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James Baker’s 7 Rules for Running Washington

James Baker’s 7 Rules for Running Washington

Sometimes more aggressive press management strategies were required. In 1990, the treacherous weather nearly derailed a superpower summit with the Soviets that was to take place on board ships in Malta. When the logistics debacle threatened to become a narrative, Baker, until then Secretary of State, urged Tutwiler to immediately divert the media horde: 17 new proposals that President Bush had brought to the meeting to roll out for Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev They had not planned to be released until the end of the summit. “Dump!” he yelled into the phone and she did.

3. If Dick Cheney (or anyone else) gets on your trail, run over him “as quickly as possible”.

Collegiality only goes so far in the upper reaches of the cabinet, in every cabinet. The first Bush administration had an unusually cooperative national security team, especially when compared to its predecessors. But in a city where the exercise of power was often translated into power itself, Baker was still determined to uphold his prerogatives as Secretary of State, especially in public. In the spring of Bush’s first year in office, Baker was furious when Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney went on CNN and voiced doubts about Gorbachev’s chances of success while he paused to review policies toward the Soviet Union and its reformist young leader Gorbachev. The Bush team insisted that Gorbachev’s reforms were real, and besides, Baker’s foreign policy was on Baker’s trail. While Cheney had been friends with Baker for two decades and had contributed to his career in Washington through his promotion during the Ford administration, he had nothing to do with commenting on diplomatic matters.

“Cheney, you’re on the reservation,” Cheney said to Baker when the aggravated Secretary of State called.

“I have it,” said Cheney. “Will not happen again.”

But Baker wasn’t done yet. He wanted to make sure that Cheney’s view did not reflect the position of the administration. He called the president and national security adviser Brent Scowcroft and told them the White House should distance itself from Cheney’s statements. “Dump on Dick with all possible speed,” Baker told Scowcroft. The White House did just that. Cheney learned his lesson.

4. Never let them see you pee.

Baker’s intransigence was one of the reasons for his success as a diplomat – that and an iron bubble. He would need both to deal with the Syrian dictator Hafez al-Assad. Assad was notoriously disobedient, but Baker was determined to translate victory in the 1991 Persian Gulf War with Iraq into a real opening to broader peace in the Middle East between Israel and its Arab neighbors. In the beginning, this meant holding an unprecedented peace conference in Madrid, where the Arabs, including the Palestinians, met for the first time in public with an Israeli delegation. Which meant Baker needed Assad to agree.



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