The Think Tank Clown

by William A. Cook

Clowns befuddle a crowd. They appear a pretense of the normal but caricatured to evoke laughter, surprise, at times derision, but always in context where they absorb self-deprecation, become the butt of jokes, become the audiences’ self, a make believe self, receiving the jibes, jests and buffoonery never allowed when alone. Thus do they become vessels of deep seated self- ridicule, inhibited expression, personal inadequacy, a self-conscious parody of the normal.  They are used images, commodities to be bought and sold for the purchaser’s benefit, set amidst their fellows as manikins to be pinched and probed, facsimiles of all, but receivers of ridicule to protect their brethren.

Such is the figure of Patrick Clawson, Director of Research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, as he appeared before his fellows, his scholarly brethren seated silently in respectful adulation at WINEP’s self-proclaimed international conference on near East policy. He appeared as all clowns appear from the side curtains, an Ichabod figure from Irving’s legend’s, lanky, thin, staccato stepping toward the podium, a believer in mystical gods, historical covenants, justifications of actions found encrypted in the yellow stained pages of ancient scrolls, called upon to deliver his sacred yet startling message to his colleagues.

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Dennis Ross’s Iran Plan

Had opponents of war relied on Robert Dreyfuss and Jim Lobe’s reports in the lead up to the Iraq war, instead of the defective analysis of Chomsky and others on the left, there is a chance the war may have been avoided. Here is a very important new report by Dreyfuss on Dennis Ross’s latest machinations. Also see this new post by Jim Lobe — by far the most sophisticated and astute analyst of the forces shaping US foreign policy — about Obama’s latest questionable appointment.

My personal view is that Obama does want rapprochement with Iran, for practical, strategic reasons if nothing else. So statements such as the one by Patrick Clawson at the end of this report need to be taken with a bag of salt. I think they are meant to undercut Obama’s diplomatic overtures by imputing them suspect intent.

When Dennis Ross, a hawkish, pro-Israel adviser to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, was elevated in February to the post of special adviser on “the Gulf and Southwest Asia”–i.e., Iran–Ross’s critics hoped that his influence would be marginal. After all, unlike special envoys George Mitchell (Israel-Palestine) and Richard Holbrooke (Afghanistan-Pakistan), whose appointments were announced with fanfare, Ross’s appointment was long delayed and then announced quietly, at night, in a press release.

But diplomats and Middle East watchers hoping Ross would be sidelined are wrong. He is building an empire at the State Department: hiring staff and, with his legendary flair for bureaucratic wrangling, cementing liaisons with a wide range of US officials. The Iran portfolio is his, says an insider. “Everything we’ve seen indicates that Ross has completely taken over the issue,” says a key Iran specialist. “He’s acting as if he’s the guy. Wherever you go at State, they tell you, ‘You’ve gotta go through Dennis.'”

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