Combs Spouts Off

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Posts Tagged ‘realpolitik’

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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It’s not realism, it’s capitulation

Posted by Richard on November 28, 2006

Last week, I said I was "displeased and disgusted" by signs that the Bush administration is preparing to abandon its visionary foreign policy and embrace the Kissingerian realpolitik of Bush 41 pragmatists like James Baker and Robert Gates, by the prospect of dumping Sharansky for Scowcroft. New hints and leaks and off-record remarks suggest that the Iraq Study Group will indeed push us in that direction. And a chorus of voices from Capitol Hill to the United Nations is muttering about the need to "engage" the Syrians and Iranians.

In the new (12/04) Weekly Standard, Robert Kagan and William Kristol looked at this so-called "realism" and found it wanting:

So let’s add up the "realist" proposals: We must retreat from Iraq, and thus abandon all those Iraqis–Shiite, Sunni, Kurd, and others–who have depended on the United States for safety and the promise of a better future. We must abandon our allies in Lebanon and the very idea of an independent Lebanon in order to win Syria’s support for our retreat from Iraq. We must abandon our opposition to Iran’s nuclear program in order to convince Iran to help us abandon Iraq. And we must pressure our ally, Israel, to accommodate a violent Hamas in order to gain radical Arab support for our retreat from Iraq.

This is what passes for realism these days. But of course this is not realism. It is capitulation. Were the United States to adopt this approach every time we faced a difficult set of problems, were we to attempt to satisfy our adversaries’ every whim in order to win their acquiescence, we would rapidly cease to play any significant role in the world. We would be neither feared nor respected–nor, of course, would we be any better liked. Our retreat would win us no friends and lose us no adversaries.

OK, let’s tally that up: Stature of U.S. decreased — check. U.S. neither feared, nor respected, nor liked — check. U.S. gains no friends and loses no adversaries — check.

Kagan and Kristol made these points as if they were devastating critiques of the new "realism" — and for some of us, they are indeed. But for the Democrats, the "moderate pragmatists" like Baker, the Foggy Bottom internationalists, legions of Europeans, and fans of the United Nations everywhere, these consequences are at least tolerable and perhaps desirable.

HT to Neo-neocon, who noted that the Washington Post editors seemed to grasp the problems inherent in trying to reason with Syria and Iran, but fumbled the solution — the power of UN sanctions, she argued, "more closely resembles a small toothpick than a big stick."
 

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