Deep into his absorbing (if sprawling and uneven) book Statecraft, Dennis Ross comes up with one good anecdote that might find its place in a novel. The time is 1990. The situation is the run-up to the first Gulf War, where Ross is at work (under the leadership of Secretary of State James A. Baker) to get the (collapsing) Soviet Union on board for an invasion of
Primakov is coming over Shevardnadze’s opposition. He is against Saddam paying a price. He wants to reward him. His mission has been pushed on Gorbachev and if he succeeds, he will replace Shevardnadze as foreign minister and end everything we have been working for. He must be seen as failing and creating problems with the
The book is complicated by a triple agenda; it is at once a critique, a program, and an apologia pro vita sua—skeptical readers will say it is Ross’ brief for why he should be Secretary of State. Maybe it is, and maybe he should be, but he still makes a compelling critique and a set of persuasive recommendations. If his program isn’t quite as comprehensive as he supposes (government is not only negotiations, after all), still there is good reason to believe that the W regime has fallen down on the job, and blown off a lot of good opportunities.
The hero of this account, if it is not Ross himself, is Baker, the
Next in importance behind Baker we have Richard Holbrooke, then assistant secretary of state who (as Ross undertakes to show) brought off an extraordinary smoke-and-mirrors trick in achieving a kind of stability and order in the former
This kind of background sets Ross up for what must be seen as the heart of the book; his “12 rules to follow” in negotiation, and his “11 rules” for mediation. At first glance, these may be the same-old same-old that you would get from any attempt to explain bargaining techniques, from Thomas Schelling and Roger Fisher down to the whole raft of MBA revivalist tracts. The “rules” earn their keep here as filters for Ross’ own formidable experience, particularly working with Palestinians and Israelis.
All of which sets himself up for his unsparing critique of the W administration:
The Bush administration has certainly not had a negotiating mind-set for dealing with friends or adversaries. … Too often the Bush administration has lectured others and has not tried to persuade them. Too often it has conveyed that it knows best and that others need to accept this. Too often it has thought that the essence of diplomacy is to give a speech and expect others to respond. … The patience is rarely there for painstaking work. The mechanisms for follow-up are almost always lacking. The level of effort from the top is either short-lived or missing in action. The instinct to ask hard questions, certainly by the president, is almost unmistakably absent.
Nothing to add, your honor.
Fn.: Well, yes, something to add. The Middle East peace story is a morass all its own. Ross previously weighed in with his own account. For a dissenting view, go here.