As George W. Bush enters his final two years in office, he may be preparing a doctrine of defeatism authored by James Baker and Robert Gates that alienates allies and emboldens enemies.
Three critical decisions meant to forge a national security compromise with Congressional Democrats on Iraq and other Middle Eastern matters may actually dash the Bush Administration’s entire Middle East policy and anti-terror stance:
• The resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the principal architect of the conquest of Iraq, who had alienated many Democrats and some Republicans;
• The commissioning of an Iraq Study Group headed by James Baker III, the former Secretary of State, and former Democratic Congressional chairman Lee Hamilton;
• And the appointment of former CIA official Robert Gates as the new Defense Secretary.
“Gates is making excuses for the Iranian nuclear program,” exclaimed Dr. Dore Gold, Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations and an expert on Gulf affairs.
“They are surrounded by powers with nuclear weapons – Pakistan to their east, the Russians to the north, the Israelis to the west, and us in the Persian Gulf,” asserted Gates. He did not bother to explain that Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons scared Saudi Arabia and Egypt much more than Israel’s reputed nuclear arsenal. He also did not comment on Egypt’s recent advancement of its own nuclear power plant ideas. Gates also did not explain that Egypt and Saudi Arabia are expected to seek their own nuclear weapons, if Iran succeeds in producing them.
Former Ambassador Gold said the views of Baker and Gates illustrated a deep misreading of the current situation in the Middle East, based on anachronistic concepts and shallow analysis. “The central assumption of Baker is that solving the Arab-Israeli conflict is the key to stabilizing the Middle East and achieving peace,” but “that was true back in 1990, not now.”
“In 1991, the US was the only effective superpower, and it was in a unique position,” continued Gold, adding that, today, the Baker-Hamilton proposals would “make the US look like a defeated power.” Gold, who heads the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, continued by stating that “the primary problem in Iraq is not Israel. It’s Iran, and, to a large extent, Syria. And rather than sending a message that we need to neutralize the threats of Iran and Syria, the Baker report embraces them.”
Most Israeli leaders have icily received the comments of Baker and Gates, who emphasized the need to talk to Iran and Syria, not fight with them. America’s Arab and moderate Islamic allies have also been very cold to the Baker-Hamilton-Gates agenda and have criticized it privately.
“As a whole, I reject this report,” asserted Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, referring to the findings of the Iraq Study Group (ISG) led by Baker and Hamilton. “I think that the Baker-Hamilton report is not fair and not just, and it contains dangerous articles which undermine the sovereignty of Iraq and its constitution,” declared Talabani.
Both Baker and Gates have signaled their view that America needs to withdraw forces from Iraq, while beginning to talk to Iran and Syria, the two countries most hostile to the United States and to Israel, America’s strongest ally in the region. But it is not just Israel that is upset by the Baker-Gates approach.
“The Baker report has 79 sections, and it has something for everyone, but its central thrust is problematic for America’s allies,” observed Professor Eyal Zisser, Director of Middle East Studies at Tel Aviv University. “Iran, Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas have opposed America, and now Baker comes along and says those who supported the United States and its policies get nothing, while those who attacked those policies should be courted,” continued Dr. Zisser. “The fact is that nobody in the region wants the U.S. to leave, but nobody in the Arab world wants to say that publicly,” he said, explaining that a US departure from Iraq would be perceived as a victory for radical Shiite forces—Iran and Hizbullah—as well as extremist Sunni and left-wing forces such as Hamas and Syria.
All four—Iran, Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas—are united in opposing the Bush Administration’s democratization ideas, and they have worked hard to subvert the government of Fouad Siniora in Lebanon and the regime of Mahmoud Abbas inside the troubled Palestinian Authority.
All four have been involved in continuous terror and weapons smuggling directed against American allies, but Secretary of Defense-designate Gates, during his confirmation hearings last week, could barely summon up harsh words to describe Iranian and Syrian actions. “Iran is already involved in Iraq and, as I suggested earlier to Senator Byrd, could become much more so,” asserted Gates forcefully. “The Syrians have not been helpful in Iraq, but could become much more harmful to our effort,” declared Gates even more forcefully. Gates offered no proof that the Syrians and Iranians were not already doing as much harm as possible.
Gates, along with Baker and Hamilton, suggested in section 16 of their ISG report that Israel withdraw from the strategic high ground of the Golan Heights in return for Syrian promises of help and good conduct and an American troop presence. In other words, US troops should get out of Iraq because they are being attacked there, but they should move into Syria, which has attacked American troops in the past, forcing an American withdrawal (Beirut in 1983). “In exchange for these actions and in the context of a full and secure peace agreement, the Israelis should return the Golan Heights, with a U.S. security guarantee for Israel that could include an international force on the border, including U.S. troops if requested by both parties.”
Another problem with the Golan recommendation is that it flies in the face of an American presidential commitment of support for Israel remaining in the Golan, given by President Gerald Ford on September 1, 1975—a secret side letter given to Israel as part of the interim Israeli disengagement from forward positions near Damascus.
For their parts, Baker and Hamilton preached about the need to “talk to enemies,” including those who smuggle weapons and help bomb American troops in Iraq, those assassinating politicians in Lebanon and those shooting rockets into Israeli cities.
“You cannot look at this area of the world and pick and choose among the countries that you're going to deal with,” asserted Hamilton. “Everything in the Middle East is connected to everything else,” declared Hamilton profoundly, and Baker completed his dot connecting. “And let me just add to that, if I might, that for 40 years, we talked to the Soviet Union, during a time when they were committed to wiping us off the face of the Earth. So you talk to your enemies, not just your friends.”
The problem with Baker’s closing comment is that it reveals a deep superficiality, a black hole’s worth of ignorance about Middle Eastern affairs, American-Soviet affairs, and general history, for several reasons:
• The US and its allies did not negotiate with Hitler’s Germany, nor with Imperial Japan.
• The Soviets, who had diplomatic ties with America since 1933, were not interested in “wiping out” the United States, but in inheriting America after the “inevitable” defeat of capitalism by Marxism. That is one of the reasons that the Soviets were generally rather conservative and indirect in their threats on America, using proxies like North Korea and North Vietnam. When Nikita Khrushchev actually threatened America in the Cuban Missile Crisis, Leonid Brezhnev and Alexei Kosygin removed him from office.
• Iran, Hamas and Hizbullah have no ties with Israel, and they make it clear that they want to destroy the Jewish state. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyye of the Palestinian Authority, made this clear in his visit to Iran this week. Perhaps Baker, Gates and Hamilton were not watching.
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