The Republican opposed the Iraq surge and favored regional negotiations with Iran and Syria. The GOP luminary has cautioned against pre-emptive strikes on Tehran's nuclear facilities. He publicly criticized Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank. He advised the presidential campaigns of both John McCain and Mitt Romney on national security policy, and in 2000 helped secure Florida for George W. Bush. Oh, and he declared "f**k the Jews" and complained they "didn't vote for us anyway." Of course, that GOP leader wasn't Vietnam War hero, former Nebraska Senator and Obama Pentagon nominee Chuck Hagel, but Republican heavyweight James A. Baker III. And as it turns out, while Lindsey Graham called Baker a "role model," John McCain lauded the former Bush Secretary of State as "smartest guy I know" and wanted him to lead the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.
Of course, you'd never know that listening to the incendiary rhetoric of Graham, McCain and other Republicans who have turned on their former colleague. Forgetting President Bush's selection of John Bolton as UN Ambassador, Senator Graham called Obama's selection of Hagel "an in-your-face nomination." On Sunday, Graham was not done in his criticism:
"Chuck Hagel, if confirmed to be the secretary of defense, would be the most antagonistic secretary of defense toward the state of Israel in our nation's history."
But Graham has a different attitude towards James Baker, the man neoconservative hardliners refer to simply as "F**k the Jews." After all, just a year ago the International Republican Institute (IRI) honored Baker with its 2011 Freedom Award for his exemplary public service and his work in international diplomacy. Among those lauding him that day was none other than John McCain's sidekick, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham:
"He was the right guy at the right time in so many circumstances and he has served our country in so many ways," U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said of Baker in presenting the award. "When it comes to spreading freedom, you have done more than your fair share and when it comes to setting a standard, you are a role model."
John McCain, the other half of Washington DC's most enduring bromance, was even more effusive in his praise of James Baker.
In November, John McCain proposed that former President Bill Clinton, "a person of enormous prestige and influence," should be appointed by President Obama to negotiate peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. But in a May 2006 interview with the Israeli paper Haaretz, Senator McCain had a different man in mind as President McCain's Middle East emissary:
A McCain administration, alongside his close supervision from the White House, would send "the smartest guy I know" to the Middle East. And who is that? "Brent Scowcroft, or Jim Baker, though I know that you in Israel don't like Baker." This is a longing for the administration of the first president Bush, or even for the administration of President Gerald Ford in the mid-1970s. In both of them, general Scowcroft was the national security adviser. McCain will act to bring peace, "but having studied what Clinton did at Camp David, perhaps not in one try, but rather step by step, and I would expect concessions and sacrifices by both sides." In general, a movement toward the June 4, 1967 armistice lines, with minor modifications? McCain nods in the affirmative.
And why would John McCain say, "I know that you in Israel don't like Baker?"
As the CBC recalled, that unease stems from yet another U.S.-Israeli clash over expanding settlements in the West Bank:
In the early 1990s, when then president George H.W. Bush became annoyed at Shamir's refusal to stop building settlements, he cut off $10 billion in loan guarantees, which Israel needed to resettle Russian Jewish immigrants.
At the time, James Baker, Bush's secretary of state, publicly recited the White House switchboard's phone number, declaring to Israel: "When you are serious about peace, call us!"
And as Slate reminded readers in 2002, the dust-up over the loan guarantees for Israeli settlements was just the beginning:
Then there was Secretary of State James Baker's infamous "fuck the Jews" remark. In a private conversation with a colleague about Israel, Baker reportedly uttered the vulgarity, noting that Jews "didn't vote for us anyway." This was more or less true--Bush got 27 percent of the Jewish vote, compared with 73 percent for Dukakis, in 1988. And thanks in part to Baker, it was even truer in 1992, when Bill Clinton got 78 percent of the Jewish vote and Bush got only 15 percent--the poorest showing by a Republican candidate since Barry Goldwater in 1964.
But while candidate McCain was in the process of making a hard-right turn in time for the 2008 GOP presidential primaries, Baker was getting serious about peace. Like Senator Hagel, Baker didn't just oppose President Bush's 2007 surge in Iraq. Baker co-chaired the Iraq Study Group which instead recommended Bush "beef up regional diplomacy, particularly that involving Syria and Iran, by establishing an Iraq International Support Group to encourage the participation of countries that have a critical stake in preventing Iraq from falling into chaos."
The supposed sins of James A. Baker III, who endorsed McCain for President and called him a "consensus builder" in 2008, didn't end there. Baker didn't just raise neoconservative eyebrows when he told Fox News, "Talking to an enemy is not, in my view, appeasement." In February 2010, he warned those so eager to "bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran" over Tehran's nuclear program:
"I don't know that there is a military solution. Most of the people, knowledgeable people, I talk to say there is no satisfactory military solution, that a strike will delay but not prevent their acquiring a nuclear weapon."
And Baker didn't merely say an Israeli strike was "not in our interest." The next month, Bush 41's Secretary of State didn't just praise President Obama's handling of foreign affairs, but slammed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for announcing new settlements just as Vice President Biden was arriving for meetings.
"Republican and Democratic administrations have always said that settlements are an obstacle to peace," Baker said.
When asked if the timing of the announcement was an "insult" to America, Baker responded: "It was pretty close to it...there needs to be respect on both sides, we need to respect Israel and her needs and goals and desires and she needs to respect us."
Despite his numerous heresies and deviations from neoconservative orthodoxy, James Baker enjoys the respect of John McCain, Lindsey Graham and most Senate Republicans. In contrast, their former colleague Chuck Hagel has apparently committed a double sin--potentially serving as Defense Secretary for a Democratic President whose candidacy he supported--means, in Graham's words, that "he's just going to have to explain some of these comments that disturb people." John McCain's hypocrisy is even worse. As McCain put it in 2006 in describing his former close and dear friend, the same year he gushed to an Israeli paper about James Baker:
McCain was an early enthusiast for the war in Iraq, Hagel an early skeptic. Could he imagine the co-chairman of his first national race having a place on a McCain ticket or in a McCain administration? I asked. "I'd be honored to have Chuck with me in any capacity," McCain replied. "He'd make a great secretary of state."
Six years later, McCain has a different take. To "allege that Hagel is somehow a Republican," he said, "That is a hard one to swallow." Of course, to allege that McCain's opposition to Chuck Hagel is about anything other than knee-jerk opposition to President Obama is the real joke.