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Wednesday, December 20, 2006
The Iraq Study Group Article--A Deeper Look

I linked to this article yesterday because at first glance it made some very telling points against the Iraq Study Group. But as I looked into it a little deeper, I discovered that the article is not as compelling as it might seem. For example, consider this segment:

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).

Okay, those are three pretty imperious commands that if true would go a long way towards proving an anti-Israel, pro-Saudi bias. Are they true?

As Wayne Gretzky once said, "No". Certainly the report does suggest negotiating with the Palestinians; that's fairly non-controversial. But the other two items are just plain wrong. The Golan Heights is indeed mentioned in the report:

Hmmm, "should" is in there, and "must" is not.

The Right of Return?

Once again, we see the word "should" and not the word "must", and in this case it's even softened further by the idea that the Right of Return is to be negotiated.

There is a subtle innuendo to the article that is disturbing. For example, consider this:

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.

Translation: I don't have any actual evidence that the Saudis funded it, but they may have.

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.

That Baker and Botts has offices in Riyadh and Dubai is interesting, but hardly dispositive. Being a Houston-based law firm, Baker and Botts specializes in legal matters related to oil companies; surely some of those legal matters are common to other oil-producing areas. Baker and Botts may have defended Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, but the evidence that he helped finance the 9-11 attacks is pretty slim (mostly pushed by Michael Moore), and the lawsuit was thrown out.

Much of the other evidence compiled by Lasky falls into the same category. Two Citibank employees are tarred by association with the largest Citibank shareholder, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia. We then get a recitation of Prince Alaweed's bad acts, including funding Harvard and Georgetown Universities and investing in Ruppert Murdoch's News Corp. Yes, he was the Saudi whose check Rudy Giuliani refused when he tried to tie the 9-11 attacks to America's support of Israel.

Don't get me wrong; I am sure that a lot of the people involved with this commission have anti-Israel views. And it is legitimate to point this out, for example in the instance I cited yesterday:

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 is of a conspiratorial mind-set: also claiming that the U.S. motivation for Iraq's liberation was a grab for oil.

Something of a kook, in other words. I do think that Lasky should have noted that it was an ABC News Australia interview, but that's a quibble. But how about these examples:

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.

But as he admits, Lasky has no evidence for the Saudi benefactors, so it's all supposition.

Although I don't support the Iraq Study Group or their recommendations, I cannot support this article either.

An aside: While researching this matter last night I was checking on the James A. Baker Institute, and its connection with Rice University, and came across this fascinating little story about the Bakers and Rice:

On May 13,1891, Massachusetts-born businessman William Marsh Rice chartered the William Marsh Rice Institute for the Advancement of Letters, Science, and Art as a gesture to the city of Houston, where he had made his fortune. The terms of the charter required that work on the new institute would begin only after Rice's death. However, unforeseen circumstances almost prevented its very founding.

In 1896, William Marsh Rice's wife died, leaving a will which claimed half of Rice's 5.6 million dollar estate. The claim was challenged; but while this process was moving through the court system, William Marsh Rice was murdered on September 23, 1900, by his valet, Charlie Jones. Jones had conspired with an unscrupulous lawyer, Albert Patrick, to kill Rice and claim his estate by using a forged will.

When an autopsy ordered by Rice's attorney, Captain James A. Baker, revealed evidence of poisoning, Jones agreed to provide state's evidence against Patrick in return for immunity from prosecution. Patrick was convicted of murder and sent to Sing Sing in 1901 (although pardoned in 1912). Captain Baker's quick action and the favorable legal resolution in 1904 of the claim against Rice's estate cleared the way for the Institute to fulfill its charter's mandate.

Of course, Captain Baker is James Baker III's grandfather.
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