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James Baker Keeps Digging

Josh Rogin’s interview with former Secretary of State James Baker is teased at the top of ForeignPolicy.com’s home page with the headline: “The Realists Strike Back.” The Star Wars reference is appropriate, because it seems Baker is having his Admiral Ackbar moment.

The purpose of the interview is Baker’s response to recent reporting by Rogin on the prominence of some foreign policy “realists” in Mitt Romney’s transition team and the discomfort that is causing among other foreign policy advisers. In the interview, Baker explains that he deserves to be mentioned alongside Henry Kissinger, because Baker believes himself to be among the greatest statesmen this country has ever known. Where did he get this idea? From Thomas Friedman. But a glance at the Friedman column in question singing Baker’s praises makes one thing clear that Baker seems not to have noticed in time: It’s a trap!

Here is what Friedman writes about Baker:

The three U.S. statesmen who have done the most to make Israel more secure and accepted in the region all told blunt truths to every Israeli or Arab leader: Jimmy Carter, who helped forge a lasting peace between Israel and Egypt; Henry Kissinger, who built the post-1973 war disengagement agreements with Syria, Israel and Egypt; and James Baker, who engineered the Madrid peace conference. All of them knew that to make progress in this region you have to get in the face of both sides. They both need the excuse at times that “the Americans made me do it,” because their own politics are too knotted to move on their own.

As this is the paragraph that mentioned Baker, he should have read it prior to endorsing its message. There’s the moral equivalence that has become a trademark of Friedman’s, and the outlandish claim about Israel’s security and place in the region.

Even if you grant that Carter should get a great deal of credit for the 1979 peace deal–and you shouldn’t, because Carter opposed it, tried to stall and prevent it, and then finally jumped aboard when he could no longer hope to torpedo it–you’d still have to be delusional to believe what was written there. Friedman’s no history buff of course, but he should be familiar with Harry Truman, whose early recognition of the Jewish state was critical to its acceptance and survival in its early days.

Kissinger does belong in that group–but so does his boss, Richard Nixon, who worked with Kissinger to plan and implement Operation Nickel Grass to keep Israel supplied and armed during the Yom Kippur War.

There are others, of course; George W. Bush’s support for Israel during the Intifada, Reagan’s support for Menachem Begin–against the wishes of much of his cabinet–during the first Lebanon war, etc. But the point is that if Baker only read the paragraph mentioning him he should still have known not to brag about it.

But the reason it’s a trap is because of what was written before that paragraph. Here are some choice quotes from it:

  • “Since the whole trip was not about learning anything but about how to satisfy the political whims of the right-wing, super pro-Bibi Netanyahu, American Jewish casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, why didn’t they just do the whole thing in Las Vegas? I mean, it was all about money anyway”
  • “They could have constructed a plastic Wailing Wall and saved so much on gas”
  • “In order to garner more Jewish (and evangelical) votes and money, the G.O.P. decided to ‘out-pro-Israel’ the Democrats by being even more unquestioning of Israel”
  • “State Department officials, not to mention politicians, are reluctant to even state publicly what is U.S. policy — that settlements are ‘an obstacle to peace’ — for fear of being denounced as anti-Israel”
  • “the main Israel lobby, AIPAC, has made itself the feared arbiter of which lawmakers are ‘pro’ and which are ‘anti-Israel’ and, therefore, who should get donations and who should not”

You get the point: Most of the column was about the nefarious presence of Jewish money in the election. This is the flag Baker is now running around Washington waving at reporters to prove he’s a statesman. Something tells me it won’t help.


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