Ha’aretz sparked plenty of buzz Tuesday with a report stating that Dennis Ross was getting a new post in the adminsitration — and its use of the phrase "relieved of his duties" helped spark speculation that it was a demotion of sorts.
Despite his role as architect of U.S. peace process efforts for a decade or so, Ross has come to be viewed as more of a hawk on Iran — given his view that only against a backdrop of tough talk and sanctions, can diplomacy possibly work in convincing the Islamic Republic from seeking to acquire a nuclear weapon. So a demotion would be sure to spark worries among many Israelis and pro-Israel advocates that President Obama was moving away from his commitment to work strongly to stop Iran’s nuclear pursuit.
Well… it turns out he’ll be working at the National Security Council — in a post that many observers and administration observers say will put him closer to the president’s ear.
From Time magazine:
… The new White House position puts him closer to the center of foreign policy power, placing him in the top ranks of Obama’s in-house aides, said an Administration official. "He is closer to being able to provide advice to the President." But Ross’s exact duties remain unclear. …
Ross’s new brief is described by Administration officials as "expanded." It remains unclear, however, whether his formal duties will include continuing to advise the President directly on Iran.
Ross is likely to have a greater role advising the President on the Arab-Israeli peace process. …
The NSC has been looking to establish a "strategic planning cell" that would oversee long-term Administration initiatives around the world, and Ross may head that. …
The timing of the change — and its leak — is intriguing. If Ross remains central to the Iran outreach, it could send a tough signal to Tehran that Obama is bringing Ross closer to him in the wake of the disputed presidential win of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. If he is locked out of the Iran portfolio, it will be read at home and abroad as a further softening of the Administration’s approach to Tehran. Critics on the left in the U.S. had said Ross was pursuing engagement with Iran only in the most "pro forma" fashion so that he could advance tougher measures.
The State Department and officials from other parts of the administration insist that no one is upset with Ross’ new book, “Myths, Illusions & Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East,” in which he and co-writer David Makovsky lay out there views on how the United States should deal with Iran.
While authors attempt to stake out a middle ground between the “realist” and “neocon” camps, some critics see Ross as too hawkish, because they suggest that by talking to Iran now, you could make it easier to line up support for tougher sanctions or military strikes later.
For more on the book, check out this article by the Forward’s Nathan Guttman.