James A. Baker III
Secretary of State

Baker has been called a “blank slate” on the Middle East, although he was Reagan’s chief of staff when the US-Israeli “strategic relationship” flowered, and was responsible for pushing through Congress the $8.5 billion AWACS sale to Saudi Arabia in 1981. In 1985, Treasury Secretary Baker teamed with Budget Director David Stockman to stall State Department efforts to increase military assistance to Israel by $400 million. On his first trip to Europe as Secretary of State in mid-February, Baker urged European officials to “be a little cautious” in their efforts to promote Arab-Israeli peace negotiations. In March Baker said Israel “may” eventually have to talk with the PLO, while restating US opposition to an independent Palestinian state.

Lawrence Eagleburger
Deputy Secretary of State

A 27-year veteran of the State Department, Pentagon and National Security Council, Eagleburger returns to State after four years as president of Kissinger Associates. After serving as Carter’s ambassador to Yugoslavia, “Henry’s hatchet man” took the third-ranking position of undersecretary of state for political affairs during the Reagan administration. Eagleburger was an influential proponent of increased US-Israeli “strategic cooperation” after the 1983 bombing in Beirut of the Marine barracks. He was also US liaison for bilateral covert activities outside the Middle East with Israeli Foreign Ministry Director-General David Kimche, who orchestrated the early Israeli involvement in the Iran-contra scheme.

Dennis Ross
Director of State Department Policy Planning Staff

After covering Arab-Israeli issues for Reagan&rqsuo;s NSC, Ross was senior fellow at the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the Bush campaign’s chief foreign policy adviser. As director of policy planning, Ross will oversee the production of position papers, special studies and speeches by senior State Department officials.

John Kelly
Assistant Secretary of State for the Near East

Kelly’s Middle East experience is limited to several years as ambassador in Lebanon. One former colleague described him as “innocent of any knowledge of the Middle East except for that imparted by Maronite Christians.” In the Iran-contra scandal, Kelly kept the State Department in the dark about the frequent Beirut visits by Oliver North and Richard Secord. His appointment indicates that Eagleburger and Ross will exert the greatest influence on Middle East policy formulations.

Brent Scowcroft
National Security Adviser

A retired air force lieutenant general and a Kissinger deputy in the Nixon national security council, Scowcroft was a key conduit between Henry Kissinger and the Israelis during the October war of 1973. He became the national security adviser to President Ford after Kissinger moved to State, and was vice chairman of Kissinger Associates from 1982 to 1988. Scowcroft, along with Edmund Muskie and John Tower, was a member of the Tower Commission, which inexplicably cleared Vice President Bush of any culpable involvement in Iran-contra.

Robert Gates
Deputy National Security Adviser

Gates spent two decades at the CIA rising to the number two position there, but his nomination to succeed William Casey as director of the CIA foundered when the extent of his involvement in the Iran-contra scheme became known. Gates’ other notable contribution to Middle East policy occurred in 1985, when he drew up a plan for a joint US-Egyptian operation against Libya in order “to redraw the map of North Africa.” The State Department vetoed the idea on the grounds that it would put tremendous strains on the Mubarak government.

Peter Rodman
National Security Counselor and Special Assistant to the President

A former Kissinger student, Rodman became personal secretary to Nixon’s national security adviser in 1969, in charge of his personal memoirs. After a stint as director of research for Kissinger Associates, Rodman served with the State Department’s Policy Planning Council under Reagan and was its director from 1984-1986. There Rodman promoted from the inside what Kissinger was touting publicly: that the US should bolster Israeli military power to counter Syria in Lebanon and Soviet influence in the region, leading to the November 1983 “strategic relationship” agreement.

How to cite this article:

Steve Niva "Primer: The Bush Team," Middle East Report 158 (May/June 1989).

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