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What Does Dennis Ross Do?

5:13 PM, Jun 26, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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Ben Smith does a good job trying to get to the bottom of Dennis Ross's move to the NSC, but it's still far from clear just what this means for administration policy toward Iran or Israel. Dan Senor offers some speculation, telling Smith that the move will bolster the position of those inside the adminsitration who believe that solving the Iran problem is a precondition for getting traction in the peace process and not the other way around. "Dennis is much more of the view that you cannot solve major problems in the region without dealing with Iran. It's Iran first, it's not the Palestinians first," he tells Smith.

Senor also claims that the move marginalizes George Mitchell, which would be good news if it were true. However, an administration official is quick to rebut the claim, telling Smith, "Mitchell's much closer to the president on the subject matter than Dennis is." I'm inclined to believe that. Rashid Khalidi is probably closer to the president on this subject than Ross is, too.

All we know for certain is that Ross got taken off the Iran portfolio at State during a major crisis in Iran. He's been moved to the NSC where he will have a much broader portfolio but an unknown, and I suspect much diminished, role in making policy (and spinning it to increasingly nervous Jews). Still, David Makovsky, who knows Ross's current views on these issues better than anyone, says that Ross is "skeptical of a grand bargain." That might make him the only real realist in the White House.

Michael Crowley has some good speculation on this as well.

Update: Dan Senor emails:

Mike -- just read your blog on Ben Smith's article. I disagree. My sense is that the White House is the engine of foreign policy making in this Administration. Dennis is such a phenomenal briefer that -- combined with his new increased access to Obama -- he will only be all the more influential.

Also, just consider what we already know about the internal ecosystem. If you were working on foreign policy in Obama-world, wouldn't you prefer closer proximity to Rahm/Axelrod than being stuck at Foggy Bottom?