Ledger Editorial Archives

Jim Baker: Bad for America

This week, the Iraq Study Group releases its analysis of our options in Iraq. As with all things Jim Baker, selective outcomes have already been leaked to the media. That’s natural for Baker because leaking is what he does. And for that, the media loves him. In turn, they spin him and his input in the most positive of ways.
We hear from Baker every few years. His continual intrusion into our lives has not been accompanied by felicity, and he’s actually succeeded at very little; Zelig-like, he is forever popping up in new political scenarios-which inevitably turn bad. Leaks and being a big friend of the Bushes go a long way.
Take his record in politics. Baker ran George Bush senior’s Texas senatorial campaign in the 1970s; Bush lost. Then this former Democrat tried running for Texas attorney general as a Republican. Again, Baker lost. In 1980, he ran Bush Sr.’s campaign for the presidency. Bush lost to Ronald Reagan. But as the vice president’s man, Baker won the consolation prize and became Reagan’s chief of staff. That began a 12-year run of ineptly-held positions in both the Reagan and Bush White Houses. And now, he’s wrangled himself a role in shaping future Iraq policy, despite his part in helping create the problems we are faced with today.
In 1985, Baker moved from the White House to Treasury and inherited a dazzling economy that would eventually set records on the back of Reagan’s tax cutting. But maladroit management of the S&L crises had a negative impact throughout the rest of Reagan’s tenure. Also attributable to poor management, his disavowal of Treasury support for a strong currency led to a dollar crisis in world markets, setting off the worst U.S. market decline since 1929: Black Monday, October 1987.
Baker’s growing presence in the Reagan White House late in the President’s second term allowed him to stall or reverse a number of initiatives and programs that had been signature issues of Reagan’s first term: SDI, tax decreases, an assertive Latin America policy-all lost promise. Pat Buchanan commented in November 1987: “The President’s time of troubles is traceable directly to having listened to counselors whose political advice has never been as good as Ronald Reagan’s political instincts.” After Baker moved to the Bush White House, William Safire remarked: “James Baker is a practiced chameleon. For his sake and ours, we await the clear color of President Bush’s foreign policy.”
Michael Kinsley had this to say about Jim Baker: “Washington’s greatest self-positioner….” (Washington Post, October 2000)
Finally, Mark Helprin characterized Baker and his tenure in the Reagan and Bush administrations in the Wall Street Journal: ” …(the) triumphs he may consider his own he owes mainly to Ronald Reagan, whose capital he and Mr. Bush (president) have been spending as if they have been invented by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Mr. Baker has done poorly all around the world, but he has compounded his mismanagement of America’s policy in the Middle East by gratuitously perceiving his own failures as the consequence of friction with American Jews-friction that, being nonexistent, he then set out to create.”
What Helprin was talking about was the infamous remark that two White House insiders attributed to Baker in 1991: “F— the Jews they don’t vote for us anyway.” Putting words to deed, he literally pushed Israel into participating in the Madrid Conference which led directly to the disastrous Oslo Accords. He pointedly subverted Israel’s democratic process by meeting with contenders for the premiership instead of the officeholders at the time. Dealing with Peres, Rabin and Jewish interest groups in the U.S., Baker avoided working with Yitzhak Shamir and Moshe Arens. He did this while promising to deliver to Yasser Arafat Israeli compromises before the conference even began.
This is vintage Baker. His modus operandi in the Middle East can be described in two words-“squeeze Israel.” We can look to this week’s Iraq Study Group to say just about the same thing.
It is truly amazing. At a time when Sunnis and Shiites are slaughtering each other in Iraq, when Syria and Iran are choking the life out of democratic Lebanon, and when Muslim militias are massacring tens of thousands in Darfur, Baker and company point to Israel and say that’s where our focus ought to be.
That is the irony of Baker’s involvement in Iraq now. Not only does the folly of Oslo still haunt Israel and the Palestinians, but Baker’s hand in the unspeakable betrayal of the Kurds and Shiites in 1991 compounds our difficulties in Iraq today. Even if we leave aside the tacit consent that Baker’s State Department conveyed to Saddam Hussein about his ambitions towards Kuwait, a massive miscalculation for which April Glaspie took the fall, the Bush administration’s post-war behavior can’t be called anything but the most shameful part of that war.
The administration’s urging of Iraq’s Shiites and Kurds to throw off the yoke of the Sunni tyranny and their assurances of American protection created a terrible wrong. With American forces including helicopter gunships still in the area, our clients felt they could be protected if they rose up to complete the war that America had begun but left unfinished. But instead, they were massacred in their tens of thousands by a vengeful Saddam Hussein-and James Baker’s promises were moot.
This is much in the memory of Iraqis to this day.
Back to politics: Baker built on his record of political failure by running the Bush campaign against Bill Clinton in 1992. He lost. Looking for another consolation prize, his name was mentioned as a possible Clinton appointee, but it didn’t happen. He retreated to nonpublic life.
When George W. Bush (43) was elected, Baker was always in the shadowy background, but now, here he comes again with the Iraq Study Group.
Bush, the country, and the world would be far better off if James Addison Baker stayed as far away from public policy and power as possible.


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