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December 18, 2008

James A. Baker III, ’57, speaks at UT Law event

Photo of James A. Baker, III

James A. Baker III, ’57

Friends and admirers of James A. Baker III recently donated $1 million to endow the James A. Baker III Chair in the Rule of Law and World Affairs. Baker, a 1957 graduate of UT Law, served as White House Chief of Staff and then Secretary of the Treasury during the administration of President Ronald Reagan, and as Secretary of State during President George H.W. Bush’s administration. At a recent black tie dinner honoring Law School donors, Baker spoke on the current state of international law and the American political scene. He was introduced by Joe Jamail, ’52. His remarks at that event are published here in full.

Thank you, Joe, for that generous introduction.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is special honor to have an endowed chair named after me at this illustrious law school, where the last three generations of James A. Bakers earned their law degrees and where I gained valuable skills that influenced my private and public careers. I have a special place in my heart for this institution, my alma mater, and I would like to thank everyone who contributed to make this chair possible.

But I want you to know that I feel very lucky that you agreed to name this chair for me when you did. If you had postponed your decision until after the stock market tumbled, you might have had to call it the James A. Baker III “Folding” Chair in the Rule of Law and World Affairs.

By the way, I am really impressed with the things on this campus named after Joe Jamail.

There is the football field, a swimming pool, a handful of endowed Law School chairs, a pavilion, an academic room, a legal research center, and who knows what else.

Sometimes I wonder if “Bevo” isn’t Lebanese for “Jamail.”

Of course, the truth is, few are as deserving of recognition as Joe Jamail. His life story—rising from working in his parents’ grocery store to become one of the world’s most admired (and feared) lawyers—is a testament to the fact that through hard work, generosity, and a lionhearted nature, you can accomplish great things in our country.

It helps, of course, to have been a Marine!

Joe, thank you for all that you have done for Texas, and especially for providing me with a wonderful friendship for so many years.

Ladies and gentlemen, I welcome the idea that a chair named after me is dedicated to the “Rule of Law” and “World Affairs” because I believe that the United States cannot play an effective role in the latter without a firm grasp of the former.

And so tonight, I would like to focus on one aspect of the rule of law—international law—because the global landscape is changing, perhaps more rapidly than ever before. As a result, there is a greater interdependency between nations as we face serious global challenges. These challenges include, but are not limited to: international terrorism, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, climate change, mass migrations of workers, a demand for resources, and economic stability.

Despite predictions that American influence is waning, we continue to be the great nation that has provided the premier leadership role on the world stage since the Cold War ended. Other countries are catching up—notably China and India. But today and for the foreseeable future, no country can match us in terms of military power, economic clout, diplomatic reach, and most importantly, the strength of our principles and values.

Having said that, however, we cannot go it alone when tackling those global challenges I mentioned, and we should not try. Neither the United States nor even a group of developed countries has the wherewithal to effectively address them. It will take the sustained cooperation of many nations who understand that in this age of globalization the problems of the world do not stop at borders.

And that means that the rule of law—as established through international law—must be an essential reference point for U.S. diplomacy. Many aspects of our existence on this earth are grounded in real agreements among nations—everything from safe passage on the sea to the security of international financial transactions. These are essential to a just international order.

Of course, that international order is sometimes shattered by horrors such as the Holocaust or the barbarity of an individual aggressor. This does not, however, constitute proof that international law is meaningless—no more than an unsolved theft constitutes proof that there is no such thing as a law prohibiting it.

International law—as it affects global politics—is a concept that seems in dire need of a bridge between the theoretical and the practical.

As both a diplomat and a lawyer, I find it unfortunate that the two sides so frequently talk past one another.

Some see international law as a “soft” discipline with little practical application, or alternatively, as undesirably restricting a state’s ability to act in its own self interest. Others see power politics as brutish, a poor substitute for the stabilizing effects of law.

What is needed is a realistic approach that pragmatically recognizes the country’s needs without compromising its ideological strength. This is true for many aspects of American policy, both domestic and international.

And it is especially true with respect to the effect of the rule of law on world affairs.

Finally, ladies and gentlemen, let me say a few words about the recent election.

Although, as everybody knows, I am a dyed-in-the-wool Republican who supported John McCain, I think [November 4, 2008] was a proud moment for our nation when an inspirational American gave his acceptance speech as the President-elect of the United States of America.

Our belief that “all men are created equal” rings a little truer tonight than it did Monday.

In January, we will have a new president, a new Congress, and hopefully, a new attitude that can bridge the red state-blue state divide that splits America.

Senator Obama’s biggest challenge will be to help our country get beyond the political dysfunction that has too often prevented us from working as a unified nation. And the best way to do that, I believe, is to govern from the pragmatic center of our polity rather than from one ideological extreme or another.

Senator Obama, of course, will feel pressure from members of his own party who want to carry the country more to the left. That is to be expected.

But he has demonstrated a capacity for inclusion as well as being his own man. Should he govern from the center, Senator Obama will find that there are Democrats and many Republicans who are ready to work together to solve the difficult problems that confront us.

In the end, that is what Americans most want.

Thank you for this honor, God bless you, and may God bless our great nation.