Getting it right in the Mideast and elsewhere

The Baltimore Sun


And How to Restore America's Standing in the World

Dennis Ross

Farrar Straus Giroux / 370 pages / $26

Dennis Ross is scarcely the first person to conclude that the Bush administration "has roiled, not regulated, international security." But his views ought to matter. The chief peace negotiator in the Middle East for George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, Ross is now a distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. A neo-liberal, he is not opposed to the use of force, or, when the threat is imminent, to pre-emptive war.

Unlike neoconservatives, Ross believes that democracy takes hold when it emerges from within, not when it is imposed from outside. He wants to deploy all the tools at our disposal - diplomatic, economic and military - in ways that fit local conditions. And he insists that an international consensus tends to make policies more effective. These principles inform Statecraft.

A practitioners' guide to negotiation, the book provides a frank, if by no means unfamiliar, assessment of American foreign policy since the end of the Cold War - and some intriguing ideas for a more responsible and realistic use of America's "soft power."

Ross demonstrates, in devastating detail, that George W. Bush's Iraq fiasco resulted less from unilateralism and botched intelligence than from incompetence and an unwillingness to use all the tools of statecraft.

Soon after Sept. 11, he indicates, the president was ready to bomb Baghdad, asking advisers for "any shred" of evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved in the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In asking Congress for an authorization of war, Bush made regime change the goal.

When he went to the United Nations, the objective was limited to disarming weapons of mass destruction, leading most countries to assume that a second resolution was needed to approve military action. That resolution, Ross maintains, should have been introduced in private to gauge whether it would pass. Instead, the administration refused to give the inspectors more time and lobbied Security Council members in public, until it became clear that the United States did not have the votes. Although Bush believed he had a sufficient legal basis to attack, the legitimacy of the invasion was further diminished.

Ross' comparison of the two Gulf Wars is instructive. In 1990, the elder Bush and Secretary of State James A. Baker III began with a U.N. resolution, economic sanctions and a military build-up. They worked tirelessly to get troop commitments from as many nations as possible, bring Russia, China and even Syria on board, assemble aid packages for Turkey and Egypt, persuade Israel not to retaliate against Scud missile attacks, and enlist donor nations to pony up $53.7 billion to fund the expulsion of Iraq from Kuwait.

In 2003, the younger Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld taunted the United Nations to prove it remained "relevant," mocked the inspectors, failed to reach much beyond Britain in constructing a "coalition of the willing," didn't persuade the Turkish parliament to give U.S. troops a "northern front," assumed that Iraqi oil revenues would pay for reconstruction, ignored Gen. Anthony Zinni's recommendation that 380,000 troops would be needed to stabilize the country and enlisted no one to help pay the bills.

In addressing the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, Ross suggests, the Bush administration has been just as inept. The United States did not take advantage of the opportune moment presented by the death of Yasser Arafat, the election of Mahmoud Abbas and Ariel Sharon's withdrawal from Gaza in 2004-2005.

Instead, Bush pushed for elections in the Palestinian territories, which brought Hamas to power. He gave Ehud Olmert a free pass to attack Lebanon, instead of using the Saudis to develop an Arab plan to extend Lebanon's authority over territory controlled by Hezbollah - and then pushing the Israelis to withdraw on condition that the plan was implemented with international forces.

Statecraft crackles with creative approaches for the Middle East. Instead of calling for "democracy," a word that has become stigmatized in the Muslim world, Ross wants American officials to develop "good governance," "combat corruption," and "respect minority rights." He endorses the isolation of Hamas until a culture of accountability replaces its culture of victimization - but urges the United States to reach out to the Palestinian people, by giving non-governmental organizations the resources to distribute food, set up secular schools and rebuild infrastructure.

He suggests that Abbas might outflank Hamas by calling for a national referendum which asks Palestinians whether they support a two-state solution and negotiations with Israel to reach that outcome. And he advocates negotiations with Iran over nuclear weapons, but only after European nations agree to impose specific sanctions if the talks bog down or blow up.

Statecraft, Ross concludes, requires idealism tempered by reality, ambition tied to a strategy, resoluteness and patience, less lecturing and more learning. In a dangerous world "statecraft must no longer be a lost art."

Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin professor of American studies at Cornell University.

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