Dennis Ross launched a public appeal to American Jews to vote for Barack Obama.
A former diplomat and Middle East specialist who held top policy-planning positions in the Clinton and first Bush administrations, Ross told an overflow crowd at a suburban Philadelphia synagogue on Thursday night that he was embracing partisan politics because “the United States can’t afford and Israel can’t afford” a continuation of the Bush policies over the past eight years.
Ross said he had remained neutral during the primary season because of his relationship with the Clintons. Now that he has signed on as a Middle East adviser to Obama and a surrogate to help elect him, the Obama campaign is deploying Ross to appear before Jewish audiences in key swing states, including Ohio, Nevada and Florida, according to Daniel Shapiro, director of Jewish outreach for Obama.
Ross told JTA that while he didn’t expect to be asked to be secretary of state in an Obama administration, “If I could play a role in an Obama administration and I could make a difference, I’d be happy to do so.”
Ross said he signed onto the Obama campaign after accompanying the Democratic nominee for president on his trip to Israel and Europe this summer and coming away impressed with Obama’s leadership style, grasp of the issues and ability to dialogue with all the world leaders with whom he met.
The trip, he said, focused heavily on the threat of a nuclear Iran. So did Ross’ remarks Thursday.
Calling Iran’s nuclear ambitions the “most important issue we are facing in terms of national security,” Ross said that Iran is “already a nuclear power” and has increased its ability to produce nuclear arms dramatically over the past several years under the failed policies of the Bush administration.
He defended Obama’s willingness to engage Iran, suggesting it was foolish to eliminate one of the tools that could help change “unacceptable behavior.”
He sidestepped a question on whether Obama would support an Israeli strike against Iran, saying the United States needs to work toward a “third way” that avoids just two alternatives: a nuclear-armed Iran or military action against Iran. Ross reiterated Obama’s position that “when it comes to Israel’s security, they are the ultimate arbiter.”