What would you change about the American political process?
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: If you could change one thing about the American political process, what would it be?
Dennis Ross: Well I think the one thing I would like to see changed is the kind of poisonous atmosphere – that everything is seen in zero sum terms. We’ve lost kind of the capacity to create areas and incentives that Democrats and Republicans basically can agree on. And everything seems to have fallen victim to kind of polarization.
And I think we have to end polarization. Democrats and Republicans have different philosophies, different identities. That’s fine. That’s part of what debates are about. But there’s a lot of areas where there should be commonalities. And where there are big issues, you ought to be able to forge commonalities.
We ought to be able to afford ________ climate change. We ought to be able to afford _________ Iraq. We ought to be able to afford what will be a common approach on healthcare. These are big priorities where we have to deal with fundamental challenges now to the country. When you’re dealing with fundamental challenges, there ought to be enough common ground that you reach understandings.
We’ve found certainly in the last almost seven years now that the polarization has become so acute that it’s pretty hard to do the kinds of things where otherwise you should be able to find that consensus. And I look at myself, I had senior political appointee positions in Republican and Democratic administrations alike. That’s unthinkable in Washington today. That has to change.
We should be able to go back to the point where you can have people who are seen as being sufficiently professional that are in political appointees regardless of their political identification. And that we’ve lost.
Recorded on: September 12, 2007
Ross mourns an atmosphere so poisonous that Democrats and Republicans can't agree on the basics.