The news that Dennis Ross will be appointed the special envoy to Iran – and, more, that he will function as a Middle East “czar” – is “staggeringly bad news,” as Philip Weiss so trenchantly put it. The appointment, Weiss avers, is “illustrative of the fact that neoconservatism by one of its more amenable names is still in our lives, and the Israel lobby is a big component of the Establishment. Dennis Ross, who pushed the settlements in ’92. Dennis Ross, who moved from party to party with indifference, because he had a bigger power than party behind him. …A friend says that Dennis Ross in Arabic means, Expletive you!”
The appointment, and it is a prominent one, is no surprise to my regular readers, who were warned last summer of what a Ross in this position would have to mean:
“The appointment of Dennis Ross as[Obama's pre-election] principal Middle East adviser is good news for the War Party, specifically for that crucial branch of it that specializes in promoting Israel’s ambitions over America’s national interests.
“No matter which president Ross worked for, Democrat or Republican – and he’s worked for both – his interventionist agenda and his sympathy for the interests of a certain Middle Eastern nation were no secret. His sympathy, too, for poor, persecuted Scooter Libby prompted him to endorse that convicted felon’s defense fund. And he was right in there with Bill Kristol and the Project for a New American Century in agitating for war with Iraq.
In a future Obama administration, the so-called liberal hawks will have their chief factotum in Ross.”
In short, Ross represents what Leon Hadar described as “neoconservatism with a smiling Democratic face.” He will serve under Hillary Clinton, at State, which is looking to be the locus of the Lobby’s power base. The question is: will a rival locus of power coalesce elsewhere, perhaps at the National Security Council, or within the military? The CIA under Leon Panetta looks like its going to be awfully partisan, whatever that may come to mean in foreign policy terms in the coming years.
We keep hearing Obama is making all these business-as-usual appointments in order to disarm his critics in advance when he starts taking those really bold initiatives, but doesn’t there come a point when that somewhat dubious strategy becomes suspiciously repetitive? Is he really appointing Dennis Ross just so he can usher in a new era of equal justice and sustained peace in the region? Come off it, you Obama-ites – there won’t be any change in our foreign policy, except for the worse. Just remember: you were warned.
This is not to say that progress isn’t being made in this field: it just isn’t at the policymaking level, as yet, unless, as I hope – but I’m not counting on it – a locus of opposition develops elsewhere in the administration. In any case, intellectually the Lobby is on the defensive. A great awakening has taken place among foreign policy analysts, and concerned citizens. What we’re seeing is a rebellion against our Israel-centric foreign policy and public pronouncements, a stance that is more and more at odds with our authentic national interests. In the vanguard of this intellectual glasnost are the two most prominent “realists” in foreign policy wonk-dom, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, authors of The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy.
The free flow of thought and discussion that has been engendered by this heartless military operation in Gaza has given rise to a number of thought experiments – analogies in which, for one example, the historic roles are reversed, and the Israelis become the Palestinians. As Professor Walt writes in his new blog at Foreign Policy magazine:
“Imagine that Egypt, Jordan, and Syria had won the Six Day War, leading to a massive exodus of Jews from the territory of Israel. Imagine that the victorious Arab states had eventually decided to permit the Palestinians to establish a state of their own on the territory of the former Jewish state. (That’s unlikely, of course, but this is a thought experiment). Imagine that a million or so Jews had ended up as stateless refugees confined to that narrow enclave known as the Gaza Strip. Then imagine that a group of hardline Orthodox Jews took over control of that territory and organized a resistance movement. They also steadfastly refused to recognize the new Palestinian state, arguing that its creation was illegal and that their expulsion from Israel was unjust. Imagine that they obtained backing from sympathizers around the world and that they began to smuggle weapons into the territory. Then imagine that they started firing at Palestinian towns and villages and refused to stop despite continued reprisals and civilian casualties.
“Here’s the question: would the United States be denouncing those Jews in Gaza as “terrorists” and encouraging the Palestinian state to use overwhelming force against them?
“Here’s another: would the United States have even allowed such a situation to arise and persist in the first place?”
Yes, the dam is really breaking, intellectually. More prominent voices are being raised, demanding a thoroughgoing re-examination of the basic assumptions of US policy in a very turbulent and politically significant region of the world. One that has a direct impact on American politics in a way that, say, US actions in South Asia, Africa, or South and Central America normally would not.
The realists aren’t alone in their experimentalism. Weiss reports on a conference call in which Daniel Levy, of the New America Foundation, said:
“We all hear, oh, the U.S. would do the same thing if Canada or Mexico were firing rockets at us. We would have a duty to respond. And yes, I think, Israel has a duty to respond, Levy said.
“But then he went on to explode that analogy, and get at the core issue: Lack of Political Sovereignty. Canada and Mexico are states. Palestinians have no state. Remember, he said, that Gaza is just 4 percent of the Palestinian territories. The other 96 percent are still occupied. They have been for 40 years. And imagine that the 4 percent had been under siege, since they were unoccupied 3 years ago. And the occupied parts were crisscrossed with checkpoints and colonies.
“Would it really be that surprising if in Canada or Mexico there was a hardline opposition that took over the government? And was deeply opposed to the occupier? ‘I’ll leave that to your imagination.’”
This is responded to with the usual invective: I’ll only note that David Rothkopf just can’t help himself from going all the way and dragging the specter of Iran into his argument – this being the Lobby’s ultmate target. They’ll stay on message for as long as it takes the Obama administration to lay the groundwork for a conflict with Iran.
With Hillary and Ross at the helm of State, expect prolonged negotiations in the form of a series of ultimatums directed at Tehran, punctuated, perhaps, by a series of incidents, close calls that don’t quite spark a war but keep the embers burning. All this drama leading inexorably to a preordained denouement – the third gulf war.
No, it isn’t inevitable, but, given present trends, it’s all too likely a scenario, one that won’t be stopped unless the revolution in foreign policy thinking reaches the halls of government. I’d be personally delighted to see such a development, and I empathize with those Obama voters and supporters who were hoping for change in this area, but I must confess I see no sign of it. Indeed, the evidence points in the opposite direction. Neoconservatism without Bush, without Cheney, and without the GOP – can a parasitic organism long exist without a host? It looks like the neocons have found a new home in the Obama administration, where they’re settling in quite comfortably, and acting as if they owned the place. And maybe they do ….
This time around, however, they’re going to have a much harder time of it. The tragic history of the past eight years has given rise to a growing network of groups such as “J Street,” in addition to lots of dissent from the conventional pro-Israel wisdom in the liberal-left blogosphere – e.g., Glenn Greenwald, who has a scintillating critique of the media bias that permeates the “mainstream” when it comes to Israel, and certainly Philip Weiss, who has done much to extend the boundaries of the permissible when it comes to Israel and the problem posed by the power of its American lobby. Katrina vanden Heuvel has been a rare voice of reason, and there’s life over at The Nation yet. Matt Yglesias is another principled voice, added to such old reliables as Alex Cockburn, and, of course, our very own columnists here at Antiwar.com.
Intellectual change precedes political change, and because of this progress often seems imperceptible – even when it’s imminent, as such things go. That’s why we keep plugging away with our message and with the most honest coverage of the Gaza massacre and its consequences anywhere, constantly updated and comprehensive to a fault.
We couldn’t do it without you, our readers, and we appreciate your ongoing financial and intellectual support – especially your letters, which are usually heartfelt, positive, and very often informative. Keep those letters – and contributions – coming. There is every indication that we’re winning our fight – but remember, we can’t do it without you, our readers and supporters. As the War Party takes us into a new year, rife with fresh opportunities for armed conflict, we know we can count on you to stand by our side and fight the good fight against the same old enemy – albeit one with a different party label, and under a new administration. Change? In the foreign policy realm, and especially in the central arena of the Middle East, it’s the same old “change” for sure.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
Andrew Sullivan: still an a$$hole, after all these years…