By DONNA URSCHEL
Former Secretary of State James L. Baker, in the Kissinger Lecture at the Library on Feb. 27, prescribed 10 guidelines for effective United States foreign policy, primarily advocating the need to be flexible, talk to the country's enemies and change course if necessary.
"We are doing just that now in our Iraq policy," said Baker, who served as secretary of state for George H. W. Bush from 1989 to 1992, secretary of the treasury for Ronald Reagan from 1985 to 1988 and Reagan's chief of staff from 1981 to 1985.
Baker's lecture was presented against a backdrop of breaking news. Several hours earlier, the White House, in a policy reversal, announced U.S. willingness to meet with Iran and Syria to discuss the situation in Iraq.
The White House appeared to adopt a line of action that was recommended by the Iraq Study Group in late 2006. Baker and former U.S. Rep. Lee H. Hamilton served as co-chairmen of the 10-member bipartisan group organized to independently assess the U.S. engagement in Iraq.
Baker delivered the fifth Kissinger Lecture on Foreign Policy and International Relations in the Coolidge Auditorium before a capacity crowd that included former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, the new Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte and several senators and representatives.
Baker described his approach to foreign policy as "pragmatic idealism." He said: "While firmly grounded in values, it appreciates the complexity of the real world—a world of hard choices and painful trade-offs. This is the real world in which we must live, decide and act."
The United States, according to Baker, is a powerhouse—militarily, economically and diplomatically. "There is today no country or group of countries that can challenge our international preeminence. This may change as countries like China and India loom larger on the world stage. But for now and the foreseeable future, the United States is the only true global power."
How the United States uses this unparalleled power will determine if the preeminence continues for years, decades or even longer. "I would like to offer 10 maxims that will help us find our way in the international arena," Baker said.
First: The U.S. should be comfortable using its power.
"We have no alternative," said Baker, "If the United States does not exercise power, others will. We simply have too much at stake in the world to walk away from it, even if we could."
Second: Even U.S. power is limited.
"We cannot be, even if we wanted to be, the policeman for the world," Baker said. "Powerful as we are, we cannot solve every problem in the world. Iraq, for instance, has shown a limit of our military strength."
Baker expressed admiration "for the magnificent performance of our men and women in uniform," but acknowledged that they face intractable foes in insurgent groups and sectarian militias. "Their task is complicated by divisions within the Iraqi government and growing frustration among many Iraqis at the lack of basic security and services."
Third: The United States should be prepared to act unilaterally when the situation requires it.
"Unilateral action remains the first and surest test of a great power," Baker said. "But we should not undertake such action lightly. It is almost always preferable to act in concert with others. But when our vital interests are at stake we must be prepared, if necessary, to go it alone."
Fourth: The United States needs to appreciate the importance of allies.
"It is no coincidence that the three great global conflicts of the 20th century—World War I, World War II and the Cold War—were won by coalitions. By securing allies, our policymakers can achieve important goals," said Baker. Even the Gulf War of 1990-1991 was a military coalition of the United States, Britain, France and Arab nations that was bolstered by financial support from Gulf Arabs, Japan, Germany and a number of other Western European nations.
Fifth: The United States needs to use all the means at its disposal.
Baker said: "These tools include moral suasion, bilateral talks and multilateral action. Such action can occur through formal institutions such as the United Nations, NATO and the International Monetary Fund. But it can also be pursued through 'informal groups' like the coalition against Iraq during the 1990-1991 Gulf War."
Sixth: The United States should be prepared to change course if necessary.
"Consistency, of course, is an important element of foreign policy," Baker said. "But when events change, we must be prepared to change with them."
Seventh: The United States will sometimes have to deal with authoritarian regimes.
"In a 'perfect world,' we could perhaps work only with other democracies. Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world," Baker said.
One example is America's World War II alliance with Stalin's Soviet Union. "Given the immediate and deadly threat posed by Nazi Germany, we had no alternative," he said. "During the Cold War, we made common cause with authoritarian regimes in Latin America, Asia and elsewhere."
Eighth: The United States must be prepared to talk with its enemies.
"The fundamental reason we should be prepared to speak to our enemies is that it is in our interest to do so. That is why we maintained an embassy in Moscow throughout the Cold War," Baker said. "Talking to hostile states, whether it was Moscow during the Cold War or Damascus today, is not 'appeasement.' It was and is good foreign policy."
Ninth: 'Values' are important, but they aren't the only thing.
"It is harsh to say it, but sadly, we cannot formulate or implement American foreign policy according to the principles of Mother Teresa, because when the body bags start coming home, you can't get support for a political policy when there is not an overriding national interest," Baker said.
Tenth: Domestic support is vital to any successful foreign policy.
"The will of the American people is the final arbiter of foreign policy in our democracy," he said. "Without that support, specific policies risk repudiation at the polls or public disenchantment with foreign engagement in general."
Baker concluded his lecture by quoting Ronald Reagan because, he said, Reagan understood the limits of realism and idealism. Baker said: "He was, famously, a man of deeply held conviction. But he was also pragmatic. When I was his chief of staff, he often told me, 'Jim, I'd rather get 80 percent of what I want than to go over the cliff with my flag flying.' The Gipper, of course, was right."
Donna Urschel is a public affairs specialist in the Library's Public Affairs Office.