In yesterday’s New York Times, reporter Helene Cooper pondered the meaning of the odd migration of Dennis Ross from an undisclosed location at the State Department to an equally obscure post somewhere in the White House. Cooper doesn’t come up with any definitive answers as to Ross’s MIA status in Obamaland. But Cooper was able to come up with a quote that may rank among the silliest bits of sycophancy we’ve read in a long time.
David Makovsky is a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where Ross also landed during his break from the George W. Bush administration. The two collaborated on a book about the peace process that has been much discussed since Ross returned to government service. When asked why Ross got his latest job, Makovsky claimed it was because “Dennis Ross is the Lebron James of Middle East diplomacy.”
Picking up on the basketball metaphor, Cooper concluded her piece by speculating that the reason Ross was pushed out of the State Department is because, “it really is crowded in the special envoy hallways at the State Department, what with Mr. Mitchell, the Kobe Bryant of Northern Ireland diplomacy, and Mr. Holbrooke, the Michael Jordan of global diplomacy, already parked there.”
Comparisons of George Mitchell to KB and Richard Holbrooke to His Airness are overblown. Those two ballplayers are genuine immortals in their field while it is unlikely that future historians will put either Mitchell or Holbrooke in the same class as a Prince Metternich or even a lesser diplomatic demigod such as Henry Kissinger. But they did achieve something as envoys in the past, even if it is highly doubtful that they will accomplish much in their present posts though Holbrooke’s task in Afghanistan is more realistic than the fool’s errand that Mitchell’s has been sent on in the Middle East.
Though Ross has been on duty for more Middle East peace processing than anyone else in captivity that is not the same thing as having done anything worthwhile.
Ross started out as one of Secretary of State James “f____ the Jews” Baker’s little helpers during that uber-realist’s pressure campaign on Israel after the first Gulf War. He stayed on during the Clinton administration and though he could claim no credit for brokering the failed Oslo Accords, he did spend several years trying to prop them up. Ross consistently whitewashed the incitement and violence of Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority and thus contributed to the false hopes of the Oslo era as well as to its ultimate bloody collapse. He eventually decamped from Foggy Bottom early in the younger Bush’s presidency and was a critic of that administration’s decision to cut off talks with Arafat. Ross was also an early backer of Obama and spent most of 2008 fluttering around the country testifying to his candidate’s pro-Israel bona fides, a stance that has also lost much of its credibility in the last few weeks.
So comparing Dennis Ross’s track record of failures with Lebron James’s, a man widely acknowledged to be the best individual player in the NBA, is fairly ridiculous. It is true that James has yet to play on a championship team but that has had more to do with the failings of the rest of the Cleveland Cavaliers than anything James has done. By contrast, Ross was just another lousy player on a series of awful foreign policy teams led by losers like Baker, Warren Christopher, and Madeleine Albright.
Readers are invited to come up with their own suggestions for sports comparisons (keep it clean guys!) for Ross. If we’re going to stick to basketball, I’d like to nominate Stephon Marbury. Marbury has flitted from team to team in the course of a long career. Though very talented, he has made every team he played on worse rather than better. He is now, like the Oslo Accords Ross once touted, a metaphor for failed promise, better known for the cheap sneakers that bear his name than for any winning games.
Rather than worrying about whether Ross will prop up or undermine pro-Israel sentiment in the administration (the tack that many observers have taken), I think it is more apt to wonder what recycling a man who has helped author so many past disasters says about the judgment of the current occupant of the oval office.