Ex-ambassador talks US history in Middle East

By Ben Tinsley

DALLAS — Dennis Ross, American diplomat, author and former U.S. Ambassador, had a bit of a brain teaser for his audience Tuesday, May 3.
“If I were to ask you, ‘What do you think President Obama’s most important objective in the Middle East is during his remaining time in office?’ what do you think it would be?” he asked.
Ross’ question was posed to an audience of about 140 people at Congregation Shearith Israel. The American Jewish Committee sponsored this event; the ambassador was the featured speaker of the AJC Dallas 2016 Campaign event, “The Power to Act For the Next 110 Years.”
Ross is a bit of an expert on Middle East mindsets in United States administration — having worked in various positions during the administrations of U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Additionally, he has penned several books on American foreign policy in the Middle East.
Back to the question of the president’s most important objective, Ross gave the audience four options from which to choose:

  • End the civil war in Syria.
  • Build his relationship with Iran before leaving office.
  • Promote the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
  • Deal with ISIS in some definitive fashion.

“He understands ISIS has an ideology,” Ross said. “They (ISIS) define their role as bringing the apocalypse off. They define their role of purity and having the ‘divine’ mandate to produce this purity — producing a cataclysmic conflict.”
At this point, Ross was at least 25 minutes into his presentation but had not yet referenced his recent book, Doomed to Succeed, which focuses on the history of Israel-U.S. relations from Truman to Obama.
Ross said he posed the “president’s main focus” question first because it is reflective of a common mindset in which Israel is regarded as a troublemaker. Small groups with that mindset have been in every administration, he said.
“It has shaped their assumptions about the region,” Ross said.
The only administration where anti-Israel sentiment held no sway was that of Bill Clinton, he said.
 This bias was displayed by the Obama administration as recently as Oct. 1, 2015, when there was a wave of random shootings and stabbings in Israel, Ross said.
It took the Obama administration more than seven days to condemn the terrorists instead of referring to the incidents as a cycle of violence, he said.
That aforementioned mindset was the reason, Ross said.
This mindset dictates that any blame be spread equally among the Palestinians and Israelis for fear of a backlash, Ross said.
Indeed, it is easier to use the three words “cycle of violence” because it places blame on both sides equally. This is regardless of where the blame should actually belong, he said.
President Obama told a group of people in 2009 that the relationship between the U.S. and Israel needs distance — that a “lack of daylight” was not a good thing. Bill Clinton, on the other hand, constantly downplayed any differences with Israel.
The evening at Congregation Shearith Israel began with a private Marshall Society Reception followed by the public program and book signing.
The event chairs were Larry Ginsburg, Sherry and Kenny Goldberg, Ann and Nate Levine, and Middy and Mark Unterberg.
Ross, Counselor and William Davidson Distinguished Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told the audience he finds himself asked quite a bit how he could function as a political appointee for two Republican presidents and two Democratic presidents.
When asked “How did you do it?” Ross agreed it was a bit of a balancing act.
 “My answer is ‘I spent the last 30 years with Arabs and Israelis — how hard could this be?” he said, to much laughter from the audience. “Turns out it was a little harder than I thought.”
Ambassador Dennis Ross (left) and Larry Ginsburg pose for a photo after Ross’ lecture Tuesday, May 3. Photo: Lara Bierner

Leave a Reply