A man who knew presidents

Norman Bailey and his wife, Barbara, made aliya in 2011.

Norman and Barbara Bailey (photo credit: Courtesy)
Norman and Barbara Bailey
(photo credit: Courtesy)
After having worked in the office of the National Security Adviser of one US president, and with the director of national intelligence for another, doesn’t life in south Netanya seem a little tame, I ask Norman Bailey, who made aliya with his wife, Barbara, in 2011.
“Not at all, we love it here,” answers the 87-year-old economist who held senior positions in both the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations and knew both presidents well.
The Baileys came on a pilot trip and originally made aliyah to Zichron Ya’acov.
“It seemed our ideal place from the point of view of location and size so we rented a house and stayed for five years,” says Bailey. “In 2016 we decided we’d had enough, as Zichron is lovely but can be quite boring – and we moved to Netanya, which we love – it’s a cosmopolitan city with a lot happening yet it has all the attractions of a resort town by the sea.”
They joined the South Netanya Ashkenazi Congregation and have made many friends. They feel fate played a large part in their arriving there.
“During our investigatory visit to Netanya we were on our way to a Sephardi synagogue we had been told about, but we met an Anglo-looking gentleman and asked him if he knew of another synagogue. He told us about SNAC. We fell in love – with the people, the rabbi and the community. We never saw him again and Barbara is convinced he was an angel sent to direct us.”
Bailey is not someone who can sit and twiddle his thumbs, and when he came to Netanya he had four jobs set up. The first two were co-authoring and editing a monograph on defense and security budgeting in democracies and as professor in the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa.
The third job was as head of economics in a project by the Jewish-Arab Center of the University of Haifa to integrate the different ethnic communities of Acre; and the fourth was teaching at the Israel National Defense College in Herzliya.
He had just started work when a catastrophe happened and his aorta ruptured.
“It’s fatal in 90% of cases so it’s a miracle I survived,” he says. For months he was unable to work but finally completed job No. 1. Later he was able to continue with the other jobs. He ascribes his recovery to the skill of his doctors and, even more, the dedicated care of his wife.
He continues to write, contributing a regular column to Globes in English and another monthly column in the Asia Times. He also writes in several other US publications.
As he had been close to Reagan and Bush, talking to Bailey seemed an ideal opportunity to get some off-the-cuff quotes from both of them, and sure enough he is full of anecdotes.
“It was an unmitigated pleasure to work for Reagan,” he says. “He was a warm, sympathetic, amusing, charismatic decisive person.”
For some reason, Bailey was charged with informing Reagan of the Sabra and Shatilla massacre in 1982.
“His eyes teared up,” recalls Bailey. “Didn’t the Israelis do anything?” he asked.
“Apparently not, Mr. President,” answered Bailey.
“Oh that’s terrible,” said Reagan.
He was also present when Reagan was informed that the Israelis had bombed the Iraqi reactor.
“He asked a few questions – why did they do it, was it successful,” recalls Bailey. “Then – a long pause – and he said ‘Well, boys will be boys.’”
He also knew Henry Kissinger quite well and says the pronounced German accent was put on in public. Privately he maintains that Kissinger spoke perfect English.
Kissinger wanted to reach détente with the Soviets but Reagan thought this was nonsense. When asked, while still governor, what his policy would be vis-à-vis the Russians, he said “We win, they lose.”
“He was ridiculed for that – but he was right,” says Bailey.
Bush was “a likable human being” according to Bailey but came under bad influences, which caused him to go to war with Iraq for no reason as there were no WMD.
“It was a personal vendetta,” he says. “Saddam Hussein had tried to have the elder Bush assassinated.
“The invasion of Iraq was handled atrociously, has cost hundreds of billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives, and the country is still a bloody mess,” he says.
Bailey’s father was a very distinguished neuroscientist, Percival Bailey, who was the first person to classify tumors of the brain, as well as identifying and describing Cushing’s disease. His mother was born in Constantinople and descended from Jews who left Spain in the 1492 expulsion.
“I had a very happy childhood and I can’t imagine having more wonderful parents,” he says.
His first wife and mother of his four children died in a car crash in 1994. He spent several years as a widower until he met Barbara, a prominent attorney, at the University Club in Washington. They married in 2001.
Today the Baileys live in a charming apartment that looks out over the Mediterranean, and Norman is always busy – writing articles, contributing to books, lecturing and consulting and, of course, remembering some of the outstanding events of a long and fruitful life.