My observation, but the last time I admired US policy in the Middle East was under Bush #41 and James Baker III after the First Gulf War.
Baker: I think I met with almost every former Secretary of State, as I did when I became Chief of Staff, I met with all the former Chiefs of Staff. A number of people said to be careful of the Arab-Israeli dispute; it’s sort of a graveyard for Secretaries of State. So I started carefully, but we made a lot of progress to get them talking to each other after 25 years. I’m going to claim–I hope this is correct, I believe it is–that it led to theIsrael-Jordan peace agreement. You see, it led directly to Oslo. The United States wasn’t involved in Oslo. The parties did that off to the side and it was dramatic. But had you not had Madrid, you wouldn’t have had Oslo. You wouldn’t have had Oslo in ’93. Madrid was in ’91, ’92 maybe. I can’t remember.
President Bush got off to an unfortunate start with Yitzhak Shamir, the Prime Minister of Israel. Yitzhak Shamir, in one of his first meetings with President Bush said, “Don’t worry about the settlements. We’re going to take care of that; we’ll deal with that.” President Bush interpreted that to mean, “We’re going to slow it down, we’re going to stop it, we’re going to deal with your problems.” Every administration, Democrat or Republican, had been opposed to settlements. And then when that didn’t happen, there was sort of a sense of betrayal I think on President Bush’s part.
One of the major things we did was to keep Israel from being involved in that war [Gulf War I], but I give credit to Yitzhak Shamir. He was really hard-line. Did you know that after [Benjamin] Netanyahu became Prime Minister the first time Shamir called him squishy, too soft, he’d given away too much? So that’s how hard-line he was.
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Yitzhak Shamir joined the Irgun terror group and later the Stern Gang in British mandate of Palestine (1936-1948) (Photo Reuters)
Strong: Isn’t there an irony, if the Cold War is over, if the Middle East is going in the right direction, if our alliances are healthy, then you can elect an Arkansas Governor? Peace actually, in some ways, makes the talents and successes of the administration less compelling.
Baker: I’m not sure I agree with that. I think any time we elect a President, more often than not we’re electing somebody with no foreign policy experience. Any time. Jimmy Carter was elected during the very height of the Cold War, turned out to have been surprised by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. I don’t know that I buy that.
Riley: What would a second Bush ’41 term have looked like?
Baker: We would have had a shot with Yitzhak Rabin. We would have really had a shot at an Arab-Israeli peace deal. We were making a lot of progress. Bill Clinton, for all the work he did, and he did a lot of good work trying to get one in his second term, he postponed dealing with it to his second term for political reasons. And that’s been the problem with most of our Presidents. George Bush had the guts to try and deal with it in his first term, Obama’s had the guts to try and deal with it in his first term, but he hasn’t succeeded. It’s too easy to postpone that one. I think we would have had a great shot. As you’ve indicated in your question, we had the world going in the right direction, and another term would have given us the opportunity to cement some of that. Now you don’t know what would have happened. Who can tell?