What do you do?
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: Beyond a simple title, how would you describe what you do for a living?
Transcript:Well having been the American negotiator in the Middle East for a long time, this is not something that I ever viewed as a sidelight. It’s not something that was just gonna be, “Well gee. I’ll do this for a couple of years. I’ll occupy the seat. And then when I’m no longer doing it, I’ll no longer care about the issue.” No. I still profoundly care about the Middle East. I still profoundly care about Arabs and Israelis. I have a larger foreign policy interest. It’s why I have written a book that deals with American foreign policy more generally. But I have a passion for this particular issue. I look at it differently than any other issue, not because necessarily it should be more important than any other issue; but for me it’s profoundly important. And I think the reason is once I got into working on this issue, and I came to know the peoples on each side, I saw them not as abstractions. I saw them as individuals with real hopes, real dreams, real victims, real suffering. And I somehow became invested in it. I became a believer that having known something about this issue, and knowing both sides the way that I do, that I have a responsibility to try to affect it. So everything I do now in one way or the other is still very much geared towards trying to affect what we do in the Middle East, and very much trying to make things better. I still go out to the region a lot. I still focus very heavily on how to try to change realities on the ground. You can affect policy even when you’re not a policy maker; but you can affect it much more directly when you are. So when you’re on the outside, you have a voice. And you have to use your voice. And I try to do that.
Ross is a scholar and practitioner of American foreign policy in the Middle East.
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