"Build a diverse and experienced negotiating team steeped in regional and functional expertise; encourage open debate and collaboration within the government. A dysfunctional policy process should not be tolerated"It is clear from Kurtzer and Lasensky's "commentary" that the above lesson was learned well by Jim Baker but entirely missed by Clinton's secretaries of state, Christopher and Albright. Ross, who was appointed to be a special Middle East coordinator by Clinton, did not encourage debate and collaboration. The Clinton policy team is accused by Kurtzer and Lasensky of being "dysfunctional," without any knowledge in Arab culture, a serious drawback especially at Camp David II.
"There was no expert on our team on Islam or Muslim perspectives," said a former Clinton administration official, "[so] when it came to dealing with Jerusalem, there's some very embarrassing episodes that betrayed our lack of knowledge or bias."Aaron Miller, in his intriguing new book, The Much Too Promised Land makes a similar accusation against the Clinton policy team (of which he was a member). He waxes nostalgiac about Bush 41 and Secretary Baker, as he criticizes the Clinton administration. And why? Simply because the US, under Clinton and Ross, acted as "Israel's lawyer", abandoning all pretence at being an honest broker. In not-so-diplomatic language, he castigates Ross's "driving ambition to succeed and to exert control." Most significantly, he blames Ross for cutting Kurtzer out of the peace-process team in 1994.
Dan's departure in my view was a major loss. We needed his honesty, balance, and creativity, particularly in the mid-1990's and in the run-up to Camp David."Miller sums up to my mind the fundamental problem of Ross's approach as follows:
Dennis, like myself, had a inherent tendency to see the world of Arab-Israeli politics first from Israel's vantage point rather than from that of the Palestinians. Not that he didn't understand Arab or Palestinian sensitivities. But his own strong Jewish identity, and his commitment to Israel's security combined with something else: a deep conviction that if you couldn't gain Israel's confidence, you have zero chance of erecting any kind of peace process. And to Dennis, achieving this goal required a degree of coordination with the Israeli's, sensitivity toward their substantive concerns, and public defense of their positions. Baker's good judgment and toughness balanced and controlled this inclination, which was not the case under Clinton.In subsequent posts, I will be citing more from the books by Kurtzer and Lasensky, and by Aaron Miller. There are must-reads for my readers, especially for American Jewish liberals who cheered the American involvement in the peace process. Miller's book, in particular, is the most important book yet to be written on American's attempts to broker mideast peace, (And, by the way, the book is highly entertaining. I found myself laughing out loud occasionally.) For when you get down to it, the peace-process team under two US presidents was composed of three talented individuals, all Jews, and all liberal Zionists. Now we know -- from Kurtzer and from Miller, two-thirds of the trio -- that America, Israel, and the Palestinians would have been better served by a more diverse team. Apparently, Dennis Ross, whose failure was spectacular, still doesn't get it.