James Baker's New Test In Diplomacy

jim baker

For more than 30 years, James Baker has been both a behind-the-scenes political operator and a very public statesman — much of it in the service of his close friend, the first President Bush.

Baker now co-chairs the panel that will suggest a change of strategy in Iraq, CBS News White House correspondent Bill Plante reports. So here's the question: Is Baker acting as a friend of the family, trying to help his friend's son out of a tight spot —or is there more to it than that?

"Jim Baker is always an honest broker," says former White House Chief of Staff Ken Duberstein. "If he can help the family and help other families, I think he really strikes a twofer."

It isn't the first time Baker has extended his hand to this president. Six years ago in Florida, he managed the legal strategy that delivered the White House for George W. Bush.

Baker has been White House Chief of Staff for two presidents, as well as Treasury Secretary and Secretary of State. He helped put together the coalition that joined the U.S. in the Gulf War — and knew enough then to anticipate the dangers of marching to Baghdad and overthrowing Saddam Hussein.

"Jim Baker is one of these rare people that comes along once in a while who's smart — smart not only intellectually and from experience, but street smart," says former Deputy White House Chief of Staff Michael Deaver.

Back in 1990, Baker convinced Syria to join the Gulf War coalition against Saddam Hussein. Now, he wants this George Bush to talk to Syria ... and Iran, too.

"It has to be hard-nosed, it has to be determined," Baker said in a television interview in October. "You don't give away anything, but in my view, it's not appeasement to talk to your enemies."

But this president may not be in much of a hurry to accept Baker's ideas about that — or much else. Asked if Baker would help implement the report, a spokesman for Mr. Bush said, "Jim Baker can go back to his day job."