Baker's ISG: Shilling for the Saudis

The Iraq Study Group (ISG) recently released its version of the "road map" to guide America's policy in Iraq. Despite an orchestrated public relations campaign that bordered on the farcical, with reverential media treatment at first, the unrealistic nature of some of the policies led to withering criticism. By the next Sunday, Brit Hume was able to conclude  that
the almost now completely forgotten Baker-Hamilton commission, which arrived [with] great fanfare... got so much criticism from all sides [that it] now seems to be an irrelevance.
The ISG turned into a colossal dud, a missed opportunity of huge magnitude. Its failure to engage with the real dilemmas, and instead substitute a combination of wishful thinking and hostility toward Israel, was actually quite predictable. An autopsy of its decaying corpse reveals a disturbing pattern among those charged with creating and staffing the Group.

While Professors Walt and Mearsheimer famously hypothesize
that an "Israel Lobby" has hijacked American foreign policy, the ISG report suggests otherwise, that a far more influential lobby operates out of country well to the southeast of Israel.

While the Group was charged with analyzing the situation in Iraq, some were surprised and disturbed that the focus shifted to Israel and did so in hostile way. For example, the superb Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens took note of the fact that while most of the policies towards the "players" involved in the Middle East were couched in the language of suggestions ("should") those directed at Israel were seemingly mandatory and were characterized as orders (as in "Israel must").

Three demands were particularly disconcerting:
  • that Israel must negotiate with the Palestinians, with no mention that the Palestinians are ruled by a regime dedicated to the destruction of Israel;
  • that Israel must relinquish the strategically vital Golan Heights to Syria;
  • that Israel must accept that the Palestinian refugees from the war-torn area have a "right of return" to Israel (this contravenes US policy and would lead to the demographic destruction of Israel).
Given the people involved in the ISG, the results were virtually pre-ordained. Those surprised by the focus on Israel and by the inclusion of these demands should not have been. From its very inception, through its development and the publication of the final report of the ISG, the hidden agenda of the ISG was an anti-Israel one. The "fix was in" and was so from its inception.

While the co-chairmen of the ISG were James Baker, the Republican former Secretary of State, and Lee Hamilton, the former Democratic Congressman, anyone familiar with the ways of Washington could reasonably assume that the domineering James Baker would assume control of the Commission. This was confirmed by the Washington Post, which stated that the "makeup of the group reflects Baker's pragmatic, centrist approach to foreign policy." Unfortunately, the makeup of the group also reflected darker and murkier aspects of James Baker.

James Baker's Bias and Business

James Baker's somewhat contemptuous attitudes towards Israel while he served as Secretary of State (publicly humiliating Israel when he suggested at a press conference that if Israel wanted to discuss peace it could call him at the White House, then proceeding to list the phone number, digit by digit) and his problematic attitudes towards Jews ("&**&# the Jews, they don't vote for us anyway" - a statement that he has denied making, though others have said he did indeed have this anti-Semitic outburst) are fairly well-known. But relatively few are familiar with his career after he left government service.

Baker became involved in the legendary Washington, D.C. based Carlyle Group: an investment group heavily-funded by Saudi Arabian investors. Not only is he the senior counselor of the Carlyle Group; he also has an estimated $180 million dollar stake in the firm.

His interests are clearly aligned with those of the Saudis. He established the James Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. No information is listed on the Institute's website about major donors, but the Institute's impressive building bespeaks lavish funding. The Saudis are known to favor think tanks established by former government officials with generous support, possibly because they  may prove useful to them in the future, or to reward them for past service to the Kingdom,  and offer an example to others still charged with serving American national interets.

Baker's Houston-based law firm, Baker and Botts, has offices in the Saudi capital of Riyadh and in the Persian Gulf nation of Dubai. Baker and Botts defended, among others, Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, the Defense Minister of Saudi Arabia who was sued by the families of the World Trade Center victims for alleged complicity in the attacks.  Baker has had quite a lucrative career after his government career.

Undoubtedly the emollient money - the "baksheesh" - that Arab nations spread in the power corridors of Washington have been some of their best investments to date. In the words of former Saudi ambassador Prince Bander bin Sultan:
"if the reputation builds that the Saudis take care of their friends when they leave office, you would be surprised how much better friends you have who are just coming into office". 
The Prince's words are a leitmotif to keep playing in the background when tracing the careers of participants in the Iraq Study Group.

Saudi Arabia has always been anti-Israel and is one of the foremost promoters of anti-Semitism in the world today. Furthermore, as the "guardians" of Mecca and Medina, Saudi rulers have an obligation to protect Sunnis. If America were to withdraw from Iraq and the Sunnis would suffer the wrath of the more numerous Shiites as payback for the years of abuse the Sunnis had previously dished out to them during the Saddam era.

In the face of such a disaster, a failure from the standpoint of the Saudi regime that wants to see America defending its interests, could the Saudis be mollified by forcing Israel to appease the Sunni Palestinians? Perhaps it would give them some cover from criticism by more radical factions that the American alliance has been bad for Sunni Islam. But in any case, the Saudis would be pleased by any actions that the Baker group could take that would harm Israel and the American-Israel alliance.

Baker is a Machiavellian maneuverer, an artful street fighter and one of the foremost practitioners of stealthy power plays in Washington. He constructed a façade of a supposedly neutral bi-partisan working group of "experts" that would formulate policies. Behind the façade, the wizard worked his wonders. He seeded the key working groups with many members who had long histories of anti-Israel activism, have records of making statements that in some cases border on anti-Semitism, and are beneficiaries of Arab oil money.

As The New Republic's Martin Peretz has pointed out, the real work of the Commission is done by "subalterns" who present arguments and policy prescriptions on which less-informed but more prominent headliners such as Sandra Day O'Connor and Vernon Jordan would put their stamp of approval. In this case, personnel became policy.

Let's look at these "experts":

There were four working groups that composed the ISG. What was remarkable about these groups was their unremarkability. Given the high profile and importance of this commission, one would have expected more recognizable names. However, many of those selected for membership did share one trait in common: an opposition to the American-Israel alliance and friendship.

The Economy and Reconstruction Group

Raad Alkadari, Director Country Strategies Group, PFC Energy. His firm is a consulting group dependent on oil company and oil country clients. In an ABC News interview, he agreed with the view that the Bush Administration was too influenced by pro-Israel voices. He went on to state,
"the people who have been the most hawkish, the people who have demonstrated this vision of the Middle East (reordering it) have also been the most ardent supporters of Israel. That is what it is all about. The idea of re-ordering the Middle East is not just about diminishing threats to the United States. Ultimately it's also about ensuring that you have a Middle East that's far more amenable to an Israeli vision of a solution to the Palestinian problem". .
He is of a conspiratorial mind-set: also claiming that the U.S. motivation for Iraq's liberation was a grab for oil.

Jay Collins and David Lipton, who both work for Citigroup, but in different capacities. Citigroup's largest shareholder is Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia. He also has an ownership interest in an Arab media company that has spread anti-Semitism throughout the world. He was also the Saudi Prince whose check was rejected by Mayor Rudy Giuliani when the Saudi Prince tried to whitewash Saudi responsibility for 9/11 by blaming Israeli policy towards the Palestinians for the 9/11 attacks. The Prince also has liberally funded Harvard and Georgetown Universities, training grounds of our future foreign policy leaders, and has become a large shareholder in News Corporation. He has reprtedly boasted of his ability to influence media coverage. The Prince seems to think his money will buy him sway over US foreign policy.

Was this belief made manifest during ISG deliberations? Why did Baker take two men from one particular financial institution? When choosing members, why wasn't diversity of perspective more important? Might Baker have chosen other companies to supply experts to give their views, maybe even other large financial institutions from throughout the world that do not have major Arab investors?

Having shared organizational background among participants is a means to encourage groupthink, and discourage open debate. It may provide an illusion of neutral and diverse views to have multiple members, but a strong institutional nexus among participants defeats the very purpose of a committee format for a study. This practice of sharing common institutional focus is another theme in the leitmotif.

Jock Covey-Senior Vice president of the engineering and construction firm Bechtel. This company has been one of the largest beneficiaries of the Saudi oil boom over the last 40 years and has along history of close ties with the Saudi royal regime.

Amy Myers Jaffe: Listed employer: The James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy. True employer? Maybe the Saudi benefactors of this Institute? In any case, her views would be redundant with those of James Baker, no? Again, the illusion of neutral and diverse views.

James A. Placke: Cambridge Energy Research Associates. Another consultant company dependent on keeping in the good graces of its oil exporting country and oil industry clients.

The Political Development Group

Raymond Close: Listed as a "Freelance Analyst and Commentator on Middle East Politics." One might expect a bit more of a reputable-sounding title and background for such a high-level Commission, no? In reality, Close is a former CIA official who served in Saudi Arabia. Upon his retirement almost 30 years ago, he went to work for the Saudi security agency, one of the most ruthless such groups in the world. He reportedly earned millions from the Saudis. Many of his colleagues looked askance at this behavior .

Close has a long record of hostility to Israel and has made outright anti-Semitic statements . Saudi largesse has extended to his family, too; his son is a registered foreign agent for Saudi Arabia.

David Mack: A Vice-President of the Middle East Institute. This is a Saudi-funded "think tank" ; in reality, it is a shadow Saudi Embassy with an American face. In the past, it has served as a sinecure for former American Ambassadors to Saudi Arabia - a luxe career retirement home. Former Ambassador Edward Walker once headed the Institute. He is a frequent commentator that the media rely upon for his views of the Middle East. The Institute is currently headed by Wyche Fowler (another former Ambassador) who has quite a career in the service of Saudi Arabia. As one pundit has noted:
Fowler, who was the kind of appointee the Saudis love (close to the president, didn't speak Arabic), wasted little time after his retirement setting up "consulting contracts with several multinational firms to advise them on business in the Middle East," pulling down fat lecture fees on topics like "Saudi Arabia: America's Strategic Trade Partner in the Middle East," and raising funds for The Middle East Institute, of which he is chairman.

Here are a few of what can only be called Fowler Howlers:
There hadn't been any hatred being spewed out of Saudi Arabia or Egypt for that matter against us.

"We are justifiably proud that Saudi Arabia has been our solid ally for 60 years.
He deflected claims that Saudi officials have been anything less than fully cooperative in the fight against terror, and stated that Saudi Arabia is "uniquely pro-American."

"There are a lot of allegations that are not proven. For instance, I don't know of an instance where the Saudis have supported any kind of fundamental terrorism that has a direct link."
Fowler has pushed the Saudi Peace Plan  and was the host of the then-new Saudi Ambassador's Prince Turki Al-Faisal coming out party in Washington, D.C.

CNN he stated
"Whether or not you agree or disagree with the most conservative form of Islam, Wahhabism, it does teach tolerance for Jews and Christians."
Is it possible that Mr. Mack, whose livelihood depends on funding from Saudi Arabia has, in the words, of James Baker, a "dog in this fight"?

Phebe Marr,  an academic who in the past has worked for oil companies. She is on the Editorial Board of the Middle East Journal, published by the  Middle East Institute (remember those leitmotifs). She is also on the Board of the Middle East Policy Council-which is another "front" organization for the Saudis. In this case, the Chairman of the Board is Chas Freeman, another former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Other Board Members include Frank Carlucci, Chairman of the aforementioned Carlyle Group and a host of executives from multi-national corporations with extensive financial ties to the Arab world. Currently, Dr. Marr resides in Qatar, where her husband has been on the faculty of the University of Qatar.

Augustus Richard Norton. His membership on this blue ribbon panel (how about calling it a green and white-the colors of Islam- panel) is a surprise. His pedigree is thin to justify being on such an august (who can resist the pun?) Commission. He has served on the faculty of Cairo University and now serves as a professor of anthropology and international relations at Boston University.  What does seem to qualify him for the Group is his anti-Israel attitudes. Key quotes:
I can't recall any U.S. president who has subordinated American interests to Israeli interests like this one.

Israel is primarily targeting Shiite Muslims and that's going to fuel the sectarianism that is feeding the civil war in Iraq.

Israel is now striving to turn parts of southern Lebanon into a largely depopulated "killing box," where Hizbullah and its capability can be whittled away. In the process, hundreds of thousands of people are being forced from their homes.
He has said that Israel's "vainglorious attempts to consolidate hegemony over its neighbors usually provokes the emergence of even fiercer adversaries"

He wrote in the Boston Globe:

ISRAEL'S WAR in Lebanon, like its 1982 forbear, was launched with the ambitious aim of buttressing Israel's regional hegemony and security.

Hezbollah is designated by the United States as a ``terrorist group," a label that Israeli officials use with alacrity to cement support for their actions. The word ``terrorism" is a convenient rhetorical bludgeon. It substitutes for serious thinking and leads to the nonsensical conclusion that whatever Hezbollah does is an act of terrorism. The result is a US policy that supports Israel's ``counterterrorism" war to the point that a third of Lebanon's people are now refugees, hatred of America has become red hot, and the war has caused a major rift with important European allies.
In a New York Times article he stated that Hezbollah's "hatred was created by Israel; it wasn't there at the beginning."

The Strategic Environment Group

Of the 12 members in this Group, The New Republic has characterized 3 of them as apologists for Sunni Muslims: Chas Freeman, William Quandt, and Shibley Telhami (Peretz has also so characterized ISG members Phebe Marr, Augustus Richard Norton, and Marina Ottaway).

Freeman, as noted above, has long served the Saudis well. Chas Freeman, former American Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, has become a de fato Saudi Ambassador to America. As head of the Middle East Policy Council, he has promoted the interest of Saudi Arabia. He shares Board membership with executives from major multinationals with major markets in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world, Frank Carlucci-head of the Carlyle Group, George McGovern, and...a representative of the giant Saudi Binladin Group.  He is also a conspiracy theorist: promoting the view that the Bush Administration fabricated its justification for war. As Michael Rubin has noted,

"Why seek advice from an ‘area specialist' who "has clearly crossed the line from analysis to conspiracy?" 
His views on the American-Israel alliance? In his own words,
"For the past half decade Israel has enjoyed carte blanche from the United States to experiment with any policy it favored to stabilize its relations with the Palestinians and its other Arab neighbors, including most recently its efforts to bomb Lebanon into peaceful coexistence with it and to smother Palestinian democracy in its cradle. [....]

"...left to its own devices, the Israeli establishment will make decisions that harm Israelis, threaten all associated with them, and enrage those who are not. [....]

"Tragically, despite all the advantages and opportunities Israel has had over the fifty-nine years of its existence, it has failed to achieve concord and reconciliation with anyone in its region, still less to gain their admiration or affection. Instead, with each decade, Israel's behavior has deviated farther from the humane ideals of its founders. [....]

"Americans need to be clear about the consequences of continuing our current counterproductive approaches to security in the Middle East. We have paid heavily and often in treasure in the past for our unflinching support and unstinting subsidies of Israel's approach to managing its relations with the Arabs. Five years ago we began to pay with the blood of our citizens here at home. We are now paying with the lives of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines on battlefields in several regions of the realm of Islam, with more said by our government's neoconservative mentors to be in prospect."
William Quandt, an academic who has written about the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians. He served under the notorious anti-Israel Zbigniew Brezinski during the Carter Presidency (and we know how Jimmy Carter views Israel). He has criticized Bill Clinton's approach for being too favorable towards the Israelis (absurd on its face: after all, that is the process that brought Yasser Arafat into power). In one of his books, he stated that:

it was as if Clinton had no views of his own, or as if the United States had no independent national interest at stake ...."
He writes:
"Clinton's unwillingness to take any steps that might be seen as undermining Rabin was perhaps understandable and was certainly consistent with the views of Ross and Indyk."
(My comment: the canard that America follows Israel's interest is popular among conspiracy theorists, especially when joined with the view that officials of Jewish heritage are subjected to special scrutiny, as Quandt does here with Indyk and Ross).

Quandt talks of the domestic political scene by referring to the political potency of Israelis. (My comment: this is a conflation of Jewish American supporters of Israel with Israelis themselves, a common anti-Semitic mistake. Israelis are Israelis, Americans are Americans, whatever their religion).

He has also noted the neoconservatives' supposed agenda of U.S. dominance, promoting regime change in Iraq and backing Israel. (My comment: "neoconservative" is a label often used to refer to those of Jewish heritage). He wrote:
 "although Israel's security was certainly one of the reasons for going to war with Iraq, particularly for staunch Zionists like [Elliott] Abrams [of the NSC] and [Douglas] Feith [of the Defense Department], it was never mentioned publicly by Bush or his inner circle. And it did no good to support in Europe or the Arab and Muslim world for the coming attack on Iraq to look like a gift to Israel."
He echoes Norton in declaring that

"American policy, except for some rhetorical flourishes in favor of a Palestinian state, had shifted to an unprecedented degree of support for a Likud-led government.... Rarely had any president gone so far in subcontracting American policy to an Israeli leader".
Wayne White: Yet one more representative of the Middle East InstituteWho among us ever realized  that expertise was so tightly concentrated in a handful of organizations?


There is one more aspect of the ISG that needs to be addressed: another layer that allowed mischief-making: The "witnesses" called by these Working Groups for the persecution so as to buttress the illusion of impartiality. They include, for some reason, a few journalists. The media world is not only extremely liberal and anti-Bush, but its record of hostility to Israel has been much commented upon. Reason enough to be leery of relying on journalists for their expertise.

The specifics of those chosen:

Thomas Ricks of the Washington Post. Recently awarded the Canard of the Year Prize by the media-monitoring group Honest Reporting. On the CNN program Reliable Sources, Ricks accused Israel of deliberately leaving Hezbollah rockets intact for public relation purposes. He said,

"Israel purposely has left pockets of Hezbollah rockets in Lebanon, because as long as they're being rocketed, they can continue to have a sort of moral equivalency in their operations in Lebanon. It helps you with the moral high ground problem, because you know your operations in Lebanon are going to be killing civilians as well." 

Thomas Friedman, columnist for the New York Times. That paper has quite a reputation for anti-Israel coverage. Friedman himself enjoys congenial relations with the royal court in Riyadh. During one his meetings with the royals, one produced a document that Friedman coined the Saudi Peace Plan. The "plan" called for Israel to relinquish strategically important land it won in the 1967 war and return to the so-called Auschwitz borders, The plan also left open the possibility for Palestinians to have a "right of return" that would mean the demographic destruction of Israel. Friedman and his paper promoted this plan for months.

Mark Danner of the New York Review of Books. Another witness for the persecution. Since when does the New York Review of Books enjoy any foreign policy credentials?  
The New York Review of Books carried a long article by Michael Massing that supported the Walt/Mearsheimer paper on the Israel Lobby. This "working paper" has been heavily criticized for sloppy scholarship, inaccuracies, bias, and the willful manipulation of data. In his article on the "Israel Lobby", Massing not only repeated the discredited and disreputabel claims of Walt/ Mearsheimer but added new attacks on his own. Nor was this an isolated instance of the New York Review of Books' hostility towards Israel. The New York Review of Books has also distorted the purpose of Campus Watch, a campus monitoring group that hopes to ensure honest and unbiased teaching regarding the Middle East. It also carried an article by Tony Judt that harshly criticized Israel, which he considers an "anachronism" that should, basically , be abolished. Now we can see why Mr.Danner was called as an "expert witness" for Baker's ISG

Mysterious last Minute Changes

There was criticism by some who participated in the proceedings that the potentially perilous item about the "right of return" was not well addressed during the deliberations, but somehow mysteriously appeared in the final report that was presented to the world.  This type of maneuver is well known in Washington, of course. Think of the Congressmen who slip earmarks into spending bills in the dead of night, with no discussion. They are usually inserted into appropriations bills and become law at the last minute, flying under the radar screen. A similar tactic seems to have been used here.

The author of the ISG was reportedly the Founding Director of none other than the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy: Edward Djerejian. He is a former Ambassador to Syria, a nation that would be rewarded under the ISG plan with the return of the Golan Heights and the expulsion of the Palestinians within its borders, as they would flood Israel under the "right of return"). He is also an Arabist, a man who has a proclivity to favor Arabs. Could he have been the person who slipped in the provision requiring Israel to accept a "right of return" (which contravenes US policy and that would mean the end of Israel)?

While many have criticized the ISG report for the delusions behind its idea of reaching a deal with Syria and Iran, and have called the report "dead on arrival", the chain of events behind its creation should not be ignored. While the Commission enjoyed the image of being bi-partisan and neutral, it became silly putty in the hands of the skillful James Baker and his minions. While the Commission was supposed to deal with Iraq, it turned its attention to Israel (despite the fact that only a few Israelis were involved in the deliberations, and they were peripheral).

The hopes of those wishing for a solution to the problems of Iraq were dashed when the report was subjected to analysis.

But the ISG recommendations were not the only displays of fantasy. The idea that a group dominated by James Baker could ever be neutral when dealing with Middle East issues was the height of fantasy. His titular role as Chairman was just the beginning. The working groups, the subalterns, who dominated the deliberations were composed to a great extent by people with an obsession that had very little to do with Iraq. Many of them were compromised by working for and having ties to organizations keen on pleasing the Saudis: Citigroup, the Middle East Institute, the Middle East Policy Council, and the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy. 

If the Iraq Study Group had cast a wider net for more reputable and respected experts would a more respectable plan been produced? Would a different leader been able to assemble more effective working groups? Would such a group been better able to create a  plan that reflected the values and principles of America rather than those of Arab dictators  responsible for so much hatred and harm throughout the world?

We will never know.

Ed Lasky is the News Editor of American Thinker.
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