Grand Vizier rules himself out of court

MISSING PERSONS NO.26 James Baker

The shelves of American bookstores will be collapsing under the weight of worthy tomes this autumn. Speaker Newt's thoughts on how to save the nation have already appeared. General Colin Powell will be treating us to his remarkable life story. Also due for publication is The Politics of Diplomacy by James Baker, of whom one thing at least may safely be said. Of the three authors, he alone is not running for President.

No so long ago, the political skills of James Addison Baker III mesmerised Washington - first as Ronald Reagan's White House chief of staff and subsequently Treasury Secretary, then as Secretary of State under George Bush - as much as his flashy monochrome ties.

Mr Baker was the man who emerged unscathed from every disaster, from Iran-Contra to the failure to anticipate Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. Only the last act was a let-down, his recall to the White House to oversee the doomed Bush re-election campaign.

One image from that wretched campaign lingers, on a raw October afternoon in Wisconsin, amid the razzmatazz of a train tour which Mr Bush hoped would wreak an 11th hour miracle. Through a carriage window you could make out the bowed silhouette of Mr Baker, half-smiling at the futility, resigned to inevitable defeat.

For a while, his name was on everyone's shortlist for 1996, but as no sign emerged of serious planning, the talk subsided. A recent aside made it unofficially official: "I've gotten over the virus of Presidential ambition."

It is as well. In the last couple of years even Mr Baker's supreme asset - the Teflon coating that rivalled Ronald Reagan - was starting to tarnish. To the stigma of 1992 must now be added a perceived share of the blame for Bosnia.

But there are deeper reasons why a Baker run was never plausible. His party constituency was invisible, his name a throwback to an era that, for Republican believers, is a grey parenthesis between Reaganism and Gingrichism. Ultimately, too, he was always less a leader than a courtier, a Grand Vizier of successive administrations who pulled many strings but whose fate was inextricably linked with that of his bosses.

Mr Baker affected the odd common touch - cowboy boots, an adjustable Southern drawl, and drinking beer out of a can at black-tie parties. But many were unconvinced. In his own new autobiography, Power, Pasta and Politics, the gritty Republican senator Alfonse D'Amato calls James Baker a "blue-blooded snob".

Patricians are rarely fleshpressers and James Baker of the thin smile is no exception. Only once did he run for office, for Texas Attorney-General in 1978. He lost and thereafter his career is essentially the story of his close, yet complex 30-year friendship with that transplanted Houstonian, George Bush. For all Mr Baker's influence, his deftness, his sometimes unconcealed sense of superiority, he remained the subordinate, the "younger brother" as Bush once called him.

So what now? A book, speaking engagements, good works, doubtless some powerbroking from a plush office in the family law firm of Baker and Botts, plus the simpler joys of hunting and fishing at his Wyoming ranch. There are many worse things. Jim Baker deep down might accept that in Washington only one job is worth having. Like many others, he has flinched at the price to be paid.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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: Web Developer - Junior / Middleweight

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's fastest growing full s...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Recruitment Genius: Commercial Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Estimating, preparation of tech...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will work as part of a smal...

Day In a Page

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships