- The Washington Times - Friday, April 15, 2005

A protracted U.S. military presence in Iraq is unavoidable due to insurgent attacks that are likely to continue until a permanent government is in place, according to former Secretary of State James A. Baker III.

Civil war remains a remote but real possibility in Iraq, Mr. Baker told an audience of about 700 Thursday night at the University of Maryland’s annual Anwar Sadat Lecture for Peace.

But Mr. Baker — who served as secretary of state during the 1991 Persian Gulf War — also said that Iraq was making real progress toward self-rule.

He said the Jan. 30 elections there were a strong sign that the country was moving toward democracy.

“The purple finger just might replace the car bomb as the most effective agent of change in Iraq,” he said, referring to the ink-stained fingers that many Iraqis proudly displayed to the press during elections on Jan. 30.

Mr. Baker spoke out in favor of decisive unilateral action.

“We should not forget that the surest and best test of a great power is the ability to act unilaterally to protect its vital interests — when that is required,” he said.

Mr. Baker, who served under the first President Bush, was a leading architect of the 34 nation alliance that ousted Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991.

He is a special envoy for the current Bush administration and assigned the job of persuading other nations to forgive Iraqi debts.

Lt. Col. Barry Venable, a Pentagon spokesman, said there is indeed no deadline for U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq. “The secretary [of defense], the president, the commanders involved are all on the record numerous times as stating that this is a long, hard process,” Col. Venable said in a phone interview yesterday.

James Carafano, senior fellow for homeland security at the Heritage Foundation, disagreed with Mr. Baker’s assumption that persistent violence in Iraq meant that U.S. troops would have to stay.

“A persistent insurgency is interesting, but could be irrelevant,” Mr. Carafano said. “There are lots of functioning states that have chronic terrorism.”

He cited Northern Ireland, Israel and India as examples. “The metric for success is the ability for the government to protect and sustain itself,” he said.

Mr. Baker’s speech, part of a lecture series honoring Mr. Sadat the assassinated Egyptian president and statesman, remained optimistic.

Toppling Saddam Hussein had already created a domino effect toward democracy in the Middle East, he said.

He also praised the liberating power of new information technologies and their ability to bypass the censorship imposed by oppressive regimes.

“Satellite television and the Internet very well could be the voice of democracy for the Middle East,” he said.

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