In Doomed to Succeed, Ross, a diplomat and advisor who served five U.S. presidents, documents the history of the mostly misguided U.S. peace efforts in the Middle East dating back to Franklin Roosevelt. While the early sections are a rehash of well-known facts, the recap is needed to reinforce Ross's thesis that misguided Arabists, who view Israel as a major irritant in relations with the Arab world, have continually and adversely influenced U.S. policy in the region.
Readers familiar with the history of U.S.-Israel relations may want to jump directly to the chapters starting with the Reagan administration when Ross became personally involved in policy-making. His eyewitness account of decision-making is insightful and reveals the structural, personal, and ideological reasons why the relationship with Israel is close but often turbulent.
Ronald Reagan, for example, despite being revered as one of Israel's best White House friends, could be the most punitive president when Israel angered him. George H.W. Bush's attitudes as vice president foreshadowed his animus toward Israel. Obama was angered by Netanyahu's declaration, prior to his reelection as prime minister, that he would never accept a Palestinian state; Obama considered other comments to be anti-democratic, prompting the president to warn that he would "reevaluate" policy toward Israel.
Ross was often ostracized or impeded by the Arabists, in part because he did not believe relations with Israel were a zero-sum game in which ties with Arab states would suffer if Washington maintained a close alliance with Israel. Not surprisingly, the Obama State Department withheld the "peace process" portfolio from Ross. But, Obama's early missteps led the administration to bring Ross back to handle Israeli-Palestinian issues.
Ross argues that Arab leaders do not particularly care about the Palestinians:
The Palestinian issue has indeed been a centerpiece for Arab leaders, but more to use as leverage against us or against each other.
Ross finds the problem in U.S. Middle East policy boils down to the fact that too often our policy makers did not understand the fundamental realities in the region ... We not only made basic mistakes, but we repeated these over time. Those past mistakes, and their rationales, continue to echo today.