Dennis Ross has advised a number of presidential administrations on Middle East affairs. He is definitely of the neocon persuasion, and how to deal with Iran seems to have been mostly his baliwick.
Something I've been thinking of posting on has been my puzzlement over what seems to be an unnecessarily rigid aproach to a number of issues in the Middle East. This won't be that post, and I'll stick to Iran, since that's been so much in the news lately.
There has been little creativity from a president who, when he was campaigning, said he was willing to talk to Iran's president without preconditions. That hasn't happened, of course, and the precondition of Iran's ceasing to enrich its nuclear material remains.
It can be argued that that precondition is something that the United Nations insists on as well, although the way those United Nations resolutions were passed came from a United States, under the Bush administration, that wanted justification very badly for that precondition. Unfortunately, removing that precondition would now send a message of weakness to a stubborn and volatile Iranian government.
But I used the word creativity because the essence of diplomacy is finding ways around difficult situations like this.
It's highly likely that that sort of diplomacy went unpracticed because preconditions were just fine with Dennis Ross. As the articles I'll link at the end of this post note, his ideas are held more broadly in the administration, so it seems doubtful that much will change.
While Israel has been indulging in histrionics the past few weeks in preparation for the quarterly International Atomic Energy Agency report on Iran, the US administration has been quiet and continues to be, now that the report has been issued.
Come to think of it, perhaps Ross's resignation in this quiet time signifies a disagreement with that quiet policy. It is a welcome change from some of the judgementalism that has been displayed in the past. And, now that the report is out, Israel seems to be quietening down too.
Iran is a difficult nation to deal with. It has its own internal splits and a complicated governing structure that makes those splits difficult to interpret. Its policy toward the United States has been hostile since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Apparent breakthroughs in the nuclear negotiations have fallen apart for unobvious reasons. So that leaves sanctions. China and Russia are unlikely to agree to UN-sponsored increases in sanctions, so the United States is considering unilateral sanctions and which other countries might be induced to join.
Sanctions are a frustrating means of dealing with another country. Their effect is long-term and the connection between sanctions and results is not obvious. But Paul Pillar argues persuasively that it was sanctions that caused South Africa and Libya to give up their nuclear programs.
So perhaps the sanctions, combined with negotiation when it is possible, will eventually result in a favorable outcome with Iran. That would be reducing the danger that now exists that Iran is working on a nuclear weapon; it would not necessarily mean the end of their enrichment program. That program might be internationalized as a production center for fuel for civilian reactors of many nations. A favorable outcome would also include Iran's making their information on their work on nuclear weapons related subjects available to the IAEA and allowing their inspectors greater freedom at its nuclear facilities.
On Dennis Ross: Michael Hirsh and Noam Sheizaf.