The right-wing blogosphere has been blazing in recent weeks with articles attacking Barack Obama’s foreign policy advisers. As it turns out, two of the biggest targets – Robert Malley and Zbigniew Brzezinski – are not playing an ongoing or prominent role, while advisers with the most influence on Israel-related issues turn out to be Clinton administration veterans with solid ties to the Jewish community.
Largely overlooked in all of this discussion has been McCain’s close ties to James Baker and Brent Scowcroft – two stalwarts in the administration of the senior George Bush who, as Ron Kampeas put it, are “anathema to neoconservatives and some pro-Israel groups for counseling pressure on Jerusalem.”
Well, now comes the moment that some Democrats have been waiting for… Baker’s endorsement of John McCain.
In the last weeks of Rudy Giuliani’s campaign, some of his aides and advisers were pushing the Baker issue to reporters. And a small flap did arise over an interview in which McCain reportedly talked about sending Scowcroft or Baker to the Middle East. But, so far, the topic has not become an issue. And it’s probably not likely to.
For starters, the Baker endorsement came just a day after McCain was touting the endorsement of another Texan: John Hagee, arguably the most influential Christian Zionist in the country. Throw in Joe Lieberman’s support of McCain, not to mention the Arizona Republican’s long-standing support for Israel, and it’s hard to imagine the Baker card having much impact (UPDATE: I see one Politico reader formulated it this way – “1 Lieberman + 1 Hagee > 1 Baker”).
And then there’s the question of whether Baker himself upsets American Jews like he used to. The Bush buddy and former secretary of state has always denied having ever made the infamous “Fuck the Jews” remark. But, even if you take him at his word, there’s no question that Baker put the screws to Israel a few times in his ongoing efforts to drag Yitzhak Shamir to the peace table. Yet, on this count, history and subsequent Israeli leaders have helped Baker out: Likud and Labor prime ministers ended up pursuing the policies that he was pushing for – and, in some cases, going even further.
I’d also say that in comparison to President Carter, Baker is looking better and better from the perspective of pro-Israel activists. Carter, to put it mildly, has a problem with Israel and the pro-Israel lobby; he has increasingly embraced and promoted a pro-Palestinian narrative. In Baker, on the other hand, what you have is a sharp-elbowed SOB who had no trouble slapping Israel around when he felt it was in America’s interests to do so, but doesn’t walk around looking for a fight (which is why Jewish leaders didn’t seem to care when Bush tapped him for an Iraq-related assignment in 2004).
In short, Carter is an idealist who seems to be motivated in large part by a desire to see an end to what he views as Palestinian suffering at the hands of the Israelis; Barker is a realist who just wants to keep the oil flowing. It’s the difference between inserting a line into the Iraq Study Group report stating that “the United States will not be able to achieve its goals in the Middle East unless the United States deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict” and writing a book titled “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.”
That’s at least my sense of what many Jewish activists, including Democratic ones, think – at least when it comes to Israel. Bring up Baker’s name in the context of the 2000 election, and you’ll probably end up with plenty of angry Jews (especially in Palm Beach).