Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A proud and arrogant man, James Baker once thought of running for president, decided to stake his posthumous reputation on his standing as a "statesman", and by all accounts lives in terror of being best remembered as a fixer. During the glory days of George H. W. Bush's 1988 presidential campaign, he was the trusted consigliere. (George Junior, the blunt-witted, bullying Sonny of the family, who those who've never heard of Neil Bush often mistake for Fredo, served as his father's one-man good squad.) When the 2000 election went off the rails in Florida, it was Baker who was called in to ensure that the election wouldn't ultimately go to the candidate with the most votes but the one who, as they say on America's Next Top Model, was "fierce" and "wanted it more." After George Junior got the appointment to the highest office in the land, Bill Clinton felt compelled to tell Baker, as one smooth operator to another, "You were damn good in Florida." (He also felt compelled to add that he never would have gotten the chance to prove how good he could be if Al Gore hadn't listened to the media babble about "Clinton fatigue" and turned his secret weapon loose to roil the troops for him, and I'd like to think that's true.)

Baker has a memoir out. At one point, he writes, on the subject of the first Iraq War:

"For years, the question I was most often asked about Desert Storm is why we did not remove Saddam Hussein from power...If Saddam were captured and his regime toppled, American forces would still have been confronted with the specter of a military occupation of indefinite duration to pacify a country and sustain a government in power. The ensuing urban warfare would surely have resulted in more casualties to American GIs than the war itself, thus creating a political firestorm at home. And as much as Saddam's neighbors wanted to see him gone, they feared Iraq would fragment in unpredictable ways that would play into the hands of the mullahs in Iran, who could export their brand of Islamic fundamentalism with the help of Iraq's Shiites and quickly transform themselves into a dominant regional power... As events have amply demonstrated, these concerns were valid. I am no longer asked why we did not remove Saddam in 1991!"

Two things are remarkable about this passage: one is its source, and the other is how nakedly--how blatantly--it points to current events as a face-saving example of how much smarter Baker is than the family dumbass he helped install in office. If Baker has any remorse over his role in giving us President Myshkin, he keeps it to himself; and I doubt that he has such powers of clairvoyance that he wanted Junior to become president because he knew that he would end up making him, and everyone else who's served in the white House since at least Herbert Hoover, look so much better by comparison. But it does put his work in the Iraq Study Group, and the widespread speculative that he was encouraged by the family to go in there and save an ungrateful Junior from himself, in a different light. If Baker knew as far back as when he was writing his book that the current President Bush can only be of use to burnish his own reputation, then he's probably well aware--leaving the Bushes themselves are the last people who aren't aware-- that Junior is past the point where he can be fixed.

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