On the Departure of Dennis Ross

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A few quick observations on Dennis Ross’ departure from the White House as Obama’s top Middle East advisor:

First, if there are any on the left who are taking this as a sign that Obama is finally going to get tough with Netanyahu, they shouldn’t hold their breath. Obama tried that early in the administration, when Ross was at State, and it got him exactly nowhere. In a re-election year, it’s unlikely to be revived.

Second, those on the right who suggest that Ross’ departure is going to cost Obama big in the 2012 election are also thinking wishfully. Obama’s policy of benign neglect is only going to deepen in coming months, and the ledger of his support for Israel (militarily and vs. the Palestinians) is not going to change significantly, even if Ross occasionally ventures a critical perspective from his post back at WINEP. On the contrary the failure of the Palestinian effort to gain recognition as a State at the UN will help Obama politically.

So why is Ross leaving? There is not going to be major movement on Israel, the key area that Ross was brought in to bolster Obama’s weak first National Security Advisor, Gen. Jim Jones, on. Ross undercut George Mitchell’s efforts to get Israel to the negotiating table, according to disgruntled former administration officials, and with the peace process comatose there’s not much work to do.

What about Iran? It will surely be a campaign issue, and I’ve heard speculation that Ross is leaving because Obama’s insufficiently tough. More likely is the fact that Ross’ “two-track” strategy is itself moribund. The policy was always based on a combination of outreach and threatened sanctions. Outreach has failed, and is unlikely to be revived in an election year. And new U.N. sanctions are unlikely despite the recent IAEA report and the odd, abortive assassination plot.

Which means both the key issues Ross was tasked with handling are not going to see significant policy movement in the coming year, and the job would largely be managing appearances. At this point in his career, that’s not what Ross is looking to do.