Monday, October 09, 2006

Enter the Grownups, Stage Right....

In my dreams, I am President. And I frequently assemble whom my actual cabinet and kitchen cabinet would be. I'd have to have Newt in a closet to come out and spar and provide some creativity -- as long as I could put him back in a closet. I'd keep a toe on the conventional and have David Gergen somewhere (four presidents can't be wrong). And I'd have to have this guy, James Baker, somewhere in the picture.

In Baker we have probably the best Secretary of State of the past 45 years. His assemblage of the coalition for Desert Storm was a masterpiece in diplomacy and persuasion, in stark, glaring contrast to the pretend coalition put together for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Is Baker slimy? Yep, he's slick, way slicker than Bill Clinton. He engineered a Presidency out of the Florida mess of hanging chads, butterfly ballots, and the busted voting machines as a gift to his long-time partner, George H. W. Bush. And a like a Corvette given to a 16 year-old boy, the father and the salesman have had second thoughts about the amount of power and muscle they jointly conveyed to a reckless pig-head.

And so now, the consummate fixer, like Henry Clay in the twilight of his career and life making his third successful attempt to keep the country from going to war in 1850, Baker is back for one, probably last, fix of a nation in crisis.

Yesterday, he spoke to George Stephanopolous as covered here by the NYTimes:
James A. Baker III , the Republican co-chairman of a bipartisan commission assessing Iraq strategy for President Bush, said today that he expected the group to depart from Mr. Bush’s call to “stay the course.”

In an interview on the ABC News program “This Week,” Mr. Baker said, “I think it’s fair to say our commission believes that there are alternatives between the stated alternatives, the ones that are out there in the political debate, of ‘stay the course’ and ‘cut and run.’ ”

Mr. Baker, who served Mr. Bush’s father as secretary of state and White House chief of staff, did explicitly reject a rapid withdrawal from Iraq, which he said would only invite Iran, Syria and “even our friends in the gulf” to fill the power vacuum.

While heading the commission, Mr. Baker has been talking to President Bush regularly and is unlikely to issue suggestions that the president has not tacitly approved. The independent panel was requested by Congress. Today, he was asked about statements last week by the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Senator John W. Warner of Virginia, who said Iraq was “drifting sideways” and urged consideration of a “change of course” if the Iraqi government cannot restore order in two or three months.

Asked if he agreed with that timetable, Mr. Baker said: “Yes, absolutely. And we’re taking a look at other alternatives.”

What really got my attention in the interview was Baker's rather plain account of telling the world that Junior has it quite wrong when it comes to diplomatic chess:

I believe in talking to your enemies,” he said in an interview on the ABC News program “This Week,” noting that he made 15 trips to Damascus, the Syrian capital, while serving Mr. Bush’s father as secretary of state.

“It’s got to be hard-nosed, it’s got to be determined,” Mr. Baker said. “You don’t give away anything, but in my view, it’s not appeasement to talk to your enemies.”

Watch for the Baker Commission to make its move right after the election. And watch for most of the presidential candidates of both parties to try to grab the Baker-Hamilton-(Warner) baton first.