Desperate Bush calls Baker in: Feared political operator is moved from State Department to rescue President's campaign

IN AN implicit admission of the depth of his difficulties in the US election, President George Bush yesterday took the much-heralded but none the less dramatic step of appointing James Baker as his White House Chief of Staff, removing him from his post as Secretary of State in charge of foreign policy.

Mr Baker, in an emotional farewell address, told State Department staff that agreeing to leave had been 'the most difficult decision of my life'. He will replace the current Chief of Staff, Samuel Skinner, on 23 August, directly after next week's Republican Party convention in Houston.

Stepping in as acting Secretary of State at least until the November election will be Mr Baker's current deputy, Lawrence Eagleburger, a long-serving and widely respected diplomat who has considerable experience both in the Middle East and in former Yugoslavia.

Mr Skinner, who took over from John Sununu as Chief of Staff only nine months ago, moves down and sideways to be 'general chairman' of the Republican National Committee.

Mr Bush's troubles were highlighted by a fresh ABC-Washington Post poll yesterday showing the Democrat nominee, Bill Clinton, still maintaining a huge lead over the President, in spite of a tirade of Republican attacks against him in recent days. The poll gave him 60 per cent against 34 per cent for Mr Bush. The gap between them was slighter narrower in a second poll for CNN, giving Mr Clinton and Mr Bush 56 per cent and 37 per cent respectively

In an expression of confidence, Mr Clinton admitted that his campaign staff have begun studying the likely make-up of a Clinton administration. 'I owe it to the American people to be ready,' he said in an interview with USA Today, adding that he would favour having both Democrats and Republicans in his cabinet.

In a brief press statement at the White House, Mr Bush applauded Mr Baker's achievements as Secretary of State since 1989, a period that saw the collapse of the Soviet empire, the unification of Germany and the quelling of war in Central America. 'He's the sort of man you want on your team,' the President concluded.

From his new position, Mr Baker is expected to take virtually full command of the Bush-Quayle campaign and White House operations until the November election. A feared political strategist, Mr Baker responded to a similar cry for help from Mr Bush mid- way through the 1988 race with Michael Dukakis, abandoning his post as Treasury Secretary to become campaign chief.

The White House will attempt to emphasise Mr Baker's recent role in bringing change to the rest of the world and present him as the man best able to help Mr Bush to engineer change in America - a winning election theme hitherto commandeered by Mr Clinton. 'He knows about change,' Mr Bush said. 'He will help me build on what we have started by developing an integrated second-term programme of domestic, economic and foreign policies.'

Mr Bush came under swift attack from the Democrats, who accused him of acting out of desperation and sacrificing the country's foreign policy concerns to escape humiliation. 'Bush and Quayle are in a state of political panic,' remarked Mr Clinton's running mate, Al Gore. 'They're throwing everything, including the kitchen sink, into their political quest.'

Mr Clinton last night attacked the administration's foreign policy, arguing that Mr Bush had failed to recognise the changed world situation since the end of the Cold War or to determine what course the US should take. 'I do not believe he has a complete vision of this new era,' he asserted in his first big foreign policy speech since his nomination, addressed to the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles.

Mr Baker will be taking with him to the White House most members of his powerful inner circle of advisers. They include his spokeswoman, Margaret Tutweiler and Under-Secretary, Robert Zoellick. So complete a decampment from the State Department has served only to heighten fears that US foreign policy will be left in limbo at a time of high stakes both in the Balkans and in the Middle East.

The Middle East peace talks are to resume on 24 August in Washington - the day after Mr Baker switches jobs. Administration officials indicated, however, that even from the White House, Mr Baker will still direct the peace talks together with his leading aide, Dennis Ross. A success in achieving peace in the Middle East before November could itself be an all-important election boost for the President.

After weeks of frustration with the apparent ineffectiveness of Mr Skinner, Republican campaign members will be heartily relieved that Mr Baker's transfer has at last been confirmed, after weeks of speculation and rumour. Some Republicans remained cautious, however. Senator Bob Dole remarked: 'I'm not certain one person can change everything. I'll be frank: we need help. Jim Baker's help would certainly be useful.'

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
News
peopleComedian launches stinging attack on PM
Life and Style
The collection displayed Versace’s softer side, with models wearing flowers and chiffon dresses in unusual colourings
fashionVersace haute couture review
News
Andy Murray shakes hands after defeating Andreas Seppi of Italy in the third round of Wimbledon, Saturday 4 July, 2015
Wimbledon
Arts and Entertainment
'The Leaf'
artYes, it's a leaf, but a potentially very expensive one
News
Yoko Ono at the Royal Festival Hall for Double Fantasy Live
people'I wont let him destroy memory of John Lennon or The Beatles'
News
Could Greece leave the EU?
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Home Care / Support Workers

£7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'