.

  14. “I am not sure if the Saudi king is indeed a man of action, but on this one I am fully with him, a subtle yet clear way of sending a message on Obama’s ineffectual vice.”
    The Saudis aren’t really known as action men. Their diplomacy is usually much more subtle and considered than that.
    And they must be disgusted at being forced to have to make preparation for their own nuclearisation. This after six years of watching the EU3 being given the runaround by Iran. And having listen to those interminable, empty reassurances from the Bush Admin. And having to endure Obama’s gauche outreach. And then watching the Obama Admin squirming in their own idiocy as the Iranian totalitarians demonstrate what they think of hope and change.
    And Obama sends an envoy to lecture them on concessions to Israel!

  15. I am not sure if the Saudi king is indeed a man of action,
    Yap, they follow their handler orders for the past 100 years not more not less.
    Don’t forgot they looking for RED nights in US and UK and elsewhere they could get secret places and scusred that give them ultimate …pleasures.

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