Harper on Ross, Clinton et al

Harp Dennis Ross: Goodbye and Good riddance. After much fussing around, and consulting with a wide range of Washington types, I am now convinced that we can lift our glasses and toast Dennis Ross' departure from his desk outside the principal's office at the State Department. I am told, by several people, whose access to the corridors of power at Foggy Bottom are unasailable, that Ross was, to put it in straightforward lingo, dumped, fired, kicked the hell out. He did something that clearly crossed the line, and was working at cross-purposes to Secretary of State Clinton and special envoy Mitchell. Maybe he also crossed Richard Holbrooke. I hope to get more of the inside details soon, but for now, I am convinced by these sources, that Ross was dumped, and that it was the AIPAC/WINEP crowd that had to be somewhat appeased, by giving Ross a desk at the National Security Council, somewhat equivalent to a cell with a view at one of those old Soviet gulags.

I dismiss the spin tales coming out of Lobby and neocon quarters, that Ross was brought over to the White House to "teach them a thing or two" about how to deal with Iran, and that he is the darling of Tom Donalon, the number two under General Jones.

That is the good news portion of what I am hearing. Ross will not give up without a fight, and he will count on the AIPAC/WINEP crowd continuing to whimper that he must be given a prominent seat at the table. Look for him to try to muck around with the expected new NIE on Iran.

But that aside, I call all of your attention to the recent friction, developing between the White House and the Secretary of State. The most immediate manifestations of this rift are: 1. The White House insistence that Secretary Clinton drop her plans to bring her longtime advisor and friend, Sid Blumenthal into State, as a personal advisor to the Secretary. I am told that, while Denis McDonough was the purveyor of the message from the White House to Hillary, it was actually Rahm Emanuel who led the charge against Blumenthal, and, by extension, against Secretary Clinton. There is a sycophant problem at the White House. The fact that Hillary Clinton has been doing a very effective job, repairing some of the damage from eight years of Bush-Cheney "diplomacy-free foreign policy," is now rubbing some of the sycophants the wrong way–as if her success somewho undermines the credibility of the President.

I considered this a relatively secondary matter, reflecting the usual personality frictions, in an administration top-loaded with smart people. But when Clinton announced yesterday that she was not going to Moscow with the President for his face-to-face summit with Medvedev and Putin, I inquired further, and got a clear indication that there are ruffled egos at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, who reacted with some paranoia about the prospect of a Hillary partisan like Blumenthal taking a slot at State.

This is bad news all around. The President's economic team, led by Larry Summers, Tim Geithner, Peter Orszag, and Rahm Emanuel himself, is so biased in favor of bailing out the banks, that they have squandered $8 trillion in taxpayers money, and have done nothing about the ever-shrinking real economy. Just look at the job losses since January–3 million net jobs lost from the U.S. economy, with other really serious repercussions.

In this context, the national security team, Gen. Jones, Sec. Def. Gates, Hillary, and the two special envoys–Mitchell and Holbrooke–have been operating effectively, with a degree of collegiality and genuine coordination of effort, that serves the President very well. You can disagree with some of their policy decisions, but I don't think there is any dispute that this is a team of experienced and well-intentioned people. Thus, if there is any real effort, for petty realpolitiking reasons, to disrupt or diminish this team, that is going to be a further disaster. And that worries me far more than the whereabouts of Dennis Ross.  Harper

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18 Responses to Harper on Ross, Clinton et al

  1. Patrick Lang says:

    Splendid piece. Your sources and mine line up with much the same information. Sid Blumenthal and his son, Max are journalists of high ability and integrity. It is a shame that Clinton will not have the benefit of his advice at State.
    On a related subject, I notice that the Washington Post used its lead editorial today to “logroll” for a full blown COIN strategy in Afghanistan, a strategy of full commitment to “nation building” and one that would require many, many more US troops for a long period of time. The Post was so bold as to admonish the president and presumably General Jones that they should “listen to the commanders in the field and be guided by them.” The neocons want this because they are still pursuing their goal of revoltionary social change in the Islamic World. The president has made it clear that he following a much more modest strategic plan in Afhanistan. pl

  2. Harper says:

    I genuinely feel for Sec. Def. Gates, Gen. Jones and all those responsible for trying to come up with a viable exit strategy from Afghanistan, after eight years of Bush-Cheney debauchery. It has been pointed out to me that Gates at CIA, and Jones in the military, cut their teeth during the Vietnam War period, and are, therefore, hyper-sensitive to the domestic aspects of military strategy. Gates is, I am told, convinced that he has no more than 18-24 months to demonstrate that the U.S. has a viable strategy for defeating the insurgency, and paving the way for a withdrawal, leaving something behind that is better for the Afghan people than what they had when we first moved in and overthrew the Taliban after 9/11.
    That is a really tall order. It is clear to me that Gen. McKiernan was not convinced that the mission could be accomplished, especially under such time constraints. And so, a high-risk alternative has been adopted. Gen. McChrystal is a Special Operations guy, who got his reputation in Iraq, by capturing Saddam Hussein, and killing some of the top Al Qaeda in Iraq commanders. He has been described to me as a kind of super SWAT team commander. Expectation is that there will a concentration on eliminating as many high-value targets as possible, to disrupt the insurgency. It will likely lead to many casualties along the way. It may work, but it will not fundamentally alter the situation on the ground, which has a long, long history of Pushtun tribes waging successful war against foreign intruders.
    If the end objective is a U.S. withdrawal, with some semblance of achievement, this is a longshot prospect, but could work. This will make the neocons, who believe that Afghanistan is ripe for Western democracy, womens liberation, and twitter revolutions, very unhappy.
    I know that a top Gates aide, Paul Brinkley, was sent into Afghanistan to survey prospective economic development options. His conclusion: Nothing is possible until the security situation is changed for the better. After that, there are vast deposits of precious metals in the mountains, there is oil and gas in the north, and there is a crying need for a transit route from Central Asia to the Indian Ocean–ie. AfPak pipeline routes, like the ones that Unocal was negotiating with the Taliban, when things went haywire in 2001.
    Limited objectives, informed by deep historical and cultural studies of the real Afghanistan, not, as Col. Lang would say, the “Afghanistan of our dreams.” This is about the best we can hope for, and if that is what is behind the latest review process and is what McChrystal has been sent in to do, I wish him well, and look forward to some stability in Kabul, a cutoff of the drug money to Taliban and Al Qaeda, and a future date when we actually bring the troops home, without the images of helicopters on the embassy roof. Anything more than that is, in my mind, a recipe for absolute disaster.

  3. par4 says:

    Col, Who listens to the Post anymore? What a sad end for a once great newspaper.

  4. N. M. Salamon says:

    I appreciate the effort of the USA to come out of Afganistan ASAP -without appearing to be a loser, which is hard to think with respect to Iraq.
    While I am completely opposed to hegemony by the USA, as I was to the same with USSR [being Hungarian, I “enjoyed” the latter], I am worried that the powers to be are so concerned with day to day affairts of Israel, Iraq, Afganistan, the banks that there is no time left for long term analysis, especially the dismal picture of oil gas availability and its connection to Standard of living. The cited article below is more pessimistic than others I have read, but essentially it matches [on shorter term] the decline if alternative energy sources are not developed in time.
    Unfortunately, at present this development at a rate of change necessary is not in the front of either the Administration, nor of Congress, nor of MSM, nor of anyoone else, sans some involved scientists,

  5. zanzibar says:

    From the day Obama’s economic team of Summers & Geithner were announced my opinion of Obama has diminished. Their actions to date only reinforces my initial distaste and exemplifies the revolving door corruption and cronyism in Washington DC.
    The looting of the American people to save the bankers will come back to haunt us for generations. The fact that the American people are not incensed just boggles my mind.
    In contrast Obama put together a very credible national security and foreign policy team. So its a disappointment that such an able team will likely be stymied from performing due to a “sycophant problem at the White House”.

  6. curious says:

    And boom, just like that.
    No sign Iran seeks nuclear arms: new IAEA head
    A senior U.S. official confirmed to Reuters that Washington is asking Arab governments whether they might ease sanctions on Israel if it freezes Jewish settlement on Palestinian territory, a move that could lead to regional peace negotiations.
    The U.S. State Department had no immediate comment.
    But Arab leaders have so far been cool, Western diplomats said, to suggestions they might open their airspace to Israeli airliners, allow roaming calls by Israeli cellphones or let in tourists whose passports show they have also visited Israel.
    Frankly, I think the “plan A” was entirely built upon Iranian regime change.
    Now states dept. is flailing around to come up with “plan B”, except Iran international position (minus NATO) is much stronger. I don’t see any aipac plan being aired out yet. This will be interesting.
    My sense, Iran next play will be macro economic. (making sure dollar crash) in 5 yrs as retaliation of regime change.

  7. Fred says:

    “The President’s economic team… is so biased in favor of bailing out the banks, that they have squandered $8 trillion in taxpayers money, and have done nothing about the ever-shrinking real economy.” The bias here is one shared with the Republican leadership as this ‘banker’s bailout’ began under Bush. It is a bias noticeable throughout the top echelons of our government’s leadership in both parties. It is one of the results of the ‘Reagan Revolution’. Unfortunately the entrenchment of this economic ideology poses a much greater threat to long term US security than the Taliban or Al Quada ever could.

  8. Dave of Maryland says:

    Seems that Obama needs a properly sycophantic Secretary of State, to join his other sycophants.
    Question: In what way is this an improvement over a spoiled frat-boy?
    Answer: The frat-boy, a decider, left with eight years of experience.

  9. charlottemom says:

    Maybe our devlish Mr. Ross was busily working on “plan b” and was kicked to the curb for doing so. Very heartening news on this July 4th weekend. Thanks for the post.

  10. Stacy says:

    Thank goodness someone has put the pieces together- the secrecy surrounding Dennis Ross’ move from State to White House/NSC was getting more bizarre by the day and it wasn’t clear if Secretary Clinton *wanted* him to leave State or whether he was the one to want to move or if Obama was engaging in some sort of power play. What’s interesting is that I have heard Ross transitioning to the NSC described as a promotion without any reference to being fired for forced out of the State Dept.
    My feeling was always that Ross was not a good choice for the Iran portfolio, for reasons that are obvious, and that he could potentially undermine the administration’s efforts to find a diplomatic solution to Iran’s supposed nuclear ambitions- I will admit to not totally seeing why he would be given a job at the White House, even if AIPAC wanted this- that seems to imply that Ross has significant power in the administration.
    Question- is Gen. Jones philosophically sympathetic to the neoconservative view of mid-east peace (and Iran) or is he more in line with Obama’s vision in that regard?
    Thanks for this update!

  11. VietnamVet says:

    The Afghanistan Adventure is thrust upon the twin petards of innate human resistance to foreign occupation and the looming bankruptcy of the federal government.
    The collapse of the Soviet Union is a recent stark reminder of the likely outcome of America’s invasion and occupation. The Afghan resistance was never extinguished by the Red Army. The costs of the war killing religious fanatics one by one became too great to bear by the creaking Russian economy.
    The United States has to draw down its forces. Only 12% of the US economy is productive manufacturing. All the rest is service industry and financial scams. The USA will not able to continue to borrow other countries monies to fight a never ending war that it cannot pay for with taxes on Americans.
    The British in Malaya ended its insurgency by promising independence and establishing a government acceptable to the local Malays with the promise to the Chinese and Indian populations that they would be free to make money.
    The Great Compromise of 1877 got the federal troops out of the South with the promise of wealth from joining the booming American economy at the betrayal of black voting rights.
    The difficulty with Afghanistan is that the United States is not able to give the promise of wealth and political freedom to the Afghans that would make the peaceful withdrawal of the troops possible and leave a friendly stable government in place.

  12. Nancy K says:

    President Obama didn’t make this mess, he inherited it. Republicans need to take responsibility for the mess our country is in. Hopefully President Obama will be able to get us out of the mess that frat boy got us into. We should all be hoping for President Obama’s success and the success of our military.

  13. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    The President’s economic team, led by Larry Summers, Tim Geithner, Peter Orszag, and Rahm Emanuel himself, is so biased in favor of bailing out the banks, that they have squandered $8 trillion in taxpayers money, and have done nothing about the ever-shrinking real economy.

    There’s a good case to be made (although I don’t have the statistics handy) that many of the ‘lost jobs’ were related to home construction, renovation, and sales. Many of those jobs won’t be coming back.
    I’ve seen no significant recognition from the economic advisors that the system of market manipulation of bubbles is going to be recalibrated, reviewed, or revised. Not a cause for optimism.
    Fascinating post.
    Thank you.

  14. curious says:

    The British in Malaya ended its insurgency by promising independence and establishing a government acceptable to the local Malays with the promise to the Chinese and Indian populations that they would be free to make money.
    Posted by: VietnamVet | 03 July 2009 at 08:31 PM
    The colonization largely is accepted by the malays. “road to independence” was in fact a better method to hand over communist/anti colonial insurgencies war to the native.
    Plus by early 60’s, the british has lost majority of its colony, so fighting to hold everything together is very expensive. They only have about 40K troops that has to cover Penang and Serawak. And Serawak is gigantic, imagine landmass the size of vietnam and everything is dense jungle instead of coastal/river valley/urban plus inland jungle. so the british pretty much exhaust itself by late 60’s due to mounting economic problem. Malaysia product was primarily Rubber, tin and plantation product fed into India, not for european mainland. (eg. fighting malaysia isn’t very profitable. Brunei/massive oil, was still under british rule until ’80s)
    Lesson for Afghanistan: public opinion and acceptance matter, fighting insurgency will sort itself out once public support is firm. Can’t fight population insurgency, and try to change existing government structure all at the same time.

  15. rfjk says:

    “Thus, if there is any real effort, for petty realpolitiking reasons, to disrupt or diminish this team, that is going to be a further disaster. And that worries me far more than the whereabouts of Dennis Ross.”
    As I’m sure you will keep this between you, me and the lamp post, if Obama should pull a Bush with the national security apparatus his presidency will be finished by forces far more dangerous and effective than Congress, neocons or the Israeli lobby. The Shinseki/Plame/Wilson affairs were lines that should never have been crossed by chicken shit, worthless civilian elites. When Gen Powell gave that speech before the UN I was shocked that he would risk so much for so undeserving and inferior political leadership. I have often wrestled with the traditions of ‘selfless service’ among the uniformed and non uniformed career civil servants, and can’t help wondering when enough…is enough. I don’t doubt that point has been crossed with some.

  16. Blumenthal has deep knowledge of US politics and could have helped Sec. Clinton on many fronts.
    So a cabinet secretary gets denied staff choices by the ballerina at Obama’s elbow? What does this signal to the entire world?
    Presumably General Jones will be careful with the sensitive information which Ross is permitted to see.
    Ross and Obama Middle East policy? It looks like Bush lite (or not so lite) anyways regardless of Ross and the musical chairs.
    Where is Clinton on settlements? Gaza? Golan? Jerusalem? Right of Return? And how about Gates? How about Mitchell who uses the codeword “Jewish state”? And Jones?…one might well ask.
    for example, the Leveretts assess:
    “By shrinking from declaring Israeli settlement activity illegal, Obama has guaranteed that, in substance, his Middle East policy cannot depart significantly from that of George W. Bush. Obama’s insipidly favorable response to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conditional “acceptance” of the two-state formula underscores an unfortunate continuity in America’s Middle East policy. In the end, Obama’s Middle East policy is rooted in his predecessor’s profoundly flawed 2003 road map for a two-state solution and the feckless process that Bush’s secretary of state, Condoleeza Rice launched at Annapolis in 2007. Worse, in contrast to other policy mistakes made early in his presidential tenure, Obama will be hard put to reverse the damage done by his lack of clarity and courage on the settlements issue by coming back at a later date and arguing that Israeli settlements in occupied territory are, in fact, illegal….”

  17. rfjk says:

    Mr. & Mrs. Leverett are smart cookies and I believe what their view of the end game should look like is a fair estimation of how the M/E will eventually wind up. But they are also an incredibly impatient duo.
    Considering US policy has been pro Israeli since 67 and the constituencies that have evolved to defend it obviously informs this is not going to be an easy nut to crack. Its taken us nearly the whole term of the cold war to date to arrive where we are, and its reversal is not going to be accomplished overnight.
    There is a lot that needs being done to compromise decades of Zionist/Israeli propaganda, showcasing the barbarisms in the W/B and Gaza, Arab & Muslim/American lobbying efforts & development and emerging moderate to liberal Jewish/American groups in opposition to AIPAC. Arabs and Muslims haven’t been a top ten favorite among Americans since the hostage crises, 9-11 and most especially the insane demonetization and deliberate slandering by the Bush administration and Zionists. There are tons of disinformation and dissimulation that must be addressed to move the ball.
    That part of the American public that pays attention to foreign affairs have only had a critical and shocking view of Israeli criminal behavior and inhumanity against Palestinians a mere 6 months ago. Polling of attitudes among Americans regarding Israel and the issues surrounding it have only begun inching negatively lately. Though that’s nothing to tot one’s horn over, it sure as hell has AIPAC, Likudniks, Zionists and Israeli firsters concerned. They know once the myths they have created are deflated unmasking their true nature, it won’t matter how much money they throw at Congress, they are done.
    And I don’t want to hear the personal opinions of Jone’s, Hillary, Gate’s or from anyone on ‘Team Obama.’ They are supposed to confine their comments to their boss’s publicly avowed policies and keep their big mouth’s shut about everything else. I recall that ‘loss lips sink ships.’ And in politics that applies in spades. When Obama judges he is prepared to expand or extend his policy options, that’s for Obama to decide, not anyone else.
    As far as I am concerned this game has only just begun. Its a far more complex issue than the few points I have made above, many of which the vast majority of Americans know nothing of. Precipitous action in the entangling and knotty affairs of US/Israeli and Middle Eastern issues is probably as self defeating as doing nothing at all. The Leverett’s are interesting and provide informative analysis, but their impatience for decisive action should be guarded against. It takes an astute politician to know the where, what, how and when the appropriate time is to act, not analysts, pundits or an interested citizen like me.
    After all that’s said & done having some ‘faith’ in the big Kahuna comes into the picture too.

  18. Castanea says:

    I know this is old news, but could Ross being kicked out of State have something to do with the rather transparent and stereotypical propaganda campaign being waged dutifully by the American media? Just look at the recent obsession with Twitter — it is increasingly becoming a joke, what with Michael Jackson news drowning out the relentless bleatings of Twitter “revolutionaries”. And when you look at the lag time between the first rumor of Ross leaving (published by Haaretz just after the election) and the eventual official announcement more than a week later, there seems to have been a snap decision, then a wait-and-see reversal, then the final cut. In my mind I imagine the scenario of Ross angrily telling Obama “Just a few more days, I can pull this one out” as the President rolls his eyes and says, “Sure, Dennis, take your time…”

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