Dennis Ross is an American diplomat and author. He has served as the Director of Policy Planning in the State Department under President George H. W. Bush, the special Middle East coordinator under President Bill Clinton, and is currently a special adviser for the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia (that includes Iran) to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Ambassador Dennis Ross is The Washington Institute's counselor and Ziegler distinguished fellow. For more than twelve years, Ambassador Ross played a leading role in shaping U.S. involvement in the Middle East peace process and dealing directly with the parties in negotiations. A highly skilled diplomat, Ambassador Ross was U.S. point man on the peace process in both the George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations. He was instrumental in assisting Israelis and Palestinians to reach the 1995 Interim Agreement; he also successfully brokered the 1997 Hebron Accord, facilitated the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty, and intensively worked to bring Israel and Syria together.
A scholar and diplomat with more than two decades of experience in Soviet and Middle East policy, Ambassador Ross worked closely with Secretaries of State James Baker, Warren Christopher, and Madeleine Albright. Prior to his service as special Middle East coordinator under President Clinton, Ambassador Ross served as director of the State Department's Policy Planning Staff in the first Bush administration. In that capacity, he played a prominent role in U.S. policy toward the former Soviet Union, the unification of Germany and its integration into NATO, arms control negotiations, and the 1991 Gulf War coalition. During the Reagan administration, he served as director of Near East and South Asian affairs on the National Security Council staff and deputy director of the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment. Ambassador Ross was awarded the Presidential Medal for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service by President Clinton, and Secretaries Baker and Albright presented him with the State Department's highest award.
Question: What is “statecraft”?
Ross: Most times when you hear people use the word, they’re thinking about the tools of the trade. Your diplomatic tools; your economic tools, meaning the resources you have to affect the behavior of others; your military tools – your capacity to use coercion, threat of force, the application of force; your intelligence – the ability to identify threats, also to identify opportunities. Identifying opportunities and being able to act on them is a critical part of statecraft. I often say that timing is to statecraft what location is to real estate. If you miss an opportunity, when you’ve missed it, guess what? When you say, “Alright, now I’m prepared to go act on it,” well the circumstances have changed and you can’t. And our framing of issues – how we talk about issues; how we organize ourselves not only to talk about issues, but then to act on issues – all of these are tools of the trade. They are assets that a state may have to promote its interest or to protect its interest. But if all those tools are being used in the service of objectives that make no sense, you can be brilliant in terms of your implementation, but you’re acting on purposes that are nonsensical. So good statecraftis really a function not just of having the tools of the trade and knowing how to use them; but statecraft depends upon being able to identify the right objectives, have the right purposes. So this statecraft is both about what I would describe the “what” of foreign policy – what it ought to be and in the pursuit of what objectives – and the “how” to do it – how to bring all of your various assets and tools together. You’re trying to marry objectives and means.