James Baker: Bush's Mr. Fix It Goes to Iraq
As surely as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, James Baker III reliably appears whenever George W. Bush finds himself in trouble. As the New York Times reports, the growing Iraq quagmire is no exception. Baker, the Secretary of State under the President's father, will lead a congressionally mandated team to generate new ideas for salvaging the American adventure in Iraq and with it, extricate George W. Bush from another fine mess.
Baker has long functioned as Bush family consigliere, helping young George take of care of family business, whether financial or political. In the 1980's, Baker and other Bush family friends helped fund Dubya's string of publicly failed but privately profitable energy ventures, including Bush Exploration, Harken and the legendary Arbusto. When Bush ran afoul of the SEC in 1991 over his $848,000 Harken insider trading windfall, it was the firm of Baker Botts which came to his rescue. Conveniently for the future president, the key personnel at the SEC during his 1991 case, chairman Richard Breen and general counsel James Doty, were long-time Bush family friends and business associates from the Baker's law firm.
Baker, of course, was the ultimate fixer for George W. Bush in 2000. Baker headed up the Bush effort during the Florida recount. Ultimately, Baker was successful in ensuring Bush's 5-4 coronation by the United States Supreme Court. Sounding like Michael Corleone speaking of "taking care of all family business," Baker on December 12, 2000 calmly celebrated the Court's decision in Bush v. Gore, noting that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were "very pleased and gratified" with the result.
Baker's new role with the so-called Iraq Study Group is not his first effort to help save President Bush from himself in Iraq. It's also not the first to stir controversy. In December 2003, Baker led the U.S. effort to arrange forgiveness of Iraqi debt, a campaign less successful among the Arab states than with the Europeans who sat out the fight. One reason why Baker's effort, called "a noble mission" by President Bush, may have foundered in the Middle East was his apparent conflict of interest as a bag man for the Carlyle Group. As The Nation detailed in November 2004, Baker shared a $180 million equity stake in the Carlyle Group (which includes former President George H.W. Bush) and stood to benefit from side deals on Iraqi debt with the government of Kuwait.
None of this is to suggest that James A. Baker III is in any way in hot water over his Iraq Study Group role. After all, the bi-partisan group, which includes 9/11 Commissioner Lee Hamilton, former Defense Secretary William Perry, Sandra Day O'Connor, Rudolph Guiliani and Vernon Jordan, was mandated by Congress. Short of another gaffe like his infamous "f**k the Jews" comment, Bush's Mr. Fix It will stay off the radar, his reputation magically intact.
Not unlike his boss.