Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III said Tuesday the United States should be prepared to change course in its foreign policy, and "we are doing just that in Iraq." A consistent foreign policy promotes stability, he said. "But when events change, we must be prepared to change with them."
Baker spoke in a lecture series at the Library of Congress just a few hours after the Bush administration, in a reversal, said it would join an Iraq-sponsored "neighbors meeting" with Iran and Syria.
Baker went further in his speech and a question-and-answer session, urging the administration to expand Mideast peacemaking efforts beyond Israel and the Palestinians to include Syria.
Israel needs peace on both fronts, he said, while Syria may be able to influence the Hamas militia to recognize Israel's right to exist, thereby removing a roadblock to peace talks.
At the same time, Baker said Syria must "stop screwing around" in Lebanon and stop transporting weapons to the Hezbollah militants there.
U.S. 'must be comfortable using our power'
Baker was co-chair of the Iraq Study Group, which in December recommended U.S. dialogue with Iran and Syria, a course the administration has resisted until now.
"We need to recognize and accept that the United States will sometimes have to deal with authoritarian states," he said.
Baker, who was secretary of state under President George H.W. Bush, outlined a policy he called "pragmatic idealism."
He said the United States "must be comfortable using our power" but also recognize that it has its limits.
"We have no alternative," Baker said. "If the United States does not exercise power, others will."
In a lecture dedicated to former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, who sat in the front row, Baker said other countries depend on U.S. leadership, particularly allies in Europe and East Asia.
But, Baker said, "we cannot be, even if we wanted to be, the policeman for the world.'
He cited Iraq as an example of the maxim that there are limits to U.S. military strength.
Baker, as secretary of state, organized the military coalition of European and Arab states that joined U.S. forces in the Gulf War of 1990-91 that liberated Kuwait from Iraqi annexation.