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Former Sec'y of State James Baker on Foley, Iraq, Bush vs. Reagan

This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," October 5, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Earlier today we sat down with former Secretary of State James Baker, who's the author of the new book "Work Hard, Study, and Keep out of Politics: Adventures and Perspectives from Unexpected Public Life."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEAN HANNITY: I'm reading your book and I'm really enjoying it, because I am the big Reagan fan. "Work Hard, Study, and Keep out of Politics". You know, it was brutal. People forget in the Reagan years when you guys were modernizing weaponry in Europe, when you were pursuing SDI, when he said peace through strength, that they're an evil empire, walked away from Reykjavik and said "tear down the wall."

You know what? A lot of people were pretty angry with him and reminds me a little bit of the anger towards President Bush now.

JAMES BAKER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: A lot of people were at that time. By the way, the title is if facetious, as you know, and what my grandfather used to tell young lawyers who came to the law firm you want to be a successful lawyer, you work hard, study and keep out of politics. People come to me all the time and why don't you take your grandfather's advice? If you can bat 6.66, that's not too bad. Two out of three ain't bad.

HANNITY: If you can see the similarities, because I think, you know, now Ronald Reagan, through the prism of history, is seen a lot differently than he was at the time. And my guess is that I think history can be pretty kind to President Bush for understanding the nature of the worst attack in American history and Islamic fascism.

BAKER: I think there's an extraordinarily good possibility of that. I hope that's true. I frankly would love to see the president veto a few spending bills. Ronald Reagan was pretty good on fiscal responsibility, and Gerry Ford spent a lot of time vetoing.

But I think you're right. I think there's a good possibility of that.

HANNITY: Let's talk a little bit about — you see even now politics personal destruction. As we sit here this very day here is a speaker of the house, Denny Hastert, I've interviewed him a number of times, by all accounts, in my view, pretty decent man. He says absolutely he knew nothing of what Congressman Foley is doing. You get one call for resignation after another. What are your thoughts on that?

BAKER: Well, I think politics has gotten extraordinarily ugly since I left it in '93 and through no fault of my own or no fault that it was better maybe when we were there. But that the system has changed.

Why is that? I think in part it's because divisiveness sells and comity doesn't. There's a great deal more competition in your business today than there used to be when I was doing politics for Gerry Ford and Ronald Reagan and the first George Bush. We had to deal with the Democratic Congress...

HANNITY: You had Tip O'Neill.

BAKER: We had Tip.

HANNITY: Rostenkowski.

BAKER: That's correct. We had to reach across the aisle. But in those days, you know — and I write about this — you could be adversaries without being enemies, and you could disagree agreeably. Today the politics in Washington is really ugly. It's almost a zero...

COLMES: Why is it so ugly today?

BAKER: Well, I don't know. One reason I think is, and I don't mean to suggest it's the media's fault — but there is greater competition today. There are more outlets. There's a rush to judgment. Divisiveness sells. Comity doesn't.

But also we had something that we've fortunately gotten rid of, called the independent council. I write a lot about that in here. Where it soon became apparent to politicians that the best way to win was to get your opponent indicted. And it was easy to do, and all you needed was one credible allegation. Fortunately, we've gotten rid of that.

COLMES: You're glad that's gone.

BAKER: Yes.

COLMES: Let me dive into the substance of the book. You've lived this history. You've been witness to so much that's gone on. And as we were just talking, Sean, you were talking about, for example, Iraq.

President Bush 41 didn't go into Baghdad because, as you point out in the book, he would have been viewed as a war of conquest in definite military occupation and fragmenting of the country. Many people believe that those very things are happening now because of George W. Bush doing what he did.

BAKER: Yes. When I left in '93, when we were involuntarily retired, I'd make speeches from time to time and the question that always came up, first question: why didn't you guys take care of Saddam in 1991?

Those questions are not asked of me anymore. They're not asked of President 41 either.

Having said all of that, and I make this clear in the book, things changed in the intervening 12 years. Saddam had thumbed his nose at a whole lot of other Security Council resolutions. Everybody in the world knew that he had weapons of mass destruction. France, Russia, the Clinton administration, everybody else. Turned out not to be true.

Regime change became the policy of the United States under the Bill Clinton administration, not under the George W. Bush administration. So there were a lot of reasons why we went in there that looked good at the time that may not look as good in retrospect.

But if we are successful, and the jury is still out whether we can succeed there, there is still a possibility of that. If we're successful in bringing representative government and more individual freedom to the countries and peoples of the Middle East, it will have been worth it. If we're not, then you can make the argument that it wasn't worth it.

COLMES: You believe that if Bush 41 had been president at this time would he have done the same thing that Bush 43 did?

BAKER: I can't answer that. That's too hypothetical. The only thing I'm pointing out to you, and I do that in some detail in this book, is that the circumstances changed a lot in the 12 years after we concluded we should not go to Baghdad and occupy that big Arab country.

Regime change became our policy. And a lot of things happened or didn't happen as far as what Saddam and Iraq did or didn't do.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HANNITY: We continue now with former secretary of state, James Baker.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HANNITY: Part of, I think, the wonder of Reagan, the spirit of Reagan, was his understanding, the spiritual side, his belief that America had a specific blessed destiny.

It seems clearly to me that that was factored into his policy and confrontation with the Soviet Union and the idea that it would topple itself. The fact that we through history now can see this, that we're able to do it without firing a shot, is fairly amazing.

Do you see a similarity that President Bush is depending on that same inclination in the Middle East starting in Iraq and that the whole region can be transformed.

BAKER: The answer is yes. Focus and emphasis on individual freedom, on the freedom to practice your religion, on democracy.

The difference may be that — and this may be just something in my own mind. You know, democracy has been a foundation principle of American foreign policy for a long, long time.

But not to the exclusion of everything else. You cannot have a foreign policy that is totally idealistic, nor should you have an American foreign policy that is totally pragmatic or national interest. You need to have a combination of both.

So I say, look, we ought to continue to promote democracy, but that doesn't mean that stability should be a bad word. It shouldn't be. You promote democracy as and when you can, but you don't do it necessarily at the sacrifice of stability. There needs to be a mix.

HANNITY: You think that delicate balance that you are discussing was thread the needle in Iraq? Or do you have disagreement that I'm hearing?

BAKER: No, I'm not really saying that. What I'm saying is I hear occasionally the administration knows this because I talk to them. And frankly and fortunately, I'm on really good terms with them.

The president calls me in, you know, any time I'm in Washington to call my secretary. Don't go through the bureaucracy. Come in and see me. And come in and we'll talk. All I'm really saying is that I do not agree when people say we need to focus entirely on democracy and not at all on stability. Stability.

HANNITY: Stability means let the status quo go?

BAKER: No, I don't mean that. I mean, do what we can to promote stability in a region or in a country. There's nothing wrong with stability. As a matter of real politic, you need to understand that you will never be able to support a foreign policy for the United States of America if you do not have the support of the American people.

And you cannot maintain that support when it is solely focused on principle, as opposed to national interest.

HANNITY: What you're saying, put it through this prism. Look at this conflict, we're engaged in battle against terrorism, worst attack in American history on 9/11.

BAKER: Absolutely.

HANNITY: But compare it to the battle against fascism or Nazism or totalitarianism in the former Soviet Union. And this is a very unique situation, breaking new ground here.

BAKER: Absolutely. And that's one of the reasons why I say to you that I'm not at all sure we wouldn't have done it exactly the same way as 43 has done it, because the situation changed — 9/11 came along. We're in — we found ourselves in a War on Terror.

Now I'm not suggesting that you compromise in any way or ease off in the War on Terror. But I guess what I'm saying is that we need the alliances that have historically supported the United States and our efforts around the world.

President Bush and Secretary Rice are doing everything they can here in this second term to repair those alliances. The fraying of those alliances was not just the fault of the United States.

I have had a lot of experience with the United Nations. And what the French did by not supporting — by announcing in advance that whatever America and the U.K. put on the table they were going to veto — was outrageous. That was outrageous conduct from a country that is supposed to be an ally.

COLMES: You were — during the Reagan/Bush years — known for shuttle diplomacy. That phrase was used a lot. Going back and forth between the Palestinians, between the Israelis.

BAKER: Yes.

COLMES: A level of engagement which some have said is not present today. Is this administration engaged enough with the people they should be talking to, to solve the kind of problems you're talking about?

BAKER: My view is that you don't just talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies, as well. And the diplomacy involves talking to your enemies.

You don't reward your enemies...

COLMES: Right.

BAKER: ... necessarily, by talking to them if you're tough and you know what you're doing. You don't appease them. Talking to an enemy is not, in my view, appeasement.

I made 15 trips to Syria in 1990-1991 at a time when Syria was on the list of countries who are state sponsors of terrorism. And the 16th trip, guess what? Lo and behold, Syria changed 25 years of policy and agreed for the first time in history to come sit at the table with Israel, which is what Israel wanted at the time. And, thereby, implicitly recognized Israel's right to exist.

Now, all I'm saying is that would never have happened if we hadn't been sufficiently dedicated that we were going to keep at it. And that's the only...

COLMES: You deserve a lot of credit for that, and I think the Bush 41 administration does. Is this administration as dedicated to that level of dialogue worldwide, to enable those kinds of relationships.

BAKER: I think the president gave a magnificent speech in 2002, when he said, "We — I have a vision of a Palestinian state and an Israeli nation living side by side securely in peace." And it would be good if we can get that vision implemented. I think that's what you're asking me.

Yes, it would be great if we could get that vision implemented. But I'm one who believes that you — I don't think it's appeasement to talk to someone who happens to be an enemy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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