Israel

When the GOP Challenged Israel

The very different world of 1989

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Not James Baker
CNN

Now that Benjamin Netanyahu has followed up yesterday's speech at AIPAC with an address to Congress today, let's take a moment to flash back to another speech in another era. This earlier political period was, at least arguably, the last time a U.S. president found himself significantly at odds with Israeli policy preferances. It might surprise younger readers to hear that the president in question was a Republican. They might be even more surprised to be told that his name was Bush.

That's George H.W. Bush, of course, not Bush the younger. Here's a New York Times dispatch from May 23, 1989:

Holy crap, Tom Wolfe, WHAT ARE THOSE THINGS ON YOUR EYES?
Time

Secretary of State James A. Baker 3d said today that it was time for Israel to "lay aside once and for all the unrealistic vision of a greater Israel" and "reach out to Palestinians as neighbors who deserve political rights."

Speaking to the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israeli lobby, Mr. Baker for the first time laid out a comprehensive blueprint of the Bush Administration's approach to Middle East peacemaking.

The Secretary of State's speech was striking for the unsentimental and unusually blunt tone with which he addressed the Israelis, for the carefully balanced manner in which he called on both sides to make concessions for peace and for the clear endorsement he gave Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's proposal for elections in the West Bank and Gaza as a basis for breaking the Middle East deadlock….

Although the Secretary of State's remarks were consistent with longstanding American policy on the Middle East, they nevertheless were a departure from the Reagan Adminstration in tone and structure, which both stunned and dismayed many of the 1,200 people in the predominantly Jewish, pro-Israeli audience.

In tone, the speech lacked many of the usual laudatory emotional references to Israel as a beleaguered and strategic American ally, which were standard during the Reagan Administration, especially when officials were speaking to Aipac, as the lobby is known.

In structure, the speech was almost clinically balanced between what it called on Israel to do and what it called on the Palestinians and Arabs to do. Many Aipac members later complained about the evenhandedness of the speech, an approach they fundamentally reject.

That Times piece was produced by Thomas Friedman, who apparently could write with clarity in those days. But if it's hard to imagine Friedman filing straightforward news reports built around information rather than bizarre metaphors, it's even harder to conceive of a prospective Republican secretary of state taking a tone like Baker's today, let alone doing so at an AIPAC meeting.

Yet he did, and he stood behind his words. Even after the Palestine Liberation Organization sided with Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War, the Bush administration successfully pushed for Palestinian peace talks in the war's wake. (Speaking as someone who was a college student at the time: This really, really disoriented the campus left.)

A quarter century later, Baker's appearance at AIPAC feels deeply alien. Another quarter century from now, Netanyahu's remarks this week may feel alien as well. Political bonds aren't always as permanent as they seem at the time.

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    1. Nice. Tommy d’Alesandro is proud, wherever he is.

    2. Is she trying to out-pussy the Orange Pussy?

      1. No. He was actually in tears, I’m sure. Worse than when Bambi died.

        1. She would cry if she could, but she can’t.
          Botched facelift.

          1. Maybe she can’t spare the moisture, if ya know what I mean?

            1. She’s a Fremen?

              1. I’m going with Harkonnen.

              2. Definitely not a Mentat.

            2. I can’t say no to the woman who gave me chlamydia.

    3. More:
      http://www.nytimes.com/live/ne…..hu-speech/

      She has a really big sad.

      1. Great photo.

  1. So, in 1989 Tom Wolfe assumed office as Master of the Universe? Do we need to pay him anything? Shouldn’t that office come with a pretty hefty salary?

    1. Master of his universe. Those glasses kept him from masturbating.

  2. Of course, George H.W. Bush was defeated for re-election. Which is probably one reason why no administration since has dared to be “even-handed.”

    1. Sure, because James Baker said some mean things to the Israelis – not because Bush broke the biggest campaign promise ever and the economy was tanking.

      1. They just made it look like it was the “no new taxes” thing, you know how crafty those Jews are.

        1. Well, the crazy right rarely reported (or remembers) the “new taxes” thing, which was politically smart in the larger picture. Bush agreed to the tax increase, on a deal with Democrats to NOT using the recession as an excuse to explode social welfare spending. Consequently, the recession tied for the shortest ever … thus the crazy right also doesn’t know that Clinton took office in the 22nd month of a recovery.. (Clinton boom, my ass)

          Does that balance, or make worse, the bullshit that income taxes “skyrocketed” after the Reagan tax cuts? Ask Orwell.

    2. Can’t tell if serious.

      1. It’s Vanneman. You have to expect stuff like that.

    3. You keep misspelling your first name.

    4. The Clintons also had their go at Middle East Peace, and managed much of the same rhetoric. And they even had the Israelis giving quite a few concessions, but the Palestinians wanted Right of Return and Israel was unwilling to fully jump off the cliff into historical oblivion.

      It’s real easy to tell the strong man that they need to show restraint for the weak guy who nevertheless wants to see him dead. At the end of the day, those two are still going to fight. That the strong man will almost always come out on top doesn’t make either party moral. Too often people act like it is immoral unless the strong man ties one hand behind his back to have a “fair” fight. It just shows how utterly retarded the whole middle east situation is, and how the US would be better off dealing with local issues instead.

  3. And how exactly did those concessions for peace work out for Israel? Was Baker right – and the Palestinians would grow up and form a responsible state if given the chance? Or did he have his head shoved all the way up his ass?

    Clinton went through the same cycle.

    1. It’s an article of faith among American elites that the reason there is no peace is that Israel doesn’t concede enough rather than the fact that Israel exists.

      1. It’s an article of faith among American elites that the reason there is no peace is that Israel doesn’t concede enough rather than the fact that Israel exists.

        For an “article of faith among American elites,” this somehow fails to match America’s actual foreign policy for most of the last half-century.

        1. Oh, they have tried many times to swing that deal – the Palestinians broke it every time.

        2. Yes, because like most “common sense truisms” among the American Elite, it only remains true until you actually start trying to apply those theories.

          Clinton talked all about giving up concessions. Israel had made concessions on settlements and land- giving back governing authority to the Palestinians. Israel would not budge on Right of Return because they (rightly) knew that it would mean the end of the state of Israel. This stalled the negotiations indefinitely until Sharon had his walk to the Wall, which gave everyone the excuse to put a fork in the dead carcass of that round of talks.

          So riddle me this, Mr Walker: If you were trying to actually execute foreign policy, what would you have done? Would you have called on Israel to commit state suicide by allowing Right of Return? I understand that from principles of free movement, this is desired. But so what? You make that call, and you never even get Israel to the negotiating table.

          At the end of the day, Elites can pontificate about what Israel should do all day long. But when it comes time to actually get them to do something, they realize all those statements don’t mean a damn thing.

          1. If you were trying to actually execute foreign policy, what would you have done?

            Me, I would have left both sides to their own devices and kept America’s money at home. But these days that’s considered even more far-out than that Bush/Baker even-handedness.

            1. Me, I would have left both sides to their own devices and kept America’s money at home. But these days that’s considered even more far-out than that Bush/Baker even-handedness.

              Sorry, but I don’t buy it.

              You waxed lovingly about GOPs standing up to Israel and telling them to give in more for the palestinians. That isn’t “staying out of it”.

              It sure seems like you are having it both ways. You want the GOP to make untenable demands on the Israelis, but when I ask you how you think that would actually play in foreign policy, you say that you’d rather stay out of it. But then that would contradict your moral preening in the article above, wouldn’t it?

              1. You waxed lovingly about GOPs standing up to Israel and telling them to give in more for the palestinians. That isn’t “staying out of it”.

                I am, of course, well aware that what Bush and Baker did was not “staying out of it.” If you look at the passage that you just quoted, you will see that I contrasted the Bush/Baker approach with staying out. I would not contrast the two approaches if I thought they were the same.

                You’ll have to specify what “loving” language you believe I used. Seemed like straightforward descriptive language to me.

                It sure seems like you are having it both ways. You want the GOP to make untenable demands on the Israelis, but when I ask you how you think that would actually play in foreign policy, you say that you’d rather stay out of it.

                My post said absolutely nothing about what the U.S. should do. I didn’t tackle that topic until you asked me in the comments.

                That said, if the U.S. is to be involved, I would indeed prefer that it take the even-handed approach favored by the elder Bush. That is not having it both ways; it’s just settling for second best. (Well, maybe third or fourth best.)

          2. Would you have called on Israel to commit state suicide by allowing Right of Return?

            Why not? Folks at Reason generally support lifting all immigration restrictions in this country; hard to see how they wouldn’t feel the same way about Israel.

            1. Folks at Reason generally support lifting all immigration restrictions in this country; hard to see how they wouldn’t feel the same way about Israel.

              We also support gun ownership and self-defense, so any “state suicide” would be entirely the fault of the state and not the people.

            2. We also get hard at the image of the state committing suicide.

        3. Leaving aside the wonderful tolerance so on display at America’s universities, there has always been a big push for Israel to bend just a little more, despite their understandable security concerns. I’d place the fault her on the fact that the leaders of the Palestinians and their enablers have proven to be totally untrustworthy in any meaningful peace agreement. Either they will not, or cannot do what is necessary to bridge that gap. That America chooses the pro-Israel side, well, why the fuck would a liberal republic, if we are going to mix ourselves up in the situation, not choose the side that most closely resembles us?

          1. Israel has been systematically taking land from the Palestinians for decades while demanding that the Palestinians be nice as a precondition to negotiating the distribution of the very land that they are in the process of taking, all while demanding that the Palestinians bring no preconditions to the table.

            As long as Israel is building settlements, no sane person can portray them as the innocent lamb just trying to get peace. There is nothing Israel could possibly do that is less conducive to peace than settlements. And as I see it, as long as Israel is conducting state sponsored seizure of land from the Palestinians, they are at war with the Palestinians and they have no right to be indignant of Palestinian militancy. Sometimes, in war, the other guy shoots back.

            1. And frankly, I don’t give two shits whether both the Israelis and the Palestinians wipe themselves off the face of the earth, but i don’t want to end up getting conscripted by some retard to go fight over some sand pit or to protect the Jewish state. I would have the Israelis give the Palestinians nothing more or less than they are entitled to: self-determination, their land, and their tax money. Then stay behind their own borders, build a giant wall if they want for all I care. But Israel’s actions since Netanyahu took power suggest pretty clearly his goal the annexation of more territory, not peace of any kind. And now he’s trying to badger us into going to war with a country of 80 million people. Considering that, I’d say there is no state in the middle east that is a greater enemy to the interests of the American people than the Israeli state.

    2. Right, those statements were made before the Palestinians decided to start launching rockets randomly into Israel from crowded Gaza neighborhoods, basically daring the IDF to come in and massacre civilians in order to provoke an international response.

      Kinda derails the sympathy train.

      1. But when Israel bombs civilian neighborhoods to kill ‘suspected militants’ and a few civilians in response to the Palestinian Authority asking the UN to recognize that they exist, it’s ‘collateral damage.’ Or when Israel bombs a neighborhood and kills a few dozen people because ‘someone said they saw a motorcycle driving in the area, and as we all know, motorcycles are invariably part of the Hamas MO, it’s ‘understandable.

        I can’t for the life of me understand why I’m supposed to sympathize with the Israelis. They too have been making their bed for forty years. Now they can lie in it. The US should have washed its hands financially and otherwise of the Levant decades ago.

  4. reach out to Palestinians as neighbors who deserve political rights.”

    Forgive my ignorance, but don’t Palestinians in Israel have more political rights than Palestinians living in the Palestinian territory?

    1. Nitpicky details like that are what start Intifadas.

    2. Oh come now – political dissenters in Gaza have the right to be purged by Hamas for failure to toe the party line.

      After the 2009 fight between Hamas and Israel, Hamas killed dozens of Palestinian ‘collaborators’ and various political opponents, and the global media didn’t even give a fuck.

    3. That’s not ignorance, it’s bone headed literalism. It refers to the residents of the occupied territories. But I bet you knew that. If you want to be all technically correct that everyone in Israel, Jews included, is a Palestinian because Israel is in Palestine.

      1. Yes, but the reason Palestinians in those territories have no political rights is partially the result of their own officials and they’d still lack those political rights if Israel ceased to exist.

        1. Really? The reason most Palestinian Arabs can’t vote in Israeli elections is because of Palestinian officials? For all intents and purposes, Israeli policy is the only thing that matters, Fatah is more or less a rump state; hell, Israel can withhold their, so you have a group of people within a state for which they aren’t allowed to vote or move freely or trade. And they’re angry about. Who would think? Oh, but they are only deprived of those rights because they behave badly. Fine, it’s a cycle they act out because they are denied what they are denied because they act out because they are denied… and so on. But Israel is the only party in a position to end that cycle because they are only of the two that has a state.

  5. “Thomas Friedman, who apparently could write with clarity in those days”

    From Beirut to Jerusalem was in fact, a pretty good book. It was also timely in how it helped translate the giant Lebanese/Israeli/Syrian clusterfuck of the 1980s for a large american audience.

    However, its success set the template for his later series of “pop-foriegn-affairs” books where, rather than talk in detail about a region he actually understands, he sees fit to bloviate grandly about the Meta-intertwined GloboEconoZeitgeist. And china.

    1. From Beirut to Jerusalem was in fact, a pretty good book.

      My wife tells me this too. But everything he’s written since then makes me wary about checking it out.

      1. It was valuable infotainment reading in the 1990s (i read it in college). Sort of a predecessor of the entire Freakonomics and Tipping Point style of middle-brow non-fiction. Books to make lazy people feel smarter, and talk about over work-drinks.

        It was ‘enlightening’ for the kind of people who can’t remember which was the ‘six day war’ and which was the ‘yom kippur war’, and have no clue what an ‘Alawite’ is. It was “Israel’s Modern Problems: For Dummies”, late-1980s edition.

        If you’re already reasonably well schooled in the regional issues, it would be a waste. Also, i think it would be impossible to hear the voice of The Tom narrating it to you while you read. It would inevitably be thrown into a fire, or out a car window.

      2. Its a very good book with a sober and balanced take on the issues facing both Jews and Muslims. Listen to your wife.

        1. Thank you for reminding me of something else to add to the Greasonable filter.

          1. Welcome.

    2. Maybe Friedman is an example of quantity getting in the way of quality?

      4 of his 6 books have been published since 2000. Mixed metaphors are a good way to pad a book.

  6. I’m pretty sure that Bush senior wouldn’t have actively tried to enable the Iranian mullahs to get nuclear weapons.

    1. I’m pretty sure that Bush senior wouldn’t have actively tried to enable the Iranian mullahs to get nuclear weapons

      Hysteria, much? The most likely action, based of the policy of neutrality, would have Israel possessing NO nukes.

      Instead, Israel and the dumbfuck GOP want to use American military force to guarantee that Israel remains the sole nuclear power in the area. Nobody asks the most obvious, if Arab states are denied nuclear weapons then why would Israel NEED any except for agression … the ISIS recruiters gleefully point to the “Judeo-Christian war against Islam.”.

      Oh well, we’ll just have to secure our borders by killing all or most of the Arab state Muslims.

  7. Out of curiosity, what was the result of “Standing up to Israel”. Did Israel go through another round of talks where it gave concessions and Palestine laid down its arms to become a happy neighbor to Israel, or did that toilet water just go around the bowl once more on its path to the eventual destination that is Middle East Peace?

    It’s all well and good to tell two men with knives at each others’ guts that they need to both give up on some of their grievances, but let’s not act all self righteous when neither is willing to blink. Yeah, Israel enjoys a position of strategic advantage over the Palestinians. But they have many, many, many historical examples- many quite recent- informing them that if they are the first to turn the other cheek, the Palestinians will come in slashing. So that makes all this moral preening about what Israel should or shouldn’t do both selfish rhetorical point-scoring and useless waste of space.

    1. Clinton spent major time hammering out an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. Then Arafat backed out and launched the Intifada. Clinton was well and truly pissed at the betrayal.

      1. But at least Clinton got the Norks to give up their, oh wait…

      2. Benjamin Netanyahu: “I actually stopped the Oslo Accord.”

  8. Secretary of State James A. Baker 3d said today that it was time for Israel to “lay aside once and for all the unrealistic vision of a greater Israel” and “reach out to Palestinians as neighbors who deserve political rights.”… a good idea then and now!

    almost clinically balanced between what it called on Israel to do and what it called on the Palestinians and Arabs to do. Many Aipac members later complained about the evenhandedness of the speech, an approach they fundamentally reject. … because the situation is so completely black and white.

    1. By hindsight, pursuing neutrality would have been the best use of American leadership, if we did anything at all.

  9. There are lots of countries in the Mideast that will keep letting us get involved in misbegotten military excursions over there…as long as we want to, and as long as they can convince us to ignore the alternatives.

    1. The US is an inept coddling parent that fails to realize that the children will only learn to grow up when it stops intervening. And sure, there will be some bloodshed and death, but such is the price of conflict resolution. The countries of Western Europe and North American didn’t get to have such amicable relationships with each other by centuries of group therapy, that much is clear.

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  13. Thanks, Jesse, I had forgotten. HW pursued what’s actuallly best for the Mideast, and a more appropriate role for America, that of peacemaker. THAT was leadership.

    Looking back from, let’s not miss the lesson. if Clinton had maintained the same policy, there would have been no 9/11 and no Boston Marathon bombing. We’d have saved thousands of American lives, over a trillion dollars of American treasure, and tens of thousands of Muslim and Jewish lives.

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