Posts Tagged ‘Dennis Ross’

Welcome to the Table, China

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Whether President Obama’s first term is ultimately viewed as a success, I believe, will depend on two things:

  • How well has the economy rebounded — and what is the employment situation like? And …
  • Has Iran been thwarted — or quantifiably set back — in its effort to build a nuclear bomb?

Which is why it’s a very welcome development that China has finally agreed to join negotiations over a new package of sanctions against Iran.

As the NY Times reports, the Chinese import nearly 12 percent of their oil from Iran, and are reluctant to join a sanctions regime, because Iranian retaliation would cost them dearly.

The key appears to be that the Obama administration is actively working to ensure that, should China agree to sanctions, it will have access to other oil. Here’s the nut:

“Until two weeks ago, the Chinese would not discuss a sanctions resolution at all,” [an administration] official said. But the Obama administration, in hopes of winning over Beijing, has sought support from other oil producers to reassure China of its oil supply. Last year, it dispatched a senior White House adviser on Iran, Dennis B. Ross, to Saudi Arabia to seek a guarantee that it would help supply China’s needs, in the event of an Iranian cutoff.

“We’ll look for ways to make sure that if there are sanctions, they won’t be negatively affected,” said the senior official.

According to the Times, Obama wants serious sanctions in place against Iran by this spring.  As Iran well knows, any sanctions against it would by pyrrhic without Russia and China joining in. China’s decision to pull up a chair at the table does not of course mean it will ultimately stand with America behind a package of sanctions. But in what will continue to be a difficult diplomatic tango for Obama, today’s news is a welcome step.

Ross: ‘Obama Will Restore American Standing in the World’

Monday, October 13th, 2008

One incredible aspect of the Obama campaign is just how much it has reached out to Jewish voters.

And, in particular, Jewish voters in Ohio.

A week before the primary, Obama came to speak to a group of Jewish voters in Cleveland, to answer any and all questions we had about his positions on Israel, and on issues important to the Jewish community. The Obama campaign has tapped Jewish community leaders throughout the state, entrusting them with spreading the message about Obama’s staunch support for Israel.  They’ve released talking points. And they are constantly sending out emails — for instance, when Obama had a conference call with 900 rabbis — to keep Jewish supporters up-to-date.

They’ve done this not only because Obama is a friend and ally of the Jewish community. They’ve done this because the smear campaign aimed at Obama has been designed to peel away Jewish supporters, and it’s worked: Obama’s support in the Jewish community is 15 to 20 percent below the levels of support that Kerry, Gore, and Clinton received. In a close election, that difference could be determinative.

Yesterday’s event at Landerhaven banquet hall, which drew an enthusiastic crowd of 700 Jews from the Cleveland area, powerfully reinforced the campaign’s Jewish outreach effort.

The event featured Jewish Senator Carl Levin (See post, Levin: Jews ‘Cannot Tolerate’ Obama Smears), Jewish Congresswoman Jane Harman (See post, Obama-Biden: ‘Much Better for Israel’), Jewish community leader and Obama friend Alan Solow (See post, ‘The First Jewish President of the United States’), and, for good measure, the Jewish Lt. Gov. of Ohio, Lee Fischer.

All of them said, unequivocally, not just that Obama is good for Israel and the Jews — but that he is far betterfor Israel and the Jews than McCain-Palin.

Perhaps the most important testimonial came from Ambassador Dennis Ross, if only because Obama has for so long been falsely smeared for his supposed anti-Israel advisors. Ross is, in fact, Sen. Obama’s senior Middle East advisor. He’s the guy for Obama on Israel.

Dennis Ross, the former U.S. Special Coordinator to the Middle East, was the U.S. point person for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians under both Bill Clinton and the first George Bush. He helped Israel and the Palestinians reach the interim agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1995; he brokered the Hebron accord in 1997, facilitated the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty, and worked on talks between Israel and Syria. He was the director of Near East and South Asian Affairs on the National Security Council staff under Ronald Reagan, and was director of the State Department’s Policy Planning office under George Bush.

All of which is to say, he is anything but a partisan hack.

And yet this election, for the first time, he has allied himself with a candidate — Obama — because, as he put it, “the stakes demand it.”

He connected several dots in the Middle East landscape, creating a bleak picture how how dire the situation has become for Israel since Bush came to power.

  • In 2001, Iran was not a nuclear nation; today, it is a nuclear power that continues to enrich uranium, with a stockpile of some 700 kilos — half of what it needs to make a nuclear bomb.
  • To Israel’s north, the terrorist group Hezbollah has veto power over the Lebanese government; Hezbollah has a stockpile of 40,000 rockets aimed at Israel.
  • To Israel’s south, Hamas has established a “mini-terrorist state,” with 2,000 rockets aimed at Israel.

“Why?” Ross asked. “Because for the last eight years, we sat on the sidelines. Everything that takes place now, takes place without us.”

“The Bush Administration has failed,” he said. “We are perceived as a country on the decline.”

“When the Bush Administration disengaged from peacemaking for six years, who was the beneficiary? When there is no sense of possibility, no hope [the terrorist organizations and states] are the ones that exploit it.”

In order to achieve the two state solution that successive U.S. administrations have touted, you “need a sense of possibility,” he said. Otherwise, “we are guaranteed to fail” because the terrorist groups will step in to fill the political vacuum.

Ross, who has been on some 20 presidential trips to the region, and sat in on a hundred negotiations with presidents or their counterparts, said he “knows what it takes” for presidents to be effective. Obama has what it takes, he said. Ross became convinced of this after accompanying Obama on his recent trip to Israel and watching him listen, connect, and, importantly, achieve concrete goals.

For example, he said, Obama was keenly interested in discussing ways to pressure Iran. He asked Israeli leaders for their ideas. Israelis told him that there are five insurance companies providing insurance to Iran. Cut off those companies, they said, and you start to generate immense economic pressure.

Obama took that idea and pitched it to the Europeans, who are now actively discussing it.

Ross said Obama’s position that the U.S. must use “strong carrots and strong sticks” with Iran is key, because ideally “you want to effect Iranian behavior without the use of force.” The Israelis would much prefer this, too, he said. The cost to Israel of any attack on Iran would be profound in blood and treasure. But you can’t use carrots effectively without persuading others to join the effort.

That’s why, he said, the way Obama has been received around the world — 200,000 people cheering him on the streets of Berlin, for instance — is totally germane to Israel’s security.

“I came back persuaded by Barack Obama because I saw someone who is a unique talent,” said Ross — who initially stayed neutral in the race between Clinton and Obama. “When he goes to Berlin, and 200,000 people cheer him, believe it or not — when others look up to an American president, and are inspired by an American president — we are better off.”

As Ross wound down, you could almost sense a kind of energy in the room, quietly building.

“Barack Obama will restore American standing in the world,” he said. “We don’t have the luxury of not having him as president. I can tell you, as someone passionately committed to the state of Israel, Israel can not afford it.”

I’d been to Landerhaven banquet hall several times. My wife and I had, six years ago, scouted this very room as a possible wedding site. I doubt the room has ever seen the kind of applause that followed.

It wasn’t a standing ovation. It was something else. It rose up — 700 people, an overflow crowd — well past the point when you’d expect it to die down. It hung on, loud, tenacious, like the last notes of Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run. And then, finally, it ebbed, slightly — only to rise back up again, with shouts behind it, more forceful, insistent.

It was at once a release, an endorsement, and a prayer, and it brought sudden tears to my eyes.

If there was any lingering hesitation — any doubts in the face of viral emails and horrible ads by Jewish Republicans and relentless smears that just keep coming — in that moment, it all seemed to wash away.

The message to Barack Obama was clear:

Win. Win!