The Cable

Dennis Ross leaving White House

White House advisor Dennis Ross, one of President Barack Obama's lead officials in handling the Middle East peace process and U.S. policy toward Iran, is leaving the administration and returning to the private sector.

"After nearly three years of serving in the administration, I am going to be leaving to return to private life," Ross said in a statement e-mailed to reporters on Thursday. "I do so with mixed feelings. It has been an honor to work in the Obama Administration and to serve this President, particularly during a period of unprecedented change in the broader Middle East."

He will leave the administration is early December. No replacement has yet been announced.

Ross' official title was National Security Council (NSC) senior director for the "central region," which gave him authority over not just the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, but also placed him in charge of NSC officials who worked on Iran, India, and other issues. He said in his statement that he promised his wife he would be in government for only two years.

"We both agreed it is time to act on my promise," Ross said.

Ross actually worked for the Obama administration for almost three years, and resigned two days after Obama was caught on a hot microphone discussing with French President Nicolas Sarkozy their mutual frustration with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"I cannot stand him. He's a liar," Sarkozy told Obama in what the two leaders thought was a private conversation at the G-20 summit in Cannes.

"You're fed up with him? I have to deal with him every day," Obama responded.

Ross worked on Middle East issues for every administration since Jimmy Carter, except for that of former President George W. Bush, and was often seen as the Obama administration's main interlocutor with the Netanyahu team. He reportedly clashed with members of the administration who focused on other aspects of the administration's Middle East policy, such as former Special Envoy George Mitchell.

He had originally been appointed in February 2009 as special envoy to the Gulf and Southwest Asia, a job located at the State Department and focused on Iran, but was moved to his NSC position in June 2009. While there, he had been working primarily on the Middle East peace process and the U.S.-Israel relationship.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney praised Ross in a statement e-mailed to reporters on Thursday.

"Dennis Ross has an extraordinary record of public service and has been a critical member of the President's team for nearly three years," Carney said. "In light of the developments in the broader Middle East, the President appreciates his extending that by nearly a year and looks forward to being able to draw on his council periodically going forward."

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The Cable

McCain and Graham spell out how they’ll get around the “supercommittee”

Two top Senate GOP defense hawks laid out for The Cable how they plan to save the defense budget -- if the congressional "supercommittee" fails to reach an agreement, triggering $600 billion in defense cuts over ten years.

Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) are part of a larger effort to protect the defense budget from the "sequestration" mechanism, which would automatically be activated if the supercommittee fails to agree by Thanksgiving on $1.2 trillion of discretionary spending cuts over 10 years. They sent a letter last week to the Pentagon asking for a detailed analysis of the consequences for the military if the trigger is pulled.

"The secretary of defense and all the service chiefs say that it would do irreparable damage to our national security, so obviously we need to do something about it," McCain told The Cable on Tuesday. "My intent is that sequestration on national defense will not take place."

McCain said he would introduce and support a law to undo the Budget Control Act of 2011, which codified the deal to raise the debt ceiling.

"We'll do everything we can to prevent [the trigger] being implemented," McCain said. "You can't bind future Congresses."

The threat of large defense cuts, along with a parallel trigger that would cut entitlements, was intended to be so objectionable that the supercommittee would have an incentive to make a deal. When asked, McCain rejected the idea that by undermining the trigger, he and Graham are taking pressure off the supercommittee to make the required bipartisan cuts.

"There is sufficient pressure on the supercommittee, they will not be swayed either way by our concern about sequestration of national defense," McCain said.

Graham went into more detail about what hawks will seek as a replacement for the defense trigger.

"I hope the supercommittee can do its job, but we can't just live on hope around here. So if they fail, what do we do?" Graham said. "If the committee fails, I am not going to allow the triggers to be pulled that would shoot the Defense Department in the head."

Graham said he would put forth a substitute to the triggers, "something where the whole country shares in the failure of the supercommittee, not just the Defense Department and Medicare providers."

A scrum of reporters cornered supercommittee member Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) coming out of the Tuesday Democratic caucus lunch, and your humble Cable guy elbowed his way to the front of the pack. We decided to first ask several questions about the IAEA report on Iran, to the chagrin of the other reporters desperate for supercommittee quotes.

When Kerry did turn to answering questions about the supercommittee, he said, "We've got some distance to travel and we're working very hard to do that."

Kerry said he was not "optimistic," but he was "hopeful," the super ommittee would succeed.

"Everybody's working in ... uh ... good faith," he said, with a wry grin on his face.

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