Foundation hosts forum with Ross for Bestor, Daugherty members

Amanda Mainguy | Staff Photographer
Political counselor and diplomat Dennis Ross speaks to members of the Bestor Society and Eleanor B. Daugherty Society last Thursday in Smith Wilkes Hall.

Last Wednesday, diplomat and author Dennis Ross sat with political scientist Geoffrey Kemp in the Amphitheater for a discussion on the conflict in Gaza and the jihadist group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. The discussion of international politics was blunt and garnered a warm welcome from Chautauquans.

The next morning, Ross continued his discussion with members of the Bestor Society and the Eleanor B. Daugherty Society in Smith Wilkes Hall. Many Chautauquans braved the chilly weather for an open-forum chat with Ross, covering topics such as initiatives in Israel, dysfunction in the White House and everything in between.

Geof Follansbee, Institution vice president and CEO of the Chautauqua Foundation, opened the event by thanking the benefactors’ stalwart support and encouraging them to spread the word about contributing.

“This year, for the first time, people who are giving and really stretching for Chautauqua are moving this Institution forward, taking us to a very different place than we’ve been,” Follansbee said. “I think you’ve witnessed that this summer.”

Now a political counselor and William Davidson Distinguished Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Ross served as the State Department’s director of Policy Planning during President George H. W. Bush’s administration, the special Middle East coordinator for President Bill Clinton, and special adviser for Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state.

Ross began his discussion by taking a few questions from the audience. Hands shot up, followed by an array of inquiries concerning the Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements, Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace proposals in Egypt, the “extermination” of ISIS, and the implications of the skirmish between Russia and Ukraine.

Ross said that ISIS’s main goal is a Sunni caliph-controlled government to protect the political interests of the minority group in the region. He also explained how the group’s fear-inducing feudal tactics make it so successful.

“ISIS is run by 21st-century technicians with a 7th-century ideology,” Ross said. “Other Sunni Muslims must delegitimate ISIS in order to undermine their efforts and make them ineffective.”

Ross also touched on topics such as the effectiveness of intelligence operations on behalf of the United States, arguing that ISIS and other threats to the homeland have thus far been thwarted by excellent intelligence efforts.

“A strategic surprise always come from faulty assumptions — never from a lack of information,” Ross said. “The best indication of how effective the intelligence committee has been is that we haven’t had anything like 9/11 since 9/11. Don’t think that’s an accident.”

Ross concluded by criticizing the “internally paralyzed” nature of the federal government and explaining how he maintains his “sunny disposition” in the face of troubling issues.

“I think part of it is that I am analytical about everything,” Ross said. “You are who you are, and my style is to be a problem-solver.”

Ross’ discussion was an exclusive event for members of the Bestor and Eleanor B. Daugherty Societies. The Bestor Society is made up of Chautauquans whose annual donations consist of $3,500 or more. These contributions make up approximately 85 percent of the Chautauqua Fund, according to the Chautauqua Foundation’s website. Members of the Daugherty Society have made a planned gift to Chautauqua Foundation in their wills or estate plans.

For more information on these leadership giving opportunities, contact or call 716-357-6404.