The Green Lecture series at Westminster College in Fulton has featured Presidents and Prime Ministers over the past 52 years. It’s delivered from the same stage from which Winston Churchill gave his famous “Iron Curtain” speech.
This year it featured James Baker, the Chief of Staff for President Reagan and the Secretary of State under the first President Bush. He was also a member of groups examining aspects of the war in Iraq this decade.
Baker, with his extensive experience in American foreign policy, used the occasion to lay out 10 “maxims” for the use of America’s power on global challenges.
“My first maxim is that the United State must be comfortable with using its power. Isolationism and disengagement are simply not options because if we don’t exercise power, others who do not believe the way that we do will exercise power,” Baker said.
He quickly followed with his second maxim, however, that we must recognize that the United States’ power is limited.
“We cannot be the policemen for the world and we should not expected to be. As a democracy, the exercise of American power is constrained by the ability of our leaders to generate and sustain domestic political support. As powerful as we are, we cannot solve every problem in the world,” Baker said.
His third and fourth maxims went hand-in-hand. He said America must be prepared to act unilaterally when necessary, but also appreciate the use of allies in foreign engagement.
His fifth maxim was that the government must use all means at its disposal to achieve objectives. Sixth was recognizing that when one course of action is not producing results, the U.S. must be prepared to change course.
“A predeccesor of mine who gave this lecture some time ago, Reinhold Niebuhr, wrote, ‘great nations are too strong to be destroyed by their foes but they can easily be overcome by their own pride,” Baker said.
Baker said his seventh and eighth maxims may be tough for Americans. He said we must recognize and accept that the U.S. will sometimes have to deal with authoritarian regimes, because not every country is a democracy and he ‘doesn’t see that changing anytime soon.” He also says we need to be prepared to talk to our enemies.
“Talking to a hostile government, whether it was Moscow during the Cold War or Damascus or Tehran today, is not appeasement. Don’t let anybody tell you it is. It was and still is good foreign policy provided you know what you’re doing, and you’re tough,” Baker said.
The ninth maxim is that leaders must be mindful that values are important to the formulation and implementation of U.S. policy. But it cannot be the only factor. That led into his final charge… that domestic political support is vital to foreign policy.
“Generating and sustaining domestic political support for foreign policy is in every way as important as the policy itself if you don’t want to lose that policy. Without that support, specific policies risk repudiation at the polls, or worse, public disenchantment with foreign engagement in general,” Baker said.
Baker his maxims are not meant to be used a checklist, but rather to help produce a mindset of how to approach American foreign policy.
The section of his speech discussing the maxims begins at the 13:00 mark.
Baker also took questions from students following the lecture, which covered a number of specific topics such as the war in Afghanistan, nuclear disarmament in Iran, peace talks in the Middle East.