Honorary chair James A. Baker, III, discussed the national debt, the Middle East, and the future of the Republican Party in a wide-ranging interview Sunday (Dec. 9) with CNN"s Fareed Zakaria.
As the fiscal cliff approaches, it"s crucial for the top levels of both parties to have "a serious, confidential, substantial negotiation" on the budget, Baker said. The parties ought to agree that everything from entitlements to defense spending is on the table, and that the talks will be held "in confidence behind closed doors ... It makes it extraordinarily difficult to try to do it in the public domain because they"re just jousting with each other -- each side is repeating its campaign talking points," Baker said.
If taxes are raised as part of a grand bargain, "you could provide that they would be rescinded automatically in the event that you exceeded [an agreed-to] cap on spending-to-GDP," he added.
Looking ahead to the future of the Republican Party, Baker said that "it"s important that we be seen to be the party of hope, optimism and opportunity instead of the party of doom and gloom ... We need to appeal to those voter groups that we had trouble with. We need to appeal to all minority voters and particularly Hispanic and Asian voters. We need to have a credible and comprehensive immigration plan that we can put forth out there. We need to talk about urban issues and face the fact that we didn't get the votes we needed from urban areas. We didn"t get the votes and don"t get the votes we need from women. Therefore, we need to focus on our economic conservatism more than our social conservatism, because a lot of those issues cut against us in the general election."
Baker also discussed the turmoil in the Middle East, noting that President Obama is under increasing pressure to intervene militarily in Syria. "That would be the worst thing in the world we can do, in my opinion," Baker said. "We should support the Syrian opposition politically, diplomatically and economically, but not militarily because that"s a slippery slope once you get into it ... the policy the administration is following in Syria is absolutely the right policy to follow. I think the American people are going to be demand more and more that there be a significant national interest involved before we engage militarily around the world."
However, if the administration"s approach to Iran -- which includes covert actions and sanctions that Baker called "absolutely the right policy" -- does not prevent Iran from expanding its nuclear program, "we have to do what we have to do," Baker said. "We cannot let Iran have a nuclear weapon -- not because of the threat so much to Israel, the United States or our moderate allies in the region, but because of the proliferation that will cause. Everybody will then have to have a weapon, and they've got the capability financially and scientifically of acquiring it."