James Baker, J Street, and the Transformation of the Republican Party

The difference a quarter century makes


When Benjamin Netanyahu was visiting D.C. a few weeks ago, I wrote a my-how-things-have-changed post about the days when it was a Republican administration that found itself somewhat at odds with Israel. The president then was George H.W. Bush, and the secretary of state was James Baker, a diplomat of the realist school. For some details on their dealings with Israel, read the post.

As if to prove the point about how far the center of Republican opinion had moved, Baker himself was in the news this week. The New York Times reports:

J Street Blues

The warnings trickled in soon after an announcement began circulating last month that James A. Baker III, the former diplomat who is now a foreign policy adviser to [potential presidential candidate] Jeb Bush, would be a featured speaker at a conference hosted by J Street, the liberal pro-Israel advocacy organization.

It could be problematic, conservative donors and Israel hawks told Mr. Bush's team, if Mr. Baker spoke at the event, according to three people briefed on the discussions….

Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino mogul and a powerful donor to Republican "super PACs," is among those who have expressed concerns to Mr. Bush's friends and allies, several of them said. Mr. Adelson is said to be incensed over Mr. Baker's comments and the lack of pressure put on him by the Bush team before his address—a significant concern, given that Mr. Adelson has the resources to pour tens of millions of dollars into the Republican presidential primary.

You can read the rest here. But the upshot is that Jeb Bush's association with James Baker is starting to spark the sort of Republican reaction ordinarily reserved for an association with Bill Ayers. In the GOP of 2015, the old Bush/Baker approach to Middle Eastern policy is being treated like a tainted foreign import.

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  1. I wonder what the J in J Street stands for?

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  2. I wonder how it would go over with the media and GOP establishment if another candidate had some other top adviser with Baker’s “anti-Israel” and drug-legalizing views?

    1. Yeah,how about Panama? Did he see the light?

  3. This the same James Baker who had was all in on the war in Panama because drugs? Let’s not forget Somalia..Also,Israel did the Bush team a favor by not fighting back when Scuds were fired into there country during the first gulf war.Color me unimpressed..

    1. Ok,their

    2. The GHWB administration was the last one with a competent foreign policy. Jeb has no choice but to have someone from it on his team.

    3. “””Also,Israel did the Bush team a favor by not fighting back when Scuds were fired into there country during the first gulf war””

      What was Israel going to do that the US and its alles weren’t already doing with far more military power? Israel was doing itself a favor by not fighting back.

      1. Saddam Hussein firing Scuds into Israel made it look like the Arab states that were fighting against him were fighting in defense of Israel.

        Baker holding together a coalition of Arab states to fight Iraq–even while Iraq was attacking Israel–may be the single greatest feat in the history of diplomacy.

        It was such an amazing accomplishment, that people around the world thought we knew what we were doing. …especially coming on the heels of having won the Cold War.

        Things went completely downhill from a leadership perspective after the Bush Sr. Administration. We’ve been plagued with gross incompetence ever since.

        One of the things that’s so scary about millennials is that they’re used to incompetent leadership. They seem to think it was always like this. The bar may have been permanently lowered. I blame the baby boomers. Worst generation.

        1. Part of it is there’s an assumption that because we want the government to do things differently, that means there’s no skill involved in what the government does and we can bring in outside people with absolutely no experience, put them in charge of the State Department or the Defense Department and suddenly everything will go great.

          1. I think some of it also has to do with baby boomer era naivete.

            They think the problem with government is that the people in power don’t have their hearts in the right place, and that once they get enough people in who really care, everything will be alright.

            That’s why they support Obama–even when he does the same stupid shit Bush Jr. did. They think Obama has his heart in the right place and Darth Cheney doesn’t.

            In their minds, “All you need is love”. Their Greatest Generation parents knew that sometimes, in addition to love, you need to turn Hiroshima and Nagasaki to cinders.

            It should be noted, too, that it “all you need is love” concern for suffering people is what led our leaders to bomb, invade, and occupy Iraq. Their good intentions are evil. It was the cold-hearted, realist, leaders–“selfishly” obsessed with American interest–that refused to invade Iraq.

            Baby boomers will support almost anything if you can convince them that their leaders’ hearts are in the right place. That’s why charges about racism, sexism, homophobia, the Koch brothers, etc. are so effective–if having their heart in the right place is wrong, then they don’t want to be right.

  4. Has anyone noticed the only mid east county not at war right now is Israel. I think the Israelis’ need to work out a deal and give some.How though do you work with the Arabs? They hate each other as much as the Jews.I say we leave them all to fight it out,and the Afgans too.

    1. That’s just crazy talk. We can’t let other people solve their own fucking problems – what kind of world would that lead to?

    2. There are a lot of people out there who seem to think that if the United States withdrew its support from Israel, the Israelis would relent and embrace the Palestinians, and then there would be peace.

      Leaving aside the absurd notion of bringing Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Exploding Martyr’s Brigade into the embrace of a single Israeli state, at this point, why do people think that the alternative to American support of Israel is peace?

      It’s a liberal/progressive notion that doesn’t seem to have any basis in reality.

      If we withdrew our support for Israel, Israel would probably take the gloves off. I think one of the reasons why they don’t take out their enemies completely is becasue they value their relationship with the U.S. Withdrawing our support for Israel would not mean peace between Israel and Hamas or peace between Israel and Hezbollah. It sure as hell wouldn’t mean the concrete barriers came down or (LOL) the right of return.

      It probably works the same way with South Korea. It probably worked the same way with Pinochet in Chile. When nations are restraining themselves because of their relationship with the United States, if the United States exits those relationships, the likely outcome isn’t peace. Why do liberals think it is?

      1. How about if the US “withdraws its support” from Israel, South Korea and all the rest for no other reason then just stopping US taxpayer money from being take and given away? If these countries go to war or to peace or to anything else will be on their heads

        1. I think government has a legitimate purpose, and that purpose is to protect our rights.

          We have police to protect our rights from criminals. We have a criminal court system to protect our rights from the police! We have a civil court system to protect our property rights.

          And we have a national defense system to protect our rights from foreign threats.

          If collecting taxes is justifiable at all, it is only justifiable in terms of financing these legitimate functions of government.

          One of the most effective means by which a nation can defend our rights from foreign threats is an alliance. I think our support for Israel is justifiable in terms of such an alliance.

          Did you know that Israel once took out a nuclear reactor in Iraq?

          If Iran (or any of our other security threats in the region) ever became an imminent security threat, I don’t expect that Israel would need much prodding to do whatever was necessary to defend us. Meanwhile, for all the anti-American sentiment in the region, neither Hamas nor Hezbollah nor the Exploding Martyrs’ Brigade has attacked us directly. Elements of what later coalesced into Hezbollah attacked our Marines in 1983, but other than/after that, none of that bunch has intentionally targeted the United States specifically.

          Why do you suppose that is?

          Do you think it might be because they’re afraid that if they attacked the U.S. directly, we might let Israel off its leash?

          1. I believe we (the Christian West) should unite with the Muslim lands and the Jews, and form one super-bloc known as “The People of the Book”, and wage jihad against the rest of the pagan world.

      2. It’s a liberal/progressive notion that doesn’t seem to have any basis in reality.

        Wow, it’s almost like a theme or something.

  5. No doubt, the Bush Jr. Administration offered a shift in foreign policy–for the worse. It was essentially a Democrat foreign policy–which is one of the reasons that Bush/Obama morphed image Reason used to use was so creepy and rang so true. I know it’s hard for some people to wrap their heads around the idea that Bush’s foreign policy was Democrat in nature, but it’s probably easier to think of it as a standard Democrat domestic policy externalized.

    Bush thought that spreading the liberal values of Democracy by the point of a gun was a legitimate function of the state–and once all the other downtrodden areas of the world had the same benefits of liberal Democracy, they’d right themselves like America’s inner-city neighborhoods would if only we spent enough money on public schools and ignored the squeamish in our vigorous prosecution of the Drug War. Scratch the surface of Bush’s fans, and they’re all liberal in philosophy, too. The progressives/liberals of the Bush Jr. era didn’t even oppose his policies–hardly at all–they mostly just didn’t like his redneck aesthetic.

  6. The Jim Baker/Jean Kirkpatrick/Reagan view of Realism, on the other hand, (that won us the Cold War) was about pursuing American interests–even if that meant holding hands with despots. Listening to Democrats talk about our relationship with Israel, today, is like listening to Democrats back in the day talk about American support for anti-communist regimes in Latin America or whether China should enjoy Most Favored Nation status. Through the Bush Jr. Administration’s embrace of radically leftist foreign policy ideas, it’s somehow become uncouth for Americans to talk about our relationship with Israel in terms of the best interests of the United States. Talking about what’s best for America has become almost as disgraceful as capitalism! Foreign policy is supposed to be about pushing the best interests of Iraqis, Syrians, Afghans, Libyans–and Palestinians, doncha know?

    But sometimes it’s in the best interests of the United States to make common cause with despotic regimes, and when that happens, we should do what is in the best interests of the United States anyway–even if that means offending liberal sensibilities about “fairness”. Whether we continue to support Israel sure as hell shouldn’t depend on how well they treat the Palestinians. It should depend on whether doing so is in the best interests of the United States.

    1. cue inevitable “Define = ‘interests’” ideological pedantry

      1. Yeah, that can be argued about, but the argument should be in those terms.

        Israel treats nice people badly shouldn’t be the end of the conversation.

        Even liberals who conceded that Saddam Hussein was a bad guy thought that…maybe it wasn’t in the United States’ best interests to depose him.

        Jim Baker famously thought it wasn’t in the best interests of the United States to depose Saddam Hussein–and he was no liberal. People from different philosophies can agree on our interests.

        It really is like the Drug War to me. Whether pot dealers are nice guys isn’t the question we should be asking. The question is whether it’s in our best interests to keep fighting the Drug War. Sure, there are arguments on both sides, but that’s the argument we should be having. And legalizing marijuana might be in our best interests–even if smoking it causes cancer.

        1. ” the argument should be in those terms”

          I agree.

          I’m just thinking of the people who get a bug up their ass over the fact that “interests” is a fluid concept defined by historical-context and relative conditions of power.

          then there are the people who will use the language and go “reductio ad abusurdum”, and claim that ‘national interest theory’ therefore requires reducing poverty around the world, since that is apparently a “root cause” of conflict*

          (never mind how iffy that particular idea is – they just run with “well, assume it is…is that not ‘justified’?”)

          either way they go with it, its always an academic exercise which avoids any practical engagement with the status quo. Philosopher-types hate “realism” because its based on conditional, qualified, lived-reality rather than functioning purely in an intellectual vacuum.

          e.g. “People from different philosophies can agree on our interests” = see, that’s a *problem* from the ‘purist’ POV. 🙂

        2. Ive got mixed feelings about Kens argument here. While circumstances might dictate alliances with despotic states, a foreign governments behavior towards ita citizens should influence our behavior toward that state. Still, there is a lot ai agree with. US diplomats have been lecturing foreign powers for a long time; running the worl doesnt work well for the US or her allies. I guess I prefer less intervention in foreign affairs regardless of who we are dealing with.

          1. Trade is more effective at ensuring close relationships and normalizing the brhavior of our allies than state intervention. In all but the most extreme circumstances, it is always better to trade than not

            1. “Trade is more effective at ensuring close relationships and normalizing the brhavior of our allies than state intervention. In all but the most extreme circumstances, it is always better to trade than not”

              Yeah, I wish our relationship with Iran were more like our working relationship with China.

              Before China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, it used to be a big ordeal about whether to approve Most Favored Nation trade status to China every time it came up.

              Nowadays, if China engaged in a truly provocative act with the United States, it would devastate their own economy. Nothing aligns two nations’ interests in stability like trade.

              Sanctions against Iran may have succeeded in getting them to the bargaining table on their nuclear program, but it isn’t the long term solution to anything.

          2. I will concede that it is possible that some alliances might not be in the United States’ best interests specifically because the country in question is despotic.

            I’m just going to insist that the argument should be made in terms of what’s in America’s best interests.

            That’s all.

  7. Your fellow antisemite, James Baker, supports Saudi interests against the families of 9/11 victims. James Baker also said f… the Jews (read without the ellipses). The pro Islamic terrorist/antisemitic Libertarians obviously find James Baker quite acceptable because of his f… the Jews remark (again, read without the ellipses). The Muslims have been America’s enemies since the dawn of the Republic and are our enemies today. The Libertarians should not say they are the party of America because they are not. You Libertarians are closer to those German youth in the 20s who said their elders would not let them be free and supported the Nazis. These youth were immortalized in the movie, “Caberet.”. Tomorrow may belong to the Muslims, but they won’t take you Libertarians with them. Your evil antisemitism will score no points for you fellows or Patrick Buchanan.

    The Trayvon Martin Lied

    “There’s no need to fear — Underzog is here!”

    1. @underdog. Clearly you are one of the R’s who is sucking Adelson’s c… (read with the ellipses).

      The above kind of post perfectly illustrates what is wrong with politics in the US today: any critique of any group/organization/country automatically is tossed back as the speaker being anti-X and in bed with those who are X’s foes.

      Say something unflattering about Israel? Anti-semite supporter of those trying to “destroy” Israel.
      Say something about blacks? White supremacist.
      Protect the border? You hate brown people.
      Nuke deal with Iran? You support the terrorists
      Hillary’s anything? Misogynist
      Gays? Homophobe.
      Support gay marriage? Hater of God.
      Don’t support eternal war? Pacifist isolationist supporter of terrorism.

      and on and on and on.

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