The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Obama's Middle East team

A little more clarity on Barack Obama's national security — and mostly Middle East and AfPak — team:

National Security Advisor Jim Jones and Deputy National Security Advisor Tom Donilon both have the rank of assistant to the president. NSC Director of Strategic Communications Denis McDonough and Chief of Staff Mark Lippert have the rank of deputy assistant to the president. Ross, along with Lute, will have the rank of special assistant to the president. Daniel Shapiro, Puneet Talwar, and Don Camp have senior director status, but not the rank of special assistant to the president that Ross will have.

Note that Dennis Ross has also joined in a beefed-up position now going beyond Iran called "special assistant to the president and senior director on the central region." Note the adoption of a region system analogous to the military's "Central Command" to refer to the Middle East — another sign of the regrettable commitment of the administration to what is, for lack of a better word, essentially an imperialist posture in the region. Laura Rozen has more on that. It is becoming clearer that Ross' move from State to the White House is a promotion, enabling him to have the ear of the president. The idea has been floating around that Ross may be in this position not so much as a key crafter of regional policy but rather as an interface between the president and the Israel lobby he has long been associated with (let's remember that during the Bush years Ross was not only at the pro-Israel Washington Institute, but also at an organization associated with the Jewish Agency, the Israeli quasi-governmental organization whose mission is to bring people to Israel, including the settlements).

Meanwhile, Acting Assistant SecState for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman is still waiting to be confirmed, and thus cannot appoint his own staff yet. I was in Washington a few days ago and visited the State Dept, where I got the impression that things were definitely not quite set up yet. Note that the reason Feltman is not confirmed yet, apparently, is that Senator Carl Levin is withholding (also here) his vote to lobby for one of his constituents who is trying to get money out of the Libyan regime (which has already paid through the nose for the normalization of its relationship with the West.)