Interesting that Dennis Ross has been named special advisor, reporting exclusively to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while Richard Holbrooke and George Mitchell were both named special presidential envoys, reporting both to Clinton and President Barack Obama. I would have thought that Obama would like to keep as close an eye on the Iran dossier as on the others.
At first glance Ross’ official title, “adviser to the secretary of state for the Gulf and Southwest Asia,” reminded me of Jon Alterman’s WPR Briefing, The Middle East Moves East. Alterman suggested that the Obama administration’s regional approach would redraw the diplomatic maps of the region to rejoin South Asia with the Middle East. It also made me wonder if, while Mitchell and Holbrooke were busy conducting shuttle diplomacy, Ross might not have trumped them without leaving Washington. But according to the Post, the elaborate title is just a diplomatically correct way of saying “Iran.”
Also interesting to note that the NY Times highlights Ross’ hardline stance on sanctions on Iran, whereas the WaPo emphasizes his CNAS paper calling for a “direct, secret back channel” to reach out to Tehran.
That underscores, to my mind, the most surprising aspect of the choice. Whether or not you consider Ross’ reputation good or lousy, he’s got one that’s a mile long. That doesn’t necessarily mean he can’t effect change, but it doesn’t reinforce the message of a new beginning either.