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Baker’s blunders

Posted by Richard on December 5, 2006

I’ve made no secret of my dislike for James Baker, Bob Gates, and their pals from the Bush 41 administration — see Baker, Bush, and the loss of vision and It’s not realism, it’s capitulation. In his latest column, Jeff Jacoby cited some of the specific Bush 41 foreign policy blunders in which Baker had a hand as secretary of state (1989-1992):

One such blunder was the administration’s stubborn refusal to support independence for the long-subjugated republics of the Soviet Union, culminating in the president’s notorious "Chicken Kiev" speech of August 1991, when he urged Ukrainians to stay in their Soviet cage. Another was the appeasement of Syrian dictator Hafez Assad during the run-up to the Gulf War in 1990, when Bush and Baker blessed Syria’s brutal occupation of Lebanon in exchange for Assad’s acquiescence in the campaign to roll back the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait.

When Chinese tanks massacred students in Tiananmen Square, Bush expressed more concern for the troops than for their victims: "I don’t think we ought to judge the whole People’s Liberation Army by that terrible incident," he said. When Bosnia was torn apart by violence in 1992, the Bush-Baker reaction was to shrug it off as "a hiccup."

Worst of all was the betrayal of the Iraqi Shi’ites and Kurds who in the spring of 1991 heeded Bush’s call to "take matters into their own hands" and overthrow Saddam Hussein — only to be slaughtered by Saddam’s helicopter gunships and napalm while the Bush administration stood by. Baker blithely announced that the administration was "not in the process now of assisting . . . these groups that are in uprising against the current government." To Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell’s plea that some of the 400,000 US troops in the area put a halt to the massacre, Bush dismissively replied, "Always glad to have his opinion. Glad to hear from him." Then he went fishing in Florida.

If Bush the Elder is remembered for a rather heartless and cynical foreign policy, then much of the credit must go to Baker. And what Baker did for the father, he is now poised to do for the son.

Jacoby went on to argue for adding more troops in Iraq, and he made the best argument for doing so I’ve seen yet. In particular, with the impending Baker report reminding many of us — and doubtless many Iraqis — of the past Baker-Bush betrayal, there’s this (emphasis added):

Sending in significant reinforcements would not only make it possible to kill more of the terrorists, thugs, and assassins who are responsible for Iraq’s chaos. It would also help reassure Iraqis that the Washington is not planning to leave them in the lurch, as it did so ignominiously in 1991. The violence in Iraq is surging precisely because Iraqis fear that the Americans are getting ready to throw in the towel. That is why "they have turned to their own sectarian armed groups for the protection the Bush administration has failed to provide," Robert Kagan and William Kristol write in The Weekly Standard. "That, and not historical inevitability or the alleged failings of the Iraqi people, is what has brought Iraq closer to civil war."

I think that’s about right. I also think he’s on to something regarding why people have become so negative about Iraq: it’s not the casualties or the length of the conflict — "It is *losing* that Americans have no patience for." Of course, three years of relentless media negativity, disinformation, and outright lying have something to do with it, too.

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