WESTPORT, Conn. — Ambassador Dennis Ross spoke about the current unrest in the Middle East, offering historical context while addressing the difficult situation the next president will face, in a recent talk at the Conservative Synagogue of Westport, Weston and Wilton.
A go-to guest on the Sunday morning news shows, Ross is William Davidson Distinguished Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He has worked for Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and served as special adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Although Israel was not top of mind, Ross said, “We may have to come up with a two-state solution.” But it won’t happen soon. The Palestinians are not prepared to negotiate, he said, because they’re facing a succession crisis, so they’re engaged in a competition to see who can be more extreme.
Ross’ focus was on the countries that will require the next president's immediate attention.
Syria is a humanitarian catastrophe — the al-Assad regime is fighting an opposition of some 160 militias, and battling ISIS, while ISIS is warring against many of the same militias. In Aleppo, the regime and Russia continue a “siege and starve” offensive.
Twelve million of the country’s pre-war population of 23 million have been displaced, 7 million internally, the rest as refugees. And Aleppo, once the country's largest city, has shrunk from 2 million to 250,000.
Mosul has lost half its population of over 2 million, and Raqqa is a war zone, he said. Once ISIS is defeated they will be liberated, and the issue will turn to “What happens in the days after,” lest the realities that produced ISIS produce “son of ISIS,” Ross said.
And Yemen, Egypt and Libya are all increasingly problematic, he said.
Then there’s Shia Iran, whose militias seek to extend their influence and undermine governments wherever they can.
“Any one of these would be equivalent to what previous presidents have faced. The next president will face all of them,” Ross said.
To make headway, the next president must better understand the priorities of the Arab leaders — we need not accept them, but we do have to understand them — something we have not done well.
Obama went to the Gulf Co-Operation Summit recently to ask the leaders to do more to fight ISIS. His mission was doomed because all he sought was help for an American problem, Ross said. Yes, ISIS is a problem to the Sunnis, but Iran is their existential threat, he said. And they heard nothing about that.
Ross talked about his work, saying he has spent the last 30 years trying to improve the Middle East — not because it was a “game changer, but because it is important in its own right."