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Who is James Baker and why should you care?

Don't Panic ... your war questions answered

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Not to be confused with televangelist Jim Bakker (ex-husband of Tammy Faye), James A. Baker III has been America's most powerful right-hand man for the past three decades. If America is Montgomery Burns, James Baker is our less-gay Smithers.

Baker got the gig as America's most powerful right-hand man nearly four decades ago, when he was fortunate enough to start working for what would eventually become America's most powerful family, the Bush family.

The year was 1970. Baker was a fancy-pants Houston lawyer. George Herbert Walker "Baby Daddy" Bush was a second-term Congressman from Texas looking to move up to the Senate.

Baby Daddy tapped Baker to manage his Senate campaign. Baby Daddy lost, but a non-sexual love affair was born. As Bush rose to prominence in the national Republican Party, first as U.N. ambassador and chairman of the Republican National Committee under Nixon, then as head of the CIA under Ford, he brought Baker along for the ride. Baker served as undersecretary of commerce for Gerald Ford, so impressing him that he was tapped to run Ford's quiet 1976 re-election campaign against Carter.

Ford lost, but as we know from the current administration, loyalty is more important than achievement, so Baker stuck around. Bush put Baker in charge of his 1980 presidential campaign. Bush lost to Reagan, but Reagan was so impressed with the Bush-Baker attempt that he made Bush his VP and Baker his chief of staff, and then his treasury secretary. For much of the 1980s, James Baker's signature was on our money.

Baker's superstar moment was his run as secretary of state during Baby Daddy's presidency. He helped make sure that the Soviet Union's collapse didn't kick up any more dust than it needed to. He also assembled the ginormous coalition that thumped Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War.

Baker is Baby Daddy's closest political ally and confidant. Baker's relationship with Dubya is much more complicated. Dubya is driven by a primal impulse to correct what he perceives to be Baby Daddy's mistakes. Dubya ignored Baker during his 2000 campaign because he was upset with Baker's less-than-enthused helming of Baby Daddy's failed 1992 re-election campaign against Clinton.

Stiff-arming became a hug, however, the moment Dubya's ambitions got jammed up in a Florida ballot machine. When Dubya needed a ball buster to make sure that the Florida recount stopped, Baker was sent to Tallahassee. Mission Accomplished. The Bush/Baker alliance would continue for another presidential term. Not quite.

Riding high on his post-9/11 approval ratings and the idiotic advice of Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, etc., Dubya explicitly rejected the Gulf War I ending so carefully choreographed by Baby Daddy and Baker. Dubya thought he could "correct" his dad's and Baker's "mistake." You know that story.

Here we are in 2006. Mission not accomplished. Republican dominance threatened. Who you gonna call?

Baker is in charge of the Iraq Study Group. Formed in March of this year by a Republican Congress that has grown increasingly terrified of the White House's mismanagement of the war, the Iraq Study Group's mission is to make policy recommendations to Congress and the White House about the war.

That's its official task. In reality, with James Baker in charge, the ISG's task is to create political cover for White House and congressional Republicans as they initiate some form of a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Such political cover is needed because the White House and congressional Republicans have tarred everyone who wants to withdraw U.S. forces as "cut-and-run" cowards.

Shortly after the November election, Baker's Iraq Study Group will release its recommendations on Iraq. They will include a repackaging of "cut and run" into something more politically palatable. "Trim and trot." "Slash and dash." "Cleave and leave." Whatever they're labeled, the ISG's recommendations will try to allow Dubya to forsake his pledge to "stay the course" and do it in such to way to minimize domestic political criticism.

Why wait until after the election to make recommendations, even though ISG token Democrat co-chair Lee Hamilton said way back on Sept. 20 that "the next three months [in Iraq] are critical"? Because releasing recommendations might affect "domestic politics," Baker says. I'd laugh if it wasn't so sad.

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