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World Affairs Council Bestows Honor on Controversial Policy-Makers

December 13, 2007
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Award recipients James A. Baker and Lee H. Hamilton
One year after the release of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group Report, the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia presented its highest honor to the two longtime Washington power brokers who led the commission.

That report had plenty to say not only about Iraq, but about Israel and its ongoing conflict both with the Palestinians and with Syria. The publication, in fact, prompted a debate in policy circles about what role America should play in the Middle East.

The recipients of the nonprofit organization's International Statesman Award were Democratic Congressman Lee H. Hamilton, who served on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and former U.S. Secretary of State and Secretary of the Treasury James A. Baker.

Baker -- a veteran of both the Reagan and elder Bush administrations -- has had a rocky history with the Jewish community.

During his tenure as Secretary of State under Bush, many Jewish groups and foreign-policy observers thought he conducted Mideast diplomacy with a pro-Arab tilt, often pressuring Israel to meet Palestinian demands.

When an unnamed Cabinet official warned that U.S. policy would erode Jewish support, Baker reportedly replied, "F-- the Jews." In fact, in 1992, Jews gave the elder Bush the lowest percentage of support for a GOP candidate since Barry Goldwater in 1964.

'Exemplary Leadership'

The World Affairs Council offers its International Statesman Award to a person who has demonstrated exceptional leadership.

Other recipients have included peacemakers such as Anwar Sadat, Mikhail Gorbachev, Yitzhak Rabin, King Hussein of Jordan, along with others like Margaret Thatcher and Bono, the rock singer known for his work on poverty and African debt.

"We feel that they embody the award," said Claudia McBride, president of the council, adding that, in the case of the current recipients, the honor was given out partly as a recognition of lifetime achievement, and partly for their work on the commission.

"They displayed exemplary bipartisan leadership during an era of increased polarization," said McBride.

The Iraq Study Group was mandated by Congress in early 2006 to solve what was increasingly being seen as a nearly intractable problem.

The report offered nearly 80 remedies for the American effort in Iraq. The most controversial elements included a call for the United States to scale down its military presence there.

In actuality, President George W. Bush pursued the opposite strategy -- a troop surge.

In addition, the report called for the United States to engage in bilateral talks with Syria and Iran, a recommendation Bush has also resisted. The issue of whether or not to engage with Iran has become a growing point of contention among the current crop of presidential contenders, Democrat and Republican alike.

The bipartisan commission also called on the government to restart the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process. It reiterated the land-for-peace formula as a means to solve the conflict. The report also said that Israel should return the Golan Heights to Syria in exchange for peace.

While many cheered the findings, the critics also came out.

"... One wonders how exactly the Iraqi civil war would be ended by pleasing the Palestinian Arabs," wrote Daniel Pipes, founder of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum in the Dec. 12, 2006, issue of The New York Sun. "In all, the Iraq Study Group Report offers a unique combination of bureaucratic caution, false bipartisanship, trite analysis, and conventional bromides," added the columnist.

Reached by e-mail, Pipes -- now a member of GOP candidate Rudy Giuliani's foreign-policy team -- said "the invitation to Syria to participate at Annapolis suggests some lingering influence for the line of thought manifested in the study-group report."

At the awards ceremony, held at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel, Hamilton and Baker avoided specifics on Iraq, Iran or Israel: Each instead outlined his overall approach to foreign affairs.

"We are fully capable of circumscribing terrorism's scope and scale in ways that will allow us to continue to enjoy our freedom," said Baker, a graduate of the Hill School in Pottstown, Pa.

Hamilton, the former Indiana representative, argued that the United States needs to revamp its image in the developing world and revitalize its alliances.

"When it comes to nation-building, we have to recognize the limitations of military power," said Hamilton, who now directs the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. "Unilateralism should never be our preferred course of action."

During the question-and-answer session, moderator Brian Tierney -- publisher of The Philadelphia Inquirer -- asked the two if American foreign policy had, in the aftermath of 9/11, become too focused on terrorism.

"I think it still remains the No. 1 foreign policy and security challenge facing our policy-makers," replied Baker.

Hamilton, who also served on the 9/11 commission, said that American policy has, indeed, become too centered on one issue: "There are so many challenges out there that I don't think we are dealing with as aggressively as we should."

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