Thursday, February 26, 2009

What do Special Advisors do?

The announced terms of reference:

Appointment of Dennis Ross as Special Advisor for The Gulf and Southwest Asia

Robert Wood

Acting Department Spokesman

Washington, DC

February 23, 2009

"The Secretary is pleased to announce the appointment of Dennis B. Ross to the position of Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for The Gulf and Southwest Asia. This is a region in which America is fighting two wars and facing challenges of ongoing conflict, terror, proliferation, access to energy, economic development and strengthening democracy and the rule of law. In this area, we must strive to build support for U.S. goals and policies. To be successful, we will need to be able to integrate our policy development and implementation across a broad range of offices and senior officials in the State Department, and, in his role as Special Advisor to the Secretary, Ambassador Ross will be asked to play that role.

"Specifically, as Special Advisor, he will provide to the Secretary and senior State Department officials strategic advice and perspective on the region; offer assessments and also act to ensure effective policy integration throughout the region; coordinate with senior officials in the development and formulation of new policy approaches; and participate, at the request of the Secretary, in inter-agency activities related to the region.

"Ambassador Ross brings a wealth of experience not just to issues within the region but also to larger political-military challenges that flow from the area and have an impact outside of the Gulf and Southwest Asia, and the Secretary looks forward to drawing on that experience and diplomatic perspective."

As Laura Rozen notes and as I have anticipated here, the Ross position is far less exalted than his supporters anticipated. There is no question that he will be a voice at the policy table, but others, including Under Secretary William J. Burns, will have direct responsibility for key files like Iran.

Meantime, intel head Dennis Blair has affirmed the appointment of Chas Freeman as head of the National Intelligence Council (NIC). Freeman is a quick study, a gifted linguist (including fluent Chinese and Arabic), and an independent thinker. With U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, time running out for a feasible two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a U.S.-Iranian dialogue being plumbed and a global economic meltdown, the President will be well-served by Ambassador Freeman's leadership at the NIC.

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