Sunday, December 10, 2006

Corner's Rubin: "Baker now is Jimmy Carter"

Juxtaposing Baker in 1994 with his efforts on the Iraq Study Group, The National Review's Michael Rubin believes Baker has slipped his moorings.
Comparing Baker 1994 to Baker 2006 is illuminating. Juxtaposition of his attitudes toward Iranian moderates, toward Syrian intentions in Lebanon, and his recognition of the cynicism with which Arab states use the Palestinian conflict show how deeply Baker's 2006 prescriptions run counter to reality. Baker then was a statesman; Baker now is Jimmy Carter.
It should be noted that the ISG recommendations were not Baker's alone, but a compromise proposal. One that appears to satisfy no one.

After reading the 1994 Middle East Quarterly article Rubin cited, I just don't know if I see where it is that there is a great divergence between the Baker of today and 1994. His comments on Iran, Syria and the role of the Palestine-Israel conflict aren't particularly hawkish or bellicose in 1994. In fact, after watching Baker on Charlie Rose and other shows months before the ISG report was to be released (at the time, Baker was hocking his book, Work Hard, Study...and Keep Out of Politics!) and his attitude towards the complimentary and competing roles of diplomacy and force in the Middle East were in keeping with his reflections in the article.

In fact, some of the quotes in the 1994 article could have come from a Carter talk.
"I fear the current wave of radical Islamism is going to be a continuing problem as long as poverty and discontent exist in that part of the world."

"Obviously, the idea of reaching out to moderates in Iran was a nonstarter. On the other hand, for the full four years that I was there [at the Department of State], we were quite prepared to sit down at an official level with the government of Iran--there's no surprise about that--provided they understood the first topic on the agenda would be their support for state-sponsored terrorism. We were unwilling during our four years to have any of this back-channeling stuff. So, those are two different situations."

"The Arabs no longer present as much of a unified front as they used to, for three reasons: the collapse of communism and the end of the East-West conflict; the defeat of Arab rejectionism and radical Palestinian elements in the Gulf War; andÿthe fact that Israel has now reached an agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organization. And you've got Gaza-Jericho first there and -- and that deal was made without consultation with -- with some of the Arab states. So, the states have less of a reason to condition their positions on whatever will result in the permanent status talks. As a result, they're less committed to the idea of a Palestinian state. I suppose they will still give lip service to the idea of a Palestinian state, but the Syrians particularly feel free to reach an agreement with Israel on peace without regard to what happens on the Palestinian track.

At least with respect to the countries around Israel, you're not going to get real economic development until there's peace. And when you do get peace, boy, there's going to be tremendous development and economic activity in so many different ways in those countries--in Israel herself and in the countries bordering Israel. And I'm optimistic that you can get peace."

"Now, we broke the mold of long-established U.S. policy by getting the Russians to cosponsor the Madrid peace talks. That was a worthwhile effort, and it was one way we were able to get Syria to say, yes, she'd come to the table. You're not going to have peace until people talk to each other."
Bakers recent comments have been in line with much of these early statements.

What stands out in particular are his comments on keeping the table clear for state-level talks with Iran and his explanation that the direct negotiations between Israel and the PLO over the Gaza-Jehrico First agreement freed many of the other actors to make their own path. Baker also points to international negotiations that brought Syria to the negotiating table.

Today the ISG is calling for direct talks with Iran and Syria, both of whom he acknowledged were dangerous elements then as well as they are today. The ISG also points to the need to address the specter of Palestine that lingers over any debate about the middle east.

In a general topic-by-topic comparison, it is hard to view much light between the Baker of 1994 and today. Perhaps, instead, Baker's advice is not what the parties want to hear.

- Murphy

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