Former Secretary of State James Baker is known around Washington as being a foreign policy realist. But the evidence suggests that Baker is a realist in the same way that Ramsey Clark is a patriot. Clark demonstrates his patriotism by defending the likes of Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic, and by denouncing America whenever and wherever he can. James Baker demonstrates his realism on foreign policy by conjuring up fantasies and re-writing history to cover up his failures and turn even the most modest success into earth-shattering conquest.
At least the Democrats are smart enough to distance themselves from Ramsey Clark. Baker has yet to cross the line that would make him a political pariah among Republicans, but there’s always hope. Maybe the convergence of Baker’s obnoxious role in the Iraq Survey Group, and his law firm’s representation of Saudi royalty against 9-11 families, could tip the scales irrevocably against him. But that’s probably not a very realistic hope.
Since the Dec 6 release of the ISG’s bipartisan fluffpile, a report that cherrypicked from pro-war Column A and Anti-War Column B before being leavened by some of the most naive foreign policy thinking ever crafted by a blue ribbon commission, Baker has been out trying to strongarm President Bush into accepting the group’s findings in toto. That would include the insane parts about enlisting the help of terror states Iran and Syria to end terrorism in Iraq. Says Baker:
Baker replied that the United States gained Iran’s help in overthrowing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Iraq, he said, is a different case. “If we can’t do it, we can’t do it, but we don’t lose a darn thing by trying.”
What’s missing from Mr. Realism’s analysis is that, in the immediate wake of 9-11, the entire world was scared to death that the United States would sling its military might at anyone who happened to get in the way. Those were the days when even liberals favored drilling in ANWR and dropping big bombs on small caves wherever terrorists might be hiding, without much regard for international niceties or even territorial boundaries. You were with us or you were with the terrorists, and in that climate, yes, it was possible to get the Iranians (who hated the Taliban already for their own reasons) to not intervene or cause trouble for us in Afghanistan. But those days of unity and anger are long gone, as is the fear that gripped certain states and rogue leaders around the world as humanity waited for our vengeful response to a grotesque atrocity.
We’re far, far down the road from that time now, to the point that the Democrats run Truther candidates and the left gets away with sliming our own troops, Vietnam-style. The war on terrorism has all the momentum of the war on drugs. The president who enjoyed over 90% support is now around the freezing point and the pro-war party has been booted from power. In this climate, with us openly shopping around for someone to surrender to in Iraq and with us divided like no other time since Vietnam, it can cost you a great deal just to talk to the Iranians. Our interests and theirs in Iraq do not converge at all. Our drive to democratize threatens the mullahs very directly. Our anti-terrorist stance is the polar opposite of their open and warm terrorist embrace. All of that is missing in Baker’s simplistic thinking. But that’s what passes for realism in Washington these days. It’s not the first time Baker’s “realism” hasn’t been all that grounded in reality.
Here’s a little history, with Baker casting himself in the role of James the Great:
Baker’s role in the first Gulf War is illustrative. As an advisor and Secretary of State under President Bush père, Baker played a key role in preventing a decisive end to Saddam Hussein’s provocations. Prior to the war, Baker had leaned on the Likud government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to defy public pressure and desist from retaliating against Iraq’s relentless barrage of missiles.
Baker’s reasoning was simple: By acting in its own defense, Israel would risk fracturing the Arab coalition that Baker was mobilizing in support of U.S. military campaign to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait. It was also shortsighted: Baker’s coalition of Arab states refused to support any military action into Iraqi territory, leaving Saddam Hussein in power and setting the stage for the inevitable confrontation between the U.S. and Iraq in 2003. U.S. General Henry Shelton, later the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Clinton, spoke for many in the military community when he said at the time that “we left the job half-done.” Israel, meanwhile, was forced to stand idly by as Iraqi SCUD missiles – some 42 in total – rained down on the Jewish state throughout the war. Saddam went on to pay a $25,000 bounty to Palestinian suicide bombers.
For uncomplicated reasons, Baker has always favored a more charitable assessment of his contributions to the first Gulf War. In particular, he points to his 15 trips to Damascus to win Syria’s support for U.S. military action. Forgotten is just how far he went to flatter the regime of Hafez Assad regime in order to secure its blessing. Stating that Syria “happens to share the same goals as we do,” Baker announced in 1991 that its well-documented ties to terrorism were, after all, unfounded. Speaking at a press conference with Syria’s foreign minister, Baker claimed that Syria had no place on the State Department’s list of states that sponsor terrorism. “We believe that, so far, Syria was put on the list without any justification,“ Baker said. Indeed, in Baker‘s judgment, connections between Syria and terrorism were “meant for political objectives rather than analyzing an objective situation.”
Ask yourself in retrospect, just how useful were all those Arab troops Baker won for the coalition? Also ask yourself, when was terrorism not conducted in order to achieve some political outcome? Hezbollah has always had the political objective of destroying “the Zionist entity.” So what does Baker mean with that line about Syria’s designation as a terrorist state? That a succession of US administrations used that label for political reasons that had nothing to do with Syria’s actual support of terrorism? Please explain, Mr. Realist.
Syria was at that time, as it is today, the operational headquarters of Hezbollah and the back base for Hamas, the two terrorist groups currently besetting Israel with terror attacks from its flanks. Syria was at that time, as it is now, the headquarters for more terrorist groups than any other state on earth. Syria was at that time, as it is now, in a state of war with Israel in which Syria pledged itself to Israel’s final destruction. Syria was at that time occupying Lebanon; it’s trying to reprise that role now via a Hezbollah coup. All Baker won from Syria in 1991 was a token force from one of the Arab world’s most incompetent regular armies for the coalition against Saddam that we didn’t really need in order to drive Saddam from Kuwait. What Assad won was a veto on both Israel’s right of self-defense and a veto on destroying Saddam once the coalition had pushed into Iraq.
A realist would conclude that Assad got the better end of that deal. But that’s not what Baker says today:
As for Syria, Baker said that as secretary of State to President George H. W. Bush he made 15 trips there in the early 1990s, “and we made them change 25 years of policy.”
What policy did Baker get Syria to change? Given Syria’s uninterrupted support of terrorism, Baker’s assessment doesn’t strike me as being very realistic. And he’s now attempting to wrest foreign policy away from the administration. God help us all.
A final footnote: Baker’s tony law firm Baker-Botts represents the reprehensible Saudis against 9-11 families. Incredibly, among the Saudi prince’s defense points is the notion that his funneling money to charities that ship it off to al Qaeda constitutes “official acts” that are among his government duties, and are thus beyond the reach of American lawsuits.
So Baker’s firm is on record defending a Saudi prince’s support of al Qaeda as an official act of the government of Saudi Arabia. Apparently it’s perfectly within the realm of Washington realism to play both sides of a war without wincing at the morality of it.