Ross's book backs engagement with, pressure on Teheran

Obama's adviser encourages talks without preconditions.

June 21, 2009 00:38
3 minute read.
dennis ross 224

dennis ross 248 88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])

The US should pressure Iran at the same time it pursues engagement and should leave the military option as a means of inducing Iranian compromise, according to Myths, Illusions, and Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East, a new book co-authored by the Obama administration's pointman on Iran, Dennis Ross. In the book, Ross and fellow author David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy take aim at how the competing foreign policy schools of neoconservatism and realism craft Middle East policy, even though the latter has been well-received by many in the White House. Ross, who helped write the book before becoming the special adviser for the Gulf and Southwest Asia at the State Department in February - a role that is expected to change slightly as he moves to the National Security Council in the near future - doesn't hold back from taking on many of the realist camp's positions. While he endorses the current US approach of talking to Iran without preconditions, he writes "to avoid having Iran misread this as a sign of weakness, pressures must be maintained. Iran must see that though the United States is no longer imposing a precondition for talks, it has succeeded in adding to the pressures on Iran even while it is offering a way to reach an accommodation." He also states that "the negotiations cannot be open-ended" but rather have a clear deadline, and "the threat of force can be a way to make diplomacy more effective… when we say that we are not taking force off the table, that must be more than a slogan." Obama himself has been more circumspect about the "sticks" that he would be applying in any negotiations with Iran, instead emphasizing outreach in his efforts to engage Iran, which have so far publicly gone unanswered. Ross and Makovsky also advocate secret back-channel conversations with Iran as a way to get the conversation started, but also playing on the Europeans, Russians and Chinese as a means for applying greater pressures, like serious sanctions on Iran's sensitive oil industry. The book also says that should any further tough actions, such as military force, be needed, "it will be very important to set the context so that the perception internationally is that the action is legitimate." In its attacks on the realist approach to Iran, Myths, Illusions, and Peace also raises serious questions about the feasibility of deterring a nuclear-armed Iran, a position it notes is endorsed in many European countries. Though the authors don't discount deterrence out of hand, they argue that the analogy often made between Cold War deterrence of the Soviet Union and the mullahs in Iran is a questionable one, since even if the latter prove to be rationally motivated and susceptible to deterrence rather than messianic, the competing power centers, dearth of good communication between the two countries, and America's lack of clarity about its red lines raise troubling scenarios that should give deterrence proponents pause. Ross, the Middle East envoy of the Clinton administration, and Makovsky, an expert on Israelis and Palestinians, also spend a considerably number of their book's 361 pages attempting to debunk the "linkage" theory which holds that all of the problems in the Middle East can be solved, or at least alleviated, if the Israeli-Palestinian were resolved. Though Obama himself has talked about the centrality of the conflict, Ross and Makovsky title an entire chapter "Linkage: the Mother of All Myths," and suggest that foreign policy hands who don't understand that Arab states act out of their own interests, rather than concern for the Palestinians' plight, and often engage in conflict with no relation to Israel are in a poor position to contribute to solving Israeli-Palestinian enmity. The two do advocate American involvement in the situation and a strenuous effort to help forge a peace. They maintain that resolving the conflict is a good end in and of itself and that it would diminish the appeal of the extremists who exploit the emotionally resonant issue. "This will not eliminate these extremists, but it will help marginalize them," Makovsky contended while speaking about the book at a Washington Institute event this week. But the book warns against America trying to impose a solution on the parties or drawing up its own blueprint for an accord at this stage. "If life doesn't change when such a blueprint or horizon is offered, [the Palestinian public] will view it with great cynicism - and that won't empower Palestinian moderates, it will further weaken them," according to the book. "The United States at this point cannot afford to raise expectations again."

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