First of two parts
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 stubborn refusal to support independence for the long-subjugated republics of the Soviet Union, culminating in the president's notorious "Chicken Kiev" speech urging Ukrainians to stay in their Soviet cage. Another was the appeasement of Syrian dictator Hafez Assad during the run up to the 1991 Gulf War, when Bush and Baker blessed Syria's brutal occupation of Lebanon in exchange for Assad's acquiescence in the campaign to undo Iraq's occupation of Kuwait.
When Chinese tanks massacred students in Tiananmen Square, Bush declared: "I don't think we ought to judge the whole People's Liberation Army by that terrible incident." 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 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."
If Bush the Elder is remembered for a rather heartless and cynical foreign policy, much of the credit must go to Baker.
What he did for the father, Baker 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 Its key recommendations are reportedly that US troops in Iraq be gradually withdrawn and that the United States turn to Iran and Syria for help in reducing the violence. 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 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 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, would a military escalation in Iraq be politically feasible? 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 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, and the political support will follow.
Next: Talking with the enemy
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).
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