Back to Baker

Back in the Saddle Again

It took longer than I expected, but President Bush is finally coming home, selecting a Texas crony of his father’s Secretary of State, James Baker, as Secretary of Defense. Eli Lake of The New York Sun explains the details. This decisions signals a move toward their realist, value-free, world of concessions, pragmatic dealmaking and wishful thinking.

I carry no brief for Donald Rumsfeld. He was way too cocky for too long. As Secretary of Defense, you can stifle the generals. But only if things go well. If things go South as they have in Iraq, you have a problem. Rumsfeld unnecessarily antagonized people — including members of his command staff — and oversaw a war in Iraq, which in the President’s words “is not working well enough, fast enough.”

I credit Rumsfeld for big picture vision. To his credit, I believe, Rumsfeld saw the scope of American enemies in an accurate fashion. Contrary to Baker and his ilk, Rumsfeld did not believe that business can be done with everyone and everyone has their price.

But in this world implementation and execution are just as important as vision. If the facts on the ground are bad, you are a failure. “You are,” as Bill Parcells used to like to say, “what your record says you are.” The errors and flaws of the planning for the Iraq War can be found in a number of sources, including Fiasco by Tom Ricks and Assassin’s Gate by George Packer.

So it doesn’t surprise me that Rumsfeld is gone. What does intrigue me is how long it took for President Bush to turn to his father’s team of advisers. Back in late-1998/early-1999, then-Governor Bush of Texas was basically a blank slate when it came to foreign policy. I had breakfast in the Mayflower Hotel one morning with somebody who ultimately emerged as a major “neocon” presence. (This was not unusual. Many of my sources back then were major neocons — but that’s another story.) He told me how a policy battle was being waged over Bush’s soul at that very moment. There was a very real fear that Baker et al were going to win the day.

I knew that wasn’t going to happen when late one night I started dialing hotels in Austin. And at the tenth attempt, I asked for Paul Wolfowitz. He answered the phone in his hotel room and told me he had to call me back. The rest is history.

Politically, Bush is going in a direction he has to travel. The pressure on him is too great. Here’s my prediction: the Baker approach isn’t going to get us any further than the prior approach. It will likely cause more problems with Iran and Syria down the line. Baker has always been a stickler, though, for implementation. Things indeed may look better…before they get worse.

Remember, we’re only control of half of this. Whether we take a bold, neocon approach or a pragmatic Baker approach or an isolationist/dovish approach, the terrorists and other enemy nations are going to do what they’re going to do, on their own timetable. Iran’s nuclear work, for example, is going to continue. My philosophical belief is that it’s better to challenge them, and that as much as they have exploited the situation in Iraq, they sense weakness. A defeat for America in Iraq will have dire consequences for the entire world.

Yes, it’s true, Rumsfeld should have planned better. It’s a dangerous world with Rumsfeld and without him.

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3 Responses to “Back to Baker”

  1. Leanne Says:

    Bush is such a dope – imagine bringing back James Baker for anything never mind Sect. of Defense. What a jerk – He’s only comfortable amongst his father’s pals. Imagine what an insecure man he is and yet tries to come off as very cocky.

  2. mark katz Says:

    As I see it, the problem now how do we continue the war. Many people I have spoken with regarding this resignation tend to beleive we will have a clear path to withdrawal. I am not necessarily for the war, but pulling out now could be more harmful to the greater good than beneficial. First, is Iraq’s military strong enough to contol the country? Second, how fractionalized are the people of Iraq?

    The terrorists will tout our withdrawal as a sign of weakness and a call to arms.

    I am not sure of the answer, but pulling out in the near future does not seem to be it.

    Your thoughts?

  3. Commenter Says:

    It’s easy to understand why , at that time, you may have been pleased Wolfowitz prevailed with Bush. But in retrospect , wouldn’t you have preferred the Baker faction to win earlier?

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