As secretary of state from 1989 to 1992, James Baker was involved in some of the
worst foreign-policy blunders of the first Bush administration.
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
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.
This week, the Baker-led Iraq Study Group formally presents its report to President
George W. Bush. Its key recommendations are reportedly that US troops in Iraq be
gradually withdrawn and that the United States turn to Iran and Syria for help in
reducing the violence there. One study group member, speaking to The New York Times,
summed up the bottom line : "We had to move the national debate from whether to stay
the course to how do we start down the path out."
The president will be urged by many to waste no time implementing the Baker group's
ideas. Which is indeed what he should do assuming that he has come around to
favoring defeat in Iraq, the death of the doctrine that bears his name, and the
empowerment of the worst regimes in the world. If, however, Bush prefers success to
failure and would rather live up to, not abandon, the principles he has articulated
in the war against radical Islam, he should politely accept the ISG report and then
do the opposite of what it recommends.
Far from drawing down the number of troops in Iraq, Bush should increase them. The
Rumsfeldian "light footprint" theory the belief that the US military presence in
Iraq must be minimized so that the Iraqis learn to maintain security and stability
on their own has been tried now for more than three years. It hasn't worked. At
least in the short term, there is no prospect of restoring order and stopping the
bloodshed without many more American boots on the ground.
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."
With polls showing that most Americans have soured on both Bush and the war, could a
military escalation in Iraq be politically feasible? Ultimately, the only way for
Bush to find out is to try.
But I would wager that countless Americans are upset with Bush, not because he isn't
skedaddling from Iraq quickly enough, but because he seems to have no serious
strategy for winning. It isn't enough merely to insist, as he did last week, that he
is not seeking "a graceful exit." Where is his insistence that the United States
intends to crush the Sunni insurgents and shut down the Shi'ite death squads once
and for all? Where is his commitment to the millions of Iraqis who voted for the
better future we offered them, and to the uncompromising defeat of those hell-bent
on keeping them from ever reaching it? And where is the commander-in-chief's
reminder that if the generals running the war can't figure out how to win it, he,
like Lincoln, will replace them with generals who can?
It is losing that Americans have no patience for not casualties or a protracted
war. Let Bush make it clear that he is serious about victory, and that he will do
whatever it takes to achieve it. The political support he needs will follow.