Oct 11, 2006

'They don't vote for us anyway'

Jacob Laskin looks at James Baker, secretary of state to Bush I, whose unfortunate realpolitik view seems to be gaining ascendence within the White House.
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.”

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