James Baker Forever

Genteel, old-money Houstonian. Suave citizen of the world. Above-it-all statesman. Partisan knife-fighter. Big-picture visionary. Detail-obsessed consigliere. He’s all of these things. Still.

December 2003By Comments

THE CROWD DRIFTED THROUGH THE giant, aluminum-ribbed tents on a tide of liquor, rose petals, egregiously expensive perfume, and money. Many were old-line Houstonians, and they had come to attend a tenth-anniversary fundraiser for the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, a think tank housed in its own Moorish palace on the campus of Rice University. In exchange for the $3.2 million they’d dropped on the institute that night, the 750 guests got to listen to Dick Cheney, the vice president of the United States, deliver a rousing, if recycled, death-to-all-terrorists speech.

The October 17 party was obviously not your ordinary rubber-chicken fundraiser. Cheney’s presence transformed it into a sort of socio-military event whose style might be called Republican Imperial. Before the guests could experience the languor of the evening, they had to pass through several acres of security fencing patrolled by armed men with no apparent sense of humor and then a battery of metal detectors. This was not pro forma. Ladies in floor-length taffeta got the full wand probe; men in black tie were patted down. At tables surmounted by huge sprays of roses and flanked by Secret Service agents, guests ate poached lobster, pumpkin bisque, quail, and tenderloin and witnessed testimonials, including a videotaped tribute from Secretary of State Colin Powell, as to the institute’s prowess in the worlds of scholarship and government policy. It was a jolly good time.

Though the vice president and his security detail were the featured guests, the real star of the night was the person for whom the institute is named—a man known to his oldest friends as Jimmy, to later friends as Jim, and to official Washington as Mr. Secretary. Cheney was there because of him; the astonishing $65 million the Baker Institute has raised in the past decade, propelling it with phenomenal speed into the upper ranks of American public-policy research, is due largely to what institute people call “the Baker magic.” So too is the parade of international political celebrities that passes continually through the institute’s doors: Vladimir Putin, Nelson Mandela, Yasir Arafat, Helmut Kohl, and Mikhail Gorbachev, to name a few. At 73, James Baker still casts a large shadow. He is negotiating a peace accord in the Western Sahara and was recently a special presidential envoy to the Republic of Georgia. He is a senior partner at his family’s law firm, Baker Botts; a partner at the Carlyle Group, a controversial merchant-banking firm; and a much-sought-after speaker.

More than eleven years after leaving office as Secretary of State, Baker is fulfilling a very old and very local destiny, and the institute is its palpable expression. He is known to the world as one of the most accomplished statesmen in modern American history and one of the ablest political operators of all time. He ran five successive Republican presidential campaigns, won three, and was rewarded with the choicest jobs in politics: chief of staff and Secretary of the Treasury under Ronald Reagan; Secretary of State and chief of staff under George H. W. Bush. But to Houstonians he is known, as he has always been known, simply as a Baker. For the scion of one of the most prominent families in Texas history, that is quite enough. His great-grandfather James Addison Baker co-founded Baker Botts in 1872; his grandfather “Captain” James Addison Baker brought it to national prominence, founded the precursor to Texas Commerce Bank, was the leading Houston businessman of his era, and proved in court that murdered millionaire cotton baron William Marsh Rice’s will was forged, thereby saving his bequest—and the eventual Rice University (Captain Baker was the chairman of Rice’s board of trustees for fifty years). His father, James Addison Baker Jr., was a leading lawyer and banker in Houston. James III (really the fourth) was raised to be a lawyer and to shun politics. Until he was forty, he stayed in Houston and did what was expected of him. Then he did something that would have horrified the James Addison Bakers who came before him. He went to Washington. And after a long and bewilderingly successful stint there, he finally returned home, to the neighborhood where he grew up and his friends and Baker Botts and Rice—to a comfortable life that looks much like the one that his family had intended for him.

To Houstonians, the meaning of Baker’s Odyssean return is clear enough. He is everything that the old, raw-knuckled, oil-and-real-estate boomtown has always wanted to be: smart, sophisticated, urbane, and still able to flat outdo and outhustle the pointy-headed swells from the Northeast. He is, of course, not the only example of this. Houston lawyers like Joe Jamail have been running circles around the Harvard boys for years, and Houston’s energy companies rule the world. What makes Baker different is how public his achievement has been; the Houston boy who was nothing at all like the loudmouthed, backslapping Texas pols of Eastern stereotype became a dominant force in American politics. The meaning of his rich, precocious little institute at Rice is that Baker is taking a long ride into the sunset, and Houston is taking it with him.

But if the institute is a measure of the love that exists between Houston and Baker, it is also emblematic of the very schisms within him that caused him to leave in the first place. He is a man deeply, though not unhappily, divided. The genteel, Princeton-educated, upper-class Houstonian who values duty and honor and his family’s name is also the preeminent political knife-fighter of his era; the august big-picture-oriented diplomat who helped negotiate the end of the Cold War and the reunification of Germany is also detail-obsessed and hypercompetitive (a friend once described him as being “tough as a two-dollar steak”); the elder statesman who presides over the calculatedly nonpartisan work of the Baker Institute is also the person who led the Republican troops during the bitterly partisan Florida recount following the 2000 election. These contradictions don’t usually bother him, and they certainly don’t dampen the affection of his many Houston friends who have happily given millions to the Baker Institute. None of this is reconcilable, nor will it ever be. Baker wants it, and has it, both ways. He always has. It’s just who he is: Jim Baker, of River Oaks and the world.

“IT’S NOT A REAL SPRING,” BAKER says to me, pointing to a stream of water gushing from a large boulder. He is wearing a beat-up cowboy hat, a wrinkled, monogrammed, button-down oxford shirt, and blue jeans. His hair is snow-white now, though combed straight back in the familiar way. “If you look closely, you can see the PVC pipe.” He gives a short, sharp laugh, and I laugh with him. We are standing in front of his cabin in the Wind River Range, in Wyoming, gazing out at a thrillingly precipitous landscape of pine and volcanic rock, sage, rabbitbrush, willow, and aspen. Here in the high, high lonesome, in all this heartbreaking beauty, a fake spring in a rock is in fact a funny thing.

We are far from civilization: a two-hour drive southeast from Jackson Hole, then a bumpy trip in Baker’s Suburban from the one-horse town of Boulder on a long, rutted dirt road to the alpine meadows and steep uplands of his 1,500-acre ranch, which is home to elk, moose, deer, antelope, mountain lions, bears, eagles, and its own trout stream. The “spring” is part of the improvements Jim and his wife, Susan, recently made to the property they purchased in 1988. Back then there was just a single small cabin with minimal amenities, and it was here that Baker would come to retreat from the febrile demands of his job as Secretary of State, for which he traveled some 700,000 miles to ninety countries between 1989 and 1992. Though the Bakers have always resided in the original two-bedroom cabin, several years ago they built a splendid new timber bunkhouse for their eight children (his four, her three, and the one they have together) and sixteen grandchildren, a piece of un-Baker-like extravagance that they’ve come to call the Bunk Mahal. They’re rich enough to give more than $1 million to the Baker Institute, but they have a distinctly old-money abhorrence for any unnecessary show of wealth. Grandkids, however, are something else. The ersatz spring is for them, as are the small trout ponds Baker has created by diverting a genuine spring that trickles down the mountainside behind the Bunk Mahal. He and Susan, whom he married in 1973 after the death of his first wife, spend much of July and August here in the company of their brood. (They also own a four-thousand-acre spread near the South Texas town of Pearsall.) For the Bakers, who sometimes went years between real vacations, free time is a luxury they have rarely had.

Baker first came hunting in Wyoming as a teenager with his father. He was from the sort of family that could afford that kind of vacation; he was fourth-generation wealth and as close to being a Texas blue blood as anyone of his generation could claim to be. His grandfather had used Baker Botts as a stepping stone to make millions in banking, brokerage, real estate, and investments. His mother’s family, the Bonners, were among the original landowners in the legendary Humble oil field. Baker himself led a privileged life. As a child, he once sat for a portrait by a member of the French Academy, dressed in a pink linen smock. The family often traveled in his grandfather’s rented train cars to UT-A&M football games. For his education, Baker was sent to two exclusive schools in the Northeast: Hill School, in Pennsylvania, and Princeton University, in New Jersey.

The Hill-and-Princeton component of Baker’s life has always befuddled both Texans and the many writers who have profiled him over the years. It seemed odd, or at least contradictory, that someone from Houston would attend such bastions of Northeastern society; to naive journalists, it seemed that Hill and Princeton had somehow given Baker the polish that he lacked as a cowboy-boot-wearing, Red-Man-chewing Texan. As it happens, I also attended both Hill and Princeton (as did my father, who was a friend of Baker’s). I claim no particular expertise here, but I have an insider’s sense of the culture of both schools. Hill was a solid, traditional Eastern boarding school that, if it did not have quite the gilded national reputation of Andover or Exeter, still managed to place large numbers of its students at the nation’s best colleges. It was the school of choice for many leading Texas families, including the Basses, Hunts, and Elkinses. Going East to school was never strange among the River Oaks crowd in Houston; it just didn’t match the stereotype that Easterners liked to apply to Texans. Among Baker’s social peers in Houston, fully half went to prep school and college in the East.

These schools offered the sort of rigorous academics that most Texas institutions did not. But wealthy Houstonians were also after a moral and social education for their children, and those values at Hill and Princeton were, as far as I can tell, almost identical to their own upper-class, Southern standards. They are, in no particular order: gentility, which means, above all, being nice to people, especially people who are not as rich or as smart or as professionally advanced as you are; good manners, which are another form of thoughtfulness and are ideally delivered with wit and style (a simple “Yes, sir” won’t do—think of Barbara Bush’s elegant, funny, self-aware thank-you notes); strict honesty with others, except when it will unnecessarily hurt their feelings (my great-aunt used to say that “little white lies are written on the ledger of heaven in invisible ink”); humility, coupled with a belief in God; a rejection of conspicuous materialism (expensive cars, flashy houses,and talk of how much one makes are for the nouveau riche); and the ability to account for oneself to one’s elders. Those are ideals, of course. Plenty of preppies are godless, thoughtless, egocentric louts. But as much as his enemies would like to believe otherwise, Baker strikes me as a fair reflection of these principles. Over the years, I’ve read a number of times how amazing it was that he could survive in Washington and still be a nice guy and a straight shooter; how, in a scandal-ridden political era, he stayed scrupulously clean and honest. My reaction is, Well, he’s a Hill boy. He believed all that stuff.

Baker returned from college and the Marines, went to the University of Texas law school, and then set about taking his rightful place in Houston society. Because he was forbidden by a nepotism rule to work at Baker Botts while his father was a partner there, he joined a comparably stuffy Houston firm, Andrews and Kurth. He started in trial law, left it because he didn’t much like the fact that people lied so often in that line of work, took up business law, and rose quickly to partner. On the side, he followed the family model as well. He made a string of successful investments, was the president of a real estate firm, helped organize a brokerage house, and co-founded an oil-well servicing business that he and other investors sold for a handsome profit. He became wealthy in his own right well in advance of his considerable inheritance. His life was everything it ought to have been. He and his wife, Mary Stuart, had four sons, he hunted quail and turkey on his ranch in Pearsall, played tennis at Houston Country Club, and had absolutely no interest in politics (On election days, he often preferred hunting to voting). There was only one thing wrong with this picture: He was becoming bored with law. And his restlessness would soon cause him to abandon his comfortable Houston life.

Three events conspired to propel him into the career that his family, who saw politics as a dirty, corrupting business, had always warned him against: a chance friendship with a transplanted Easterner named George H. W. Bush, the death of his wife, and the death, three years later, of his father. The principal catalyst was Mary’s succumbing to cancer in 1970, which left him alone, at age forty, with four young sons. Partly to help Baker get over his grief and partly because he himself needed help, Bush recruited him to work in his 1970 Senate campaign against Lloyd Bentsen. Bush lost, though he won the vote in Houston, the one place Baker had organized for him. Bush soon moved East to run the Republican party and then the CIA, and he helped Baker land a job in 1975 as Under Secretary of Commerce in the Ford administration. (Baker’s father, who would have strongly opposed such a move, was two years dead.) In that position, Baker was noticed by Dick Cheney, Ford’s chief of staff, and Ford then asked him to manage his 1976 presidential campaign. Baker took over a disorganized, demoralized campaign that was down thirty points in the polls and came within a point of winning. Though he still lived in Houston—in 1973 he had married Susan Garrett Winston, one of his late wife’s best friends and a daughter of storied Texas rancher Whispering Jack Garrett—and he still practiced law at Andrews and Kurth, his life was changing fast.

In 1978 Baker, now obsessed with politics and with a dawning sense of how good he was at it, ran for Texas attorney general, lost, and was then recruited to manage Bush’s 1980 presidential bid. With Baker running the show, Bush beat Reagan in six straight primaries before reality set in. Baker persuaded a reluctant Bush to bow out gracefully, more or less forcing Reagan to choose Bush as his running mate. After infuriating Bush by telling the press that his California campaign was out of money, he had gathered a roomful of people to persuade Bush to quit. “I told him, ’You have a great shot at being vice president,’” says Baker, smiling at the recollection as he sits at a rough-hewn table at his Wyoming ranch house. “He said, ’I don’t want to be vice president.’ And I said, ’Well, if you keep going, you are likely to blow that shot.’” Bush later grumbled to Time, “Yeah, Jimmy was right. Why is Jimmy always right?” Baker—now on everybody’s political radar screen—was appointed Reagan’s campaign manager and then chief of staff; he was one of a famous troika of staffers (the others were Edwin Meese and Michael Deaver) who fought bitterly for control of the White House. Baker, who was credited with many of Reagan’s stunning early legislative victories, found his White House job brutally hard. “I am not sure it is not the worst job in Washington,” he says.

But he was extremely adept at it; around this time, he acquired the nickname the Velvet Hammer—a nod to his ability to bludgeon opponents without making enemies. Baker’s troubles were compounded by the fact that the Republican right, sensing that he was not a True Believer—some even said he had hijacked the Reagan revolution in the name of political expediency—did not like or trust him. After running Reagan’s successful campaign in 1984, he escaped a second term as chief of staff by swapping jobs with Treasury Secretary Donald Regan. Four years later he and Bush were reunited in another presidential campaign. This time they won, and Bush rewarded Baker with the most powerful position in the Cabinet and one he coveted: Secretary of State. In that job Baker became a key negotiator in the dismantling of the Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany, and along with Bush, he put together the unprecedented coalition that liberated Kuwait in the 1991 Gulf War.

Baker’s luck finally ran out in 1992, when Bush, with Baker as his chief of staff and campaign manager, lost his reelection bid to Bill Clinton. It was not a pretty defeat. Bush had seemed unorganized and unfocused and unable to respond to an economic recession. Baker had been blissfully happy at the State Department; Bush yanked him back into the role that had made him successful in politics in the first place, insisting that he run a difficult and ill-fated campaign. “I hated to leave that job,” says Baker. “The only time I can remember losing my composure was when I said good-bye to the people at State. It was an emotional moment.” The loss left him, at the age of 62 and for the first time in twelve years, suddenly without an obvious professional move.

THE VIEW FROM THE LARGE PICTURE window of the Bunk Mahal is of 9,200-foot Chimney Butte, encircled in haze from fires somewhere beyond the Tetons. The quiet up here is unearthly. Inside, surrounded by a forest of antlers, Baker and I eat lunch. This consists of ham and turkey cold cuts, bread, and pickles that he has foraged from the refrigerator. We make our own sandwiches, passing the mustard and pickles back and forth, and then we talk. He is a remarkably easy person to talk to. There are many moments, when he is going on about his family or his ranch, that his personality seems to have no edges at all. This is an illusion, of course. Baker is full of opinions, many of them mischievous, and all of the mischievous ones are not for publication. He is fierce in defense of his own actions, blunt in his criticism of former colleagues. He almost always requests that the latter be kept off the record or, as he says, “not out of my mouth.” He was known as the leading Washington spinmeister of his day and received consistently favorable press from the Capitol press corps, which he assiduously courted. He has not lost this ability; it’s hard not to like him.

I ask Baker to talk about the days after Bush’s crushing defeat, how a man with his résumé—in effect one of the leading Republican mandarins of our time—chooses what he is going to do after public office. The answer, in part, is that the opportunities came to him. In the months of November and December of 1992, he was besieged by organizations trying to persuade him to join them. Many, including Rice University, Baker Botts, and Andrews and Kurth, called on him at the White House. “I got a lot of offers,” he says, “from many of the leading corporations in the country. But I decided two things. I was going to go back to Houston, to Baker Botts, and I wasn’t going to sit on a lot of boards. I can give one speech and make more than what my retainer would be for a year on a board, with no liability. So I agreed to sit on two boards of Baker Botts’s choosing [EDS and Reliant Energy].” He would not, as lawyers say, “keep time,” and he refused to lobby. He was off the clock, a senior partner whose main job was to advise major clients of the firm. Baker could have done so many things, and he could have lived anywhere he wanted to. Joining Baker Botts meant that he would return to Houston and to that destiny he had abandoned back in the seventies out of boredom. It meant the return of a prodigal whose only real sin was to be restless.

The second thing he did was go to work with his old Houston friend Bob Mosbacher, the former Secretary of Commerce under Bush, as a consultant for Enron. This was years before there was even a hint of trouble at the company. The work consisted mainly of writing papers on the political situations in countries where Enron was doing business and occasionally working on foreign projects. “We were given a base fee, and then we were given a shot at a success fee if the project worked out,” says Baker. “My recollection is that we never got a success fee.” Baker was not thrilled with the work or the money, and he and Mosbacher severed the relationship in 1994, after approximately fifteen months. “Enron had a very large success fee component in what they did,” he says. “That is my view of one of their problems. They were paying people to put contracts on the books, whether they were good contracts or not.”

The other moneymaking job Baker took was as a partner in the Carlyle Group, a large private-equity firm based in Washington, D.C. This was a far less conventional thing to do. Carlyle’s business is basically using other people’s capital to buy companies. It turns them around, sells them, and pays a handsome return (an average of 34 percent per year in the nineties) to investors. It is extremely successful, and has done $16 billion worth of this work. It is also deeply controversial for three main reasons: Its portfolio of companies makes it the eleventh-largest defense contractor in America, meaning it has significant business with the U.S. government; its clients include major strategic U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia; and its employees include Baker, George H. W. Bush, former Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci, former director of the Office of Management and Budget Richard Darman, and former British prime minister John Major. Many people do not like the idea of such an intimate intermingling of politics, private capital, and national security. Baker thinks such criticism is unfair. “A lot of people bitch about it,” he says with obvious annoyance. “They think former government officials who have given ten or fifteen years to their country shouldn’t be able to go out in the private sector and earn money. I simply don’t buy that.” What Baker does for Carlyle, mainly, is give speeches. “They will put on a dinner, and I stand up and talk about geopolitics or maybe the political situation in the United States,” he says. “I never make a pitch for money.” One of Baker’s meetings, for instance, took place in early 2001 with a group of wealthy investors in London. The topic? The Florida recount.

It was something he knew a good deal about. On November 8, 2000, the day after the inconclusive presidential election, Texas governor George W. Bush called Baker to ask him if he would take charge of Florida, where Al Gore had dispatched former Secretary of State Warren Christopher to look after his interests in the ongoing vote recount. It was in many ways an extraordinary phone call. During his presidential campaign, Bush had gone out of his way not to seem dependent on his father’s old political operatives, Cheney notwithstanding. And now, in his hour of greatest peril, he was recruiting Daddy’s main man, the Republican wartime consigliere without peer in the past half century. When I ask Baker why Bush chose him, he seems surprised that it would even occur to me to ask. “Where else,” he says, “was he going to find (a) a family friend, (b) a former Secretary of State, (c) someone who has run five presidential election campaigns, and (d) someone who has been a lifetime lawyer? If the Democrats had not gone to Christopher, I don’t know who the Republicans might have gone to. But Gore made a big thing out of it.”

Florida was a screeching catfight for which, as Baker so succinctly pointed out, he was uniquely suited. He was put in charge of more than one hundred Republican lawyers who were working on the recount. With Bush’s blessing, he also became the sole media front man for the Republican operation. This latter role—meaning that Baker and only Baker spoke for the Republicans in Florida—made him the most partisan face in America. It was Baker who thundered at the Democrats on the nightly news shows, accusing them of trying to “destroy . . . the traditional process for selecting our presidents” and fighting every attempt they made to hold a recount beyond the machine recount that Bush had already won.

For the period of a little over a month in Florida, he was also every bit as good as his reputation said he was. Perhaps the smartest thing he did was see that the Republicans’ chance for victory would be diminished if the field of play was the largely Democrat-appointed state courts. “The first thing I concluded,” he says, “is that we had a very tough row to hoe if we couldn’t get into federal court.” He knew that Florida’s Supreme Court would vote with the Democrats, he says, because he had hunted wild turkeys every year with former Florida governor Lawton Chiles, a staunch Democrat who had appointed most of the justices. “I knew their political leanings,” he says, “and furthermore, Dexter Douglass, Gore’s lead lawyer in Florida, had recommended the justices to Chiles for appointment.” Indeed, as he had predicted, the Republicans failed in their attempt to stop the recount in the Florida Supreme Court. In the end, the case was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that all recounts had to stop.

To many Democrats, of course, what Baker had helped engineer was a political nightmare, a national election in which the loser of the popular vote was handed the election by a partisan judiciary. Regardless, it was Jim Baker who, on the night of December 12, 2000, called George W. Bush and became the first to say, “Congratulations, Mr. President-elect.” And with that, like Cincinnatus, he went back to being a private citizen.

THE WORK BAKER IS MOST passionate about since leaving public office is his position as honorary chairman of the Baker Institute. Founded in 1993, its primary mission has been “to build bridges between the world of action and the world of ideas.” In practice, this means publishing papers, sponsoring research fellows, and putting on programs, conferences, and speeches on subjects that affect government policy, all the while remaining politically neutral. Last year, for instance, the institute hosted conferences on Latin America, energy, space travel, and the global climate. In December 2002 a widely publicized paper on post-war Iraq published by the institute accurately predicted, contrary to what the Bush administration had long maintained, that there would not be enough Iraqi oil to pay for the country’s redevelopment. The institute is best known for its work in the fields of energy and the Middle East, and it has indeed forged a determinedly nonpartisan, nonpolitical reputation. It has been run since its founding by one of Baker’s State Department colleagues, Edward Djerejian, a former U.S. ambassador to both Israel and Syria.

In its relatively brief existence, the institute has been notable for its prodigious ability to raise money and an equally prodigious ability to draw famous speakers to its programs and conferences. Both have much to do with the presence of Baker. He personally arranged the visits of Putin and Mandela, and a large chunk of the money—an endowment of $46 million and an annual budget of $5 million—has come from prominent Houston friends such as Bob McNair, the energy mogul who owns the Houston Texans, and Charles Duncan, the heir to a coffee fortune.

That money, which is staggering for such a recently minted think tank, has enabled the Baker Institute to do what others cannot—maintain its independence and pursue broad areas of scholarship. Baker’s imprimatur, plus his political connections, gives the institute a clear cachet, while its partnerships and affiliations with such blue-chip think tanks as the Council on Foreign Relations and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars—again, the result of Baker’s connections—have helped it gain prestige, at least in some quarters. “The Baker Institute is recognized as a sterling center for public-policy research and dialogue,” says Lee Hamilton, the former Democratic congressman from Indiana who is the president and director of the Wilson center. Yet James McGann, who studies think tanks as a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, in Philadelphia, doesn’t rank it quite so high. “I don’t see the institute as being in the top ten or even top twenty-five right now,” he says. “They may be someday, but are they mentioned or talked about in the same breath as the Brookings Institution or the Cato Institute? Absolutely not.”

Nor has Baker’s role in the institute been universally embraced. During the Florida recount, there was considerable discontent on the Rice campus over just what the man for whom a major building and an organization had been named stood for. “Am I the only one who feels that it’s not a good thing for the biggest gun in Rice’s PR arsenal to be the most visible Republican hatchet man of the hour?” wrote arts editor Robert Reichle, of the Rice Thresher. Some of the faculty were upset too, though Rice’s president, Malcolm Gillis, says he wasn’t bothered by what Baker had done. “I got a lot of e-mails about it,” he told me. “What I said to them was, we all recognize that Secretary Baker has a private life. We don’t put restrictions on anybody’s private life here, faculty or students. What Secretary Baker does with his private life is beside the point.” Says Baker simply: “I tell people that in agreeing to have my name on the institute, I didn’t give up my individual right to participate in politics.”

HERE IN THE WYOMING HIGH COUNTRY, watching trout rise in the creek, all that seems far away. Baker has a good life now, and he does exactly what he pleases, which means hunting, fishing, and golfing whenever he wants to. He and Susan, who had plenty of difficulty merging two families (at one point they had three children in the seventh grade), describe this as “a golden time.” And there is just enough statecraft in his life to keep him occupied. At the request of United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Baker accepted the job of trying to negotiate a settlement to the conflict in the Western Sahara, which he has been working hard at for the past seven years. He does this without pay. His title is Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General of the U.N. He occasionally fills in for Colin Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice at international events, keeps up with all of his Reagan-Bush era pals, and chats from time to time with W., at whose behest he traveled this year to the Republic of Georgia to try to persuade another old friend, President Eduard Shevardnadze, and the parties who oppose him to hold free and fair elections. He dismisses talk that he had been considered for the job as the ranking American civilian administrator in Iraq, which Paul Bremer now holds, or that he is being eyed as a replacement for Powell at State, but rumors persist.

Then there is the legacy, which is fast abuilding: Baker’s institute is rich, well loved by the people at Rice and in Houston, and successful. Baker is thrilled with it. They are renovating his office there, even though his main office will continue to be at Baker Botts. From his window, he will be able to see a chunk of the Berlin Wall he helped tear down, a monument made of a piece of twisted steel and concrete covered with graffiti—a stark, tangible reminder of his former life, before he came home.

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