Friday, December 08, 2006

Baker's Back

There’s an old Arab expression, told when you’d like never to see someone
Again: “I’d like to see his back.”

Then there’s the other interpretation of the title of this piece. Baker has returned.

In certain ways former White House Chief of Staff and Sec.of State, during Ronald Regan’s presidency, James Baker is like the former U.S. President Jimmy Carter: both are back in the limelight.

Baker because of his committee’s findings on the way the US has handled the war in Iraq, and Carter because of his new book ” Palestine, Peace Not Apartheid.”

When someone mentions the name James Baker, Israelis think of the hardball games the White House played with Israeli Prime Ministers Begin and Shamir, both of whom came up against Baker’s rough tactics. Israelis also think of another man who is not considered a friend, then Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger.

Baker, according to press reports, always considered himself a staunch friend of Israel’s, no matter what the critics said. He thought it was necessary to deny Israel military loans and shipments of arms and even send AWAC planes to Saudi Arabia, for Israel’s own good.

Now Mr. Baker has come out with a 79 point report on the war in Iraq. In the report he links the Israeli Palestinian issue to Iraq. He also believes that the US must sit down and talk with both Iran and Syria, and Israel should do the same. In this Baker believes he is doing the right thing for the US, for Israel, and the world.

Jimmy Carter, in recent press interviews about his latest book, says he is not an anti-Semite, but is in fact one of Israel’s staunches friends. “I am, after all, the President who brought the Israelis and the Egyptians together to make Peace.” Carter shared the Nobel Peace Prize with the late Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and the assassinated Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat.

Since then Carter has made a point of coming to the Middle East as if the Nobel Prize gives him a free pass. He frequently takes the Palestinians side in any debate, and almost always comes out against the Israelis. He claims he’s doing it because he’s a friend, pointing out a friend’s short-comings in hopes of making some adjustments.

Maybe he is. Israel is far from the perfect society. An old-boy network exists in Israel that exacerbates an already difficult political climate. Sort of like the stories of the police stations in countries around the world where the cops think they have a society different from the rest of the population, and cover-ups are taken for granted, since the rest of the population doesn’t put their lives on the line for society.

Jimmy Carter has pointed out weaknesses in the Israeli society. Weaknesses that need correcting. However he has also cozied up to Israel’s enemies in such a way that his credibility among Israelis is severely weakened.

But he does manage to keep in the public eye at an age when most of his contemporaries are six-feet under ground. In that James Baker has made the same achievements. Back from obscurity Baker has now risen to the top of the diplomatic heap with his new report.

U.S. President George W. Bush has said that he rejects a few of the Baker Committee recommendations out of hand, mainly the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq, and negotiations with the Iranians and the Syrians. Of course, given the nature of politicians, politics, and diplomacy, Bush could be saying these things while doing just the opposite.

Israelis however were relieved to hear Bush reject part of Baker’s recommendations. Israeli analysts have been writing that they’re worried a meltdown in Iraq would spill over into a Middle East bloodbath. Some have written scenarios envisioning Iran invading Iraq to help bolster the Shiites, with Syria coming in with Saudi support to help the Sunnis, and even the Turks invading the Kurdish region to suppress a pending revolt of Iraqi Kurds who want are helping Turkish Kurds in their fight for independence.

Should Iraq go Shiite, then Israel has to face a block made up of Hezbollah, which already almost controls Lebanon, Iran and Iraq. A fairly sizeable and dangerous combination. Israel also worries about the recent statements coming out of the US that Iran will be free to develop nuclear weapons without American military intervention. Both of these new developments put Israelis on edge.

Former Sec. Of State Baker thinks the Iranians and Syrians can be brought to the negotiating table. In his opinion Israel has to think about giving up the Golan Heights in order to make peace with Syria. In Baker’s opinion this is the only way to separate Syria from Iran. Divide and conquer. Break up the block.

Maybe he’s right. He’s also talking about another Madrid-style conference, his original brainchild that preceded the Oslo accords. Not since Baker’s last incarnation has the discussion of Israel leaving the Golan Heights been raised. Nor has a serious move been made for any real peace initiatives.

Maybe it is time for these types of initiatives again. Maybe Syria really does want peace. If so, skeptics say, they’re sure keeping it a secret. Maybe you can talk sense to Iran. If so, then the threats of annihilating Israel with nuclear weapons may have only been a means to attract the world’s attention, and turn Achmanejahad into a household name.

Maybe this time we’ll get another peace treaty, as we did under Jimmy Carter, with Syria. Although Anwar Sadat reportedly confessed he’d been trying to make peace with Israel for years, and only used war as a means to reach a settlement. No such statements have surfaced about Iran or Syria.

Maybe this time a Madrid-style conference, recommended by Mr. Baker, will lead to something more than a hollow document which can easily be rescinded, trashed, and ignored by both sides. Maybe this time someone else will win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Maybe Achmanejahad. Why not? Arafat won it, didn’t he? And look at all the good that illustrious Palestinian leader brought to the world after he’d won the prize.

For years, when Israelis heard the name Baker or Carter, there’d be a slight cringe, a cold hard spot in the belly. Both men had often made harsh demands of Israel, and still do. Carter succeeded with Egypt, but has been off the mark ever since. Baker was off from the start, according to most Israelis. What is consistent is that both men are back, again, and neither brings smiles to the face of Israelis. Their records when it comes to Israel are mixed, at best, except in their own minds.

Looking at the reemergence of both former President Carter and former Sec of State Baker one wonders about the poem, attributed to the late poet Ferlinghetti:

Funny how the mind
What yesterday it did
And will I remember