The State Department, in fact, has yet to specifically cite Iran in Ross’s title. Dennis Ross will be "adviser to the secretary of state for the Gulf and Southwest Asia." State Department officials, the Washington Post reports, said the title is a euphemism for Iran.
For months many concerns have been raised over the prospect of a Ross appointment as a special envoy to or an adviser on Iran. To assign an advisery role to the former diplomat who actively supports not only coercive actions against Iran, but the policy option of a preventive military attack seems counterintuitive to the need for trust in this highly sensitive relationship.
In 2007 and 2008 Dennis Ross, working on the Presidential Task Force for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), convened the report "How to Deepen the U.S.-Israel Cooperation on the Iranian Nuclear Challenge."
This task force met numerous times including a two-day retreat in Virginia with ten Israeli counterparts. In an effort to bring aboard those who had the ear of the major presidential candidates at the time, signatories included Richard Clarke, Anthony Lake, Susan Rice, Vin Weber and James Woolsey.
The report focused on halting Iran's nuclear program and indicated that it's not just a bomb they are worried about but also Iran having influence in the region. It criticized the November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that found that Iran had halted the weaponization component of its nuclear program in 2003 for "reducing the sense of urgency for additional pressure." It added that "Israeli intelligence analysts have doubts about both the facts and duration of Iran's suspension of weaponization efforts."
The first section of the report titled "The Importance of Prevention" raises concerns that the U.S. might favor deterrence over prevention. Prevention in this case would be the act of a preventive military strike against Iran. It points out that "Americans should recognize that deterrence is, in Israeli eyes, an unattractive alternative to prevention, because if deterrence fails, Israel would suffer terribly." The result of this, they explain, would be that Israel may decide to act independently against Iran.
While this may be a valid concern, it raises the question of whether the United States should support preventive military action simply because Israel might do it first. The report criticizes Iran for not abiding by UN Security Council resolutions calling on it to suspend its enrichment program, but Ross and his fellow signatories show little concern for the UN Charter that requires that member nations refrain from the threat or use of force and that if a dispute is not settled it shall be referred to the Security Council which will make recommendations. While the Charter allows for military action in self-defense, no strong case for even an imminent attack currently exists.
The United States has been down this preventive route before most recently in March 2003. That Dennis Ross and the folks on this task force don’t seem to take into account the disastrous effects of the preventive attack on Iraq and would consider this option with Iran is at the minimum an unsettling notion.
Interestingly, after recognizing the "abiding commitment" the United States has to Israel, they make a point of stating that "critics who argue that Israel has manipulated the U.S. government to act counter to the American national interest, which - if properly understood - would see Israel as a liability." "We reject that critique," reads the report.
The task force recommends four policy options when dealing with Iran. The first two involve diplomatic engagement and political and economic pressure. It advises that Israel be brought in "as a full partner in planning discussions regarding initiatives involving the UN Security Council; and U.S-EU, U.S.-Arab, and other relevant forums."
The other two policy options include "coercive options such as an embargo on Iran’s sale of oil or import of refined petroleum products, and preventive military action."
Before signing off, the report revisits the issue of the relationship with Israel and the United States. It calls for the president to use the "bully pulpit" to educate the American public that Iran poses a direct threat to the United States quickly adding, "The central argument is that preventing Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability is not special pleading for America’s ally Israel - it is vital to America’s own security."
When considering that Dennis Ross will be "responsible for developing a strategy for engaging Iran," it is important to note that the blueprint for this strategy from Ross’s perspective is deeply rooted in WINEPs presidential task force that endorses the policy option of a preventive strike and included not just American statesmen, diplomats and scholars, but ten anonymous Israeli counterparts.
While the State Department continues to use vague language about the connection between Dennis Ross and Iran, WINEP's presidential task force makes clear that Ross will not be alone at the table.