By Alan Nathan © 2006 Washington Examiner
How can we maintain our allegiance to the Iraqi War when those responsible for its victorious outcome are so instrumental in its delay? It’s not as if we don’t want success or appreciate the gravity of failure. However, at which juncture of calamity and death will our leaders entertain other more forward moving options? These folks are like treadmill runners confused about their unchanged destiny.
Many see our collective destiny better served if former Secretary of State James Baker, III replaces Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card also says that Baker would be a top choice.
Both Rumsfeld and Baker know that going to Iraq was the right thing to do; however unlike Rumsfeld’s history, Baker’s record demonstrates greater self-appraisal and illustrates why he has learned that changing the course doesn’t always mean reversing the course.
The war opponents’ preference for “cutting and running” from Iraq is beyond unacceptable, but so is the status quo. Rumsfeld and his supporters have defended the current troop levels by insisting that “more troops would only provide more targets for the enemy to shoot.” Excuse me Sunshine, but wouldn’t additional troops kill more enemy fighters thus reducing the number of those who could make us targets!
In an April 2002 New York Times column, Baker explained not only how differently he would address troop strength, but other inter-connecting challenges as well:
The only realistic way to effect regime change in Iraq is through the application of military force, including sufficient ground troops to occupy the country (including Baghdad), depose the current leadership and install a successor government. Anyone who thinks we can effect regime change in Iraq with anything less than this is simply not realistic. It cannot be done on the cheap. It will require substantial forces and substantial time to put those forces in place to move.
He went on to characterize it as a more daunting task than was the Persian Gulf War and emphasized how that conflict had over 500,000 US military personnel.
Baker wrote this almost a year before we arrived in Iraq and this naturally raises some questions: How different might be our circumstances had Baker been installed where Rumsfeld remains? How different might be our future if we don’t have to ask that same question a few years from now?
In addition to being a former secretary of state, Baker served as a Marine lieutenant, undersecretary of commerce, National Security Council member, White House chief of staff (twice), and secretary of treasury.
Assisted by Russia in October of 1991, he finessed what was then considered to be the impossible. He brought about the historic Madrid Conference between Israel and its Arab neighbors to discuss peace and territorial disputes — it was their first meeting in over 40 years. This proved the prelude to the 1993 Oslo Accords in which the Palestinian leadership agreed to recognize Israel’s right to exist in exchange for Israel’s gradual disengagement from settlements in Gaza and the West Bank. Shortly before the conference, then Democratic New York Sen. Patrick Moynahan remarked to television reporters, “What he has done is a mighty big thing, a mighty big thing indeed.”
The promise of that groundbreaking occasion has yet to be realized, but the effort in and of itself remains the foundational gold standard of what must be accomplished before greater ideals can be attained.
Unfortunately for Secretary Baker, in the early ’90s he was quoted as saying, “F*** the Jews, they didn’t vote for us.” There are plenty in both the conservative and liberal camps who understandably feel that such comments expose an insurmountable “no-brainer” against his candidacy. Strangely however, that didn’t deter then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin from telling President Clinton that making Baker his own secretary of state would be a good idea for continuing the peace process — go figure.
So what’s to be done? Do we choose the apparently non-bigoted but incompetent Rumsfeld or the legendary and phenomenally talented Baker who once sounded like a genuine racist? For some the obvious response is, “Find another candidate,” but that decision may be the costliest.
Assuming that his prowess as an overall tactician lives up to the well-documented national and international mystique so long bestowed upon him, we must ask ourselves whether or not his assets outweigh his earlier inexcusable commentary against the Jews. If having him as secretary of defense can facilitate an acceleration of success in Iraq, then the answer becomes self-evident. Preempting assaults on our troops ranks higher than assaults on our sensibilities. There are times when the dynamics of competing interests obligate us to choose the lesser of multiple evils and this is one of those occasions.
Replace Rumsfeld, because it’s time to win.