Out of the West: Will the elusive Pimpernel Jim pull it off again?
Known for his commentary on international relations and US politics, Rupert Cornwell also contributes obituaries and occasionally even a column for the sports pages. With The Independent since its launch in 1986, he was the paper's first Moscow correspondent - covering the collapse of the Soviet Union – during which time he won two British Press Awards. Previously a foreign correspondent for the Financial Times and Reuters, he has also been a diplomatic correspondent, leader writer and columnist, and has served as Washington bureau editor. In 1983 he published God's Banker, about Roberto Calvi, the Italian banker found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge.
Wednesday 23 September 1992
We seek him here, we seek him there,
Those Frenchies seek him every where.
Is he in Heaven? - Is he in Hell?
That damned elusive Pimpernel.
Substitute the White House Press corps and the the former US Secretary of State and there you have it - the current minor mystery of the election season: where on earth is James Baker?
If the polls are to be believed, that emblem of America's ancien regime George Herbert Walker Bush is already all but trussed up in the tumbril carrying him towards political decapitation on 3 November. By common consent, the President's chances of avoiding such a fate depend on a single individual, his old friend Jim Baker, recalled to the White House exactly a month ago today. Mr Baker after all had done it before, in 1988; times are tougher this year, but the maestro surely could pull it off again. And some suspect the latter-day Pimpernel may yet be putting the final touches to a stunning rescue plan. Right now, though, he has, to all intents and purposes, vanished.
He gives no interviews and does not accompany the President to campaign engagements. The reporters who do have begun to use the disappearing act to liven up their pool reports for colleagues on the regular press plane.
'Baker came back and briefed your pool aboard Air Force One. Not]' read one on last week's Western swing by Mr Bush, couched in today's voguish California-speak.
Invisibility, of course, has done nothing to dent the mystique of Washington's smoothest operator in decades. He has been associated with many successes, but never have his fingerprints been found within a hundred miles of a disaster. And the pattern continues. Since Mr Baker took over, the President's campaign has acquired a modicum of purpose and commonsense.
Who was it who halted the counterproductive Republican rhetoric about family values? Jim Baker, naturally. Who despatched Mr Bush so swiftly to Florida after Hurricane Andrew? For the cognoscenti, the answer went without saying: Mr Baker.
But if his precise physical whereabouts are so hard to pin down, his spiritual whereabouts are not. The elusive Pimpernel of 1992 cannot be a happy man. He must in fact be enduring something pretty close to hell. Our hero likes to keep his hands clean. He never wanted to leave the State Department, and who could blame him?
Diplomacy with its measurable achievements is obviously far preferable to the rigours of an uphill re-election campaign, with not the slightest guarantee of ultimate victory. His relationship with the President is a study in mutual dependency. It may be argued that his tactical acumen secured Mr Bush the presidency.
Equally, without George Bush James Baker would not have been Secretary of State. So when the summons came in August, he had no choice but to comply.
At this point, all mystery disappears. With consummate skill Mr Baker is making the best of a bad job. The handful of close personal aides he took with him have long since been putting the word around that the mess they discovered was even worse than they imagined (subtext: 'Our man is not superhuman; if Bush loses, it won't be Jim's fault').
Hence, if the campaign continues to flounder, the Baker vanishing act will continue. Seek him here, seek him there - the next confirmed sighting will probably be back in his law practice in his native Houston next January, as if the distasteful postscript to his Washington career had never happened at all.
But if his master, against the odds, suddenly starts to look a winner? It is a safe bet that Pimpernel will break cover at last. Coolly and graciously, as is his wont, he will receive his plaudits from the talkshow pundits. And, who knows, even the reporters on Air Force One will be granted an audience. Jim Baker, in short, will have done it again.
Harry Potter actor suffered 'severe flu-like symptoms' on a flight from London to Orlando
Rap music mogul accused of running two men over in his truck
World cities ranked in terms of safety, food security and 'liveability'
First full-length look is finally here
"Oink! Oink! Hee hee hee!" First interview with the big-screen star
Biohacking group hopes technology will lead people to think about even more dystopian uses
The party's potential nominations read like a high school race for student body president
- 2 The awkward moment Sarah Palin raised $25,000 for Hillary Clinton's election campaign
- 3 Ball pool for adults opens in London
- 4 Amal Clooney gives excellent response to fashion question at European Court of Human Rights
- 5 Baldness could soon be treated using stem cells, scientists hope
Woman falls to her death as she celebrates marriage proposal at the edge of Ibiza cliff
Mia Khalifa: Pornhub star claims Drake sent her 'cringeworthy' naked photos on Instagram
Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
The awkward moment Sarah Palin raised $25,000 for Hillary Clinton's election campaign
Ball pool for adults opens in London
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures
£41500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is going through a period o...
£10670 - £16640 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...
£36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Regional Gas Installation Manager is r...
£29000 - £31000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Service and Brea...