What should be the U.S. role in the Middle East?
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 should be the U.S. role in the Middle East?
Ross: It’s hard. It’s hard because across the board, we’re . . . we’re facing enormous difficulties. The next president is going to be confronted with the reality that we will have at least 100,000 American forces in Iraq. How we deal with Iraq will be watched by everybody in the region. If we precipitously withdraw, certain conclusions will be drawn. If we stay in a way that continues to sort of tie us down, limit what we can do, have us in the midst of a civil war, that’s going to be perceived by everyone as, alright, well it’s not . . . the U.S. isn’t really changing course. One of the things that we have to reestablish, at least in the Middle East, is to show effectiveness. We have to somehow find a way to make it clear that we know what we’re doing. And not only do we know what we’re doing; but when we do it, it has an effect that everybody can see. So in Iraq, I think we’re gonna have to come up with an approach that, by definition, is gonna involve our disengagement and withdrawal, but in a way that makes it appear as if it’s in the service and the objectives that everyone can relate to. I would prefer to see us at a minimum have a containment approach, which suggests that we . . . what’s in Iraq stays in Iraq. The worst that’s in Iraq . . . We don’t want a convulsion in Iraq to convulse the region. By the same token, if there’s an outcome in Iraq which I believe is likely in 10 or 15 years’ time – which is to say a central government with very limited powers, provinces with very extensive autonomy, and with some sharing of the revenue – the question is how do you get there? Do you get there through a process of exhaustion where you fight out . . . there’s a brutal civil war that eventually all the parties decide enough already? Or do you get there through a managed transition? So can we engage in a disengagement that basically makes a managed transition more likely rather than less likely? Can we fall back to containment so it doesn’t consume the rest of the region? That’s the key challenge, and the question of what are the means that we have available for doing that.
We need to be effective in a way that makes it seem we are acting in everyone's best interests, Ross says.
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