James Baker
James Baker
The Politics of Diplomacy: Revolution, War and Peace, 1989-1992
ISBN: 0399140875
The Politics of Diplomacy: Revolution, War and Peace, 1989-1992
Former Secretary James Baker talked about his book, “The Politics of Diplomacy: Revolution, War, and Peace, 1989-1992,” published by G.P. Putnam's Sons. It's an account of Mr. Baker's time as the 61st Secretary of State from January 1989 to August 1992 under President George H.W. Bush. During that time, the world saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, the invasion of Panama, end of apartheid in South Africa, collapse of the Soviet Union, the first Gulf War, and Middle East peace talks. Mr. Baker offers behind-the-scenes information about the period of time leading up to many of these events, as well as the new challenges that these changes created. The former Secretary also writes about his encounters with world leaders such as Margaret Thatcher, Francois Mitterand, Helmut Kohl, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Hosni Mubarak.
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TRANSCRIPT
The Politics of Diplomacy: Revolution, War and Peace, 1989-1992
Program Air Date: December 3, 1995

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Former secretary of state Jim Baker, did you have difficulty naming this book "The Politics of Diplomacy"
JAMES BAKER, AUTHOR, "THE POLITICS OF DIPLOMACY": You know, the publishers suggested at one point that I call it "Whirlwind" because what I was involved in was really a whirlwind. But that didn't sound like the right title, as far as I was concerned. And that title, I thought, really said it all in terms of what I was -- what I was writing about and the ideas I was trying to convey.
LAMB: Where was this picture, do you remember?
BAKER: That picture was taken in Jerusalem about 6:00 o'clock in the evening, after a Middle East peace process session. And that's why you see the sun reflecting where you do there.
LAMB: You made eight trips to the Middle East?
BAKER: Yes. Made -- well, I made eight at the very end, yes.
LAMB: In the middle of your book, you talk about remembering a 1953 earthquake.
BAKER: Yes. That's right. When I was in the Marine Corps, I remember -- I remember being involved in a relief operation on the Greek island of Zakynthos in the Aegean Sea. And we -- we rescued a lot of people. The town of Xanthe had been totally destroyed. And I worked with -- with Royal Marines and British Air Force people. At the time, we dropped bread and water to people in the countryside who had nothing to eat.
LAMB: Why did you remember that?
BAKER: Well, I don't know. I -- it's a memory that's been very, very vivid with me ever since then. I was assigned to a NATO unit at the time. I was in the Marine Corps, a fresh 2nd lieutenant. And I -- I remember having to deal with death and having to deal with destruction over there on duty with a NATO unit dealing with the Turks and French, adjusting naval gunfire for Turkish and French -- I mean, Turkish and Greek destroyers.
LAMB: But you tied it together when you told us the story about your trip to see the Kurds.
BAKER: Well, that's right, because it reminded -- what I saw up there on the top of that mountain when all those Kurds were fleeing northern Iraq reminded me a little bit of the devastation-type scenario that I'd seen during that earthquake, where people were afraid to go back into their homes on that Greek island for fear that there'd be an aftershock and that more buildings would fall. So they were camped out in tent camps, tent cities, all over the island. And that's what I saw on top of that mountain that day on the border between Iraq and Turkey.
LAMB: But you say it moved you enough that you rousted out Dick Cheney to get some movement on some goods and stuff.
BAKER: Yes, I rousted out the president, too. I called him and I said, you know, I've never seen anything like this. We have a real humanitarian nightmare in the making, and we really need to turn every -- leave no stone unturned. I called Dick because of my long-time association with him. Turned out that he was at a baseball game, but I got a hold of his long-time assistant, and then he called me back. And I think I say in there Dick said that he'd never known me to be one to -- to panic or to become quite that emotional. But it was a really very emotional scene. These people were going to freeze to death or starve to death up there on that mountainside.
LAMB: Is it better off in diplomacy to be close to people or be able to sit back and make a decision without feeling the personal touch?
BAKER: No, it's better to be close. Personality still makes a big difference. It's still -- a lot of it is still the person across the table. It's -- sometimes people tend to criticize that, but they shouldn't because when there's -- when there is a close personal relationship, and particularly a relationship of trust and confidence, you can accomplish things that otherwise you find very, very difficult to accomplish. You're never going to give away your country's interests. Your country's national interest is always going to be at the top of your agenda. But if I know your word is good, Brian, I'm willing to deal with you on a basis that I would not be willing to deal with you if I didn't know that.
LAMB: What were -- what have been all the jobs you've had in government?
BAKER: Well, I've been undersecretary of commerce in the Ford administration, No. 2 in the Commerce Department. I've been chief of staff to President Reagan for four years in the White House, in his first term. I was secretary of the treasury under the second Reagan administration. I was secretary of state for President Bush. And then I was -- for three months at the end of '92, I was chief of staff and senior counselor to President Bush again -- chief of staff again and senior counselor to President Bush. And during that time, I've also -- I've also run or been at the very top of five presidential campaigns, all -- every presidential campaign going back to 1976, on behalf of the Republican nominee. So people -- some people have said to me, Why aren't you -- why aren't you going to run for president? And my answer has always been that I've spent 16 out of the last 20 years in those kinds of jobs, and that tends to take a toll on other things that are important in life, like family and things like that.
LAMB: How many kids do you have?
BAKER: Got eight. Eight children and eleven grandchildren and one almost here, almost soon to have twelve grandchildren. So I'm having a great opportunity. And in the book, you'll see there that I -- that I acknowledge the contributions particularly of my eight children, who did not see as much of their father during those periods of government and political service as they really were entitled to.
LAMB: Now, of those eight -- I know you lost your first wife.
BAKER: Yes. My -- I lost a wife to cancer when she was 38 years old, and I married a widow whose husband had died when he was 38 years old. I had four boys. She had two boys and a girl. And then we had our own little girl. So we have six boys and two girls.
LAMB: What's your relationship with them today?
BAKER: Very -- it's really very good, and more importantly, perhaps, their relationship with each other is good because trying to put those two families together back there in 1973 was very, very difficult. We had three 7th-graders at one time, and trying to meld it -- it was -- my wife -- my wife, Susan, did a tremendous job in making that all work. And there were a lot of fights back in those days, but now the -- the Bakers and the Winstons (ph) will go to -- they'll go to the mat for each other. If one of them is criticized by somebody, the others will all quickly come to their defense. It's really nice to see. And they all treat each other now as true brothers and sisters.
LAMB: How old is the...
BAKER: Full brothers and sisters.
LAMB: Hold old is the oldest and how...
BAKER: The oldest is 41, my son, Jamie, who's a lawyer in Baker and Botts, a tax lawyer in the Washington office. And the youngest is our -- is our common child, Mary Bonner Baker, who just graduated from National Cathedral School in Washington. She's going to be going to Princeton in the fall of 1996. She's younger than her classmates, so she took a year off. She's right now in Katmandu, Nepal, on a program, and then she's going to go to Europe and going to go to Italy and study history of art for a year.
LAMB: Why a book only on foreign policy?
BAKER: Well, I wrote this book on my years as secretary of state, Brian, because the world changed. The world as I had known it throughout my adult life changed completely in those three-and-a-half years. And it was a book I knew I could write because I knew I could find the materials necessary to write it in some detail and to write it with great accuracy. If I'd tried to write a book about the five campaigns or the Reagan White House, the Bush White House, the treasury job, I never could have -- I never could have brought it all together. It would have been a very superficial book. This book goes into great detail, and not in a -- not in a boring way, I think, in a very readable and interesting way, about what happened during those three-and-a-half years. Now, as I say in the preface, there may be another book out there some day, although I'm not sure I want to write another book. This one took two years.
LAMB: I want to tell you what somebody said when I told them that I was going to be doing this interview. They said, well, I counted them, 684 pages, and not once did you mention Dan Quayle.
BAKER: I did, too. No, that's not true.
LAMB: I couldn't find it.
BAKER: Well, then, you didn't read page 338! (LAUGHTER)
LAMB: Isn't it interesting that somebody would first go and try to discover that you didn't mention Dan Quayle in this book?
BAKER: Well, that's -- that's almost the way it works in Washington. People immediately go to the index. But you'll see in there where I say that he and I were the two that were pressing the president the hardest to -- to take the issue of going to war in the Gulf to the United States Congress and to get the support of the Congress, not because the president had to do so constitutionally, which I don't think he did, but because as a matter of political consensus, it was important.
LAMB: How did you do the book?
BAKER: Well, I had a collaborator, a very good one, Tom DeFrank, who is White House correspondent for "Newsweek" magazine, someone I've known since my first experience in national politics way back in 1976. I also had quite a few fine research assistants, whose names you'll find in the acknowledgement section of the book. But I wrote the book largely from the memorandums of conversation -- my conversations with the various world leaders with whom I dealt. Many of those meetings were one on one, but we each had a note taker. The memorandums of those conversations are on file over in the State Department. They remain classified, and of course, in order to have access to them, I agreed that the State Department could review the book for any adverse impact on national security. They did so. They were very, very helpful, as I note in the acknowledgements. They gave me an office over there at the department, and I had -- where I could keep the materials and have access to them. And so when you see a quote in this book, it's exactly what someone said, if it was Gorbachev or Shevardnadze, if it was Shamir, if it was Yitzhak Rabin or whoever it might be.
LAMB: How did you and Tom DeFrank work together?
BAKER: We worked very well together.
LAMB: Where did you...
BAKER: Well, we did a lot of it -- we did it in various places, most of it here in Washington because that's where the source materials were. The -- these highly classified documents were here on file in the State Department. But Tom came out, as well, to my ranch in Wyoming. We spent 10 days or two weeks out there in the first -- at the very beginning, where he just sort of picked my brain on various things, and I would -- I would ramble on and talk, and he'd take it down on a tape recorder and later type it up and write from that, as background.
LAMB: You say this on page 27, "I think the Reagan presidency was arguably the most effective in a quarter century."
BAKER: I think it was a very effective presidency.
LAMB: How does your friend, George Bush, feel about that statement?
BAKER: I don't think he resents that at all because he was a very integral part of that success. He was vice president for the full eight years. Ronald Reagan was the only two-term president since Eisenhower. I go on to say, arguably the most effective presidency, however, its National Security Agency apparatus really didn't function to his advantage, in my opinion. I think the president succeeded in -- President Reagan succeeded in foreign policy, notwithstanding his national security apparatus, because they were always at each other's throats. There were seven national security advisers in eight years. And you constantly had these conflicts between the national security adviser and the secretary of state or the secretary of state and the secretary of defense. And a lot of that -- and I think, to some extent, that contributed to some of the difficulties, such as -- for instance, as Iran-contra. The point I'm making is President Bush's national security apparatus was composed of people all of whom had worked together in one capacity or another before and were friends and trusted each other, liked each other, respected each other. You had at the very top, of course, George Bush, the president, who'd been CIA director in the Ford administration, then vice president in the Reagan administrations as secretary of state, Jim Baker, who'd been chief of staff in the Reagan administration, secretary of the treasury in the Reagan administration, who'd been campaign manager for President Ford in '76 Dick Cheney, the secretary of defense, who had been chief of staff to President Ford in '76 Brent Scowcroft, who'd been national security adviser to President Ford in '76 Colin Powell, who'd been national security adviser to President Reagan at the same time I was treasury secretary and then became chairman of the Joint Chiefs. So one of the things that I'm most proud of is -- in terms of -- and I think President Bush would agree with this -- is that we made the national security apparatus work the way it was intended to work.
LAMB: Talking about national security, I wanted to ask you also about intelligence. You talk about being surprised by Tiananmen Square.
BAKER: I was surprised by -- I was surprised by the strength and the rapidity and the vigor of the government's reaction.
LAMB: But you also talk about how you were -- I think you were asking your son to play golf or something like that.
BAKER: That's right. Well, we did not know the tanks -- we did not know the tanks had been sent in that Sunday morning until -- I heard about it from my son, who was watching CNN. But throughout this book, I make -- I make the point that the global technology has changed diplomacy completely. During the Gulf war, we stopped sending cables and we stopped really trying to communicate through our ambassadors, and we quite frequently -- if we wanted to get a message, for instance, directly to Saddam Hussein, we'd go right to CNN. The president would go out in the Rose Garden and say something, and we'd know it would go just like that.
LAMB: Do you like that?
BAKER: It's a benefit and it's -- it can be a detriment, can be -- it can be helpful and it can be harmful. It was helpful to be able to know that you were going to get a message directly to the man without having to go through a lot of channels and without worrying about whether his foreign policy apparatus was, in fact, going to give him bad news. On the other hand, it means policy makers have to react a lot quicker. We now have to react -- policy makers now have to react in minutes or hours, instead of days or weeks, because the media have every bit as much sophisticated technological equipment as governments do. They're on -- they're around the world. They can report instantaneously. And so the policy maker is frequently called upon on the spur of the moment to say, What's your reaction to this or that or the other? You can't wait too long. LAMB: Speaking of the media, you talk about "New York Times" reporter Tom Friedman, who came in from time to time off the record and advised you about how to deal with things?
BAKER: Tom Friedman was -- had written a book on the Middle East. He'd spent a lot of time out there. He wrote, I think it was "From Beirut to Jerusalem." And he was very knowledgeable about it. And he would -- I would -- I would occasionally pick his brain off the record, whenever -- whenever I felt like it or he felt like it. And I don't see anything wrong with that. I don't see where there's any breach of journalistic ethics, or certainly not any breach of governmental ethics. I think a government policy maker ought to get -- use whatever intelligence he can and whatever assets he can. I only acted on -- that I can recall, one time on Tom's advice, and that's when he had suggested to me that -- that we ought not to go chasing after peace in the Middle East, chasing after the parties. We ought to let the parties know that we were not going to devote presidential and secretarial time and attention and resources to a useless or a -- well, to a useless pursuit, and that if they were not serious about peace, they could count us out. When they got serious, let us know.
LAMB: You say that when you -- you were appointed to the secretary of state's job, or nominated for it, you talked to all former presidents and all former secretaries of state?
BAKER: All former presidents and almost all secretaries of state, not all. But I did talk to all the former presidents. I visited with each one of them.
LAMB: One of the quotes I remember is something that Richard Nixon told you about the Middle East.
BAKER: Stay away from it. It's insoluble, he said. Stay away from it. Every secretary of state gets burned. I went into office believing that and feeling that I was going to try and follow that advice, and I did try and follow it for a while. But no secretary of state can stay away from it forever, I don't think. I tried my hand at it in '89 and '90. We almost got a process going. We had an Israeli government collapse on the very narrow issue of whether or not a Palestinian with a second address in Jerusalem could be on the Palestinian delegation. That was the issue that was submitted on a vote of confidence, and the government fell on that issue. That was when we were just trying to put together an Israeli-Palestinian negotiation. Subsequently, and after the Gulf war opened a window of opportunity for us, we were able to put together a double track, Israel and Palestinians, and Israel and her Arab neighbor states -- Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and -- I guess that's it, those three.
LAMB: How much of the world changed because the Soviets didn't pump money into these different countries around the world or even into the Palestinians?
BAKER: It changed a lot. I mean, the window of people for Middle East peace opened for two reasons: one, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and two, the defeat of Arab rejectionism by the United States in the Gulf war. We gained such credibility with the Arab countries that we really, in effect, were able to deliver them to the table with Israel, something that had been Israel's goal for over 40 years. We gained so much credibility as a consequence of the Gulf war. And then again, the collapse of the Soviet Union made it clear to people like, for instance, President Assad of Syria which way the wind was blowing and that it might be better to -- to give peace a chance than to -- than to continue to rely on conflict and to be -- and count on being provisioned from the Soviet Union.
LAMB: One of the titles of one of your sections is "Bladder diplomacy."
BAKER: Yes.
LAMB: Had to do with Mr. Assad.
BAKER: That has to do with -- that has to do with the fact that he -- President Assad is -- he loves to negotiate. He thrives on those meetings. He's an extraordinarily intelligent interlocutor and an interesting interlocutor. And -- but it never -- it seemed to me that he never needed to take a break to go to the men's room. And so that's why I've titled -- that's why I called it "Bladder diplomacy" because generally speaking, he would wait for his -- his interlocutor to wave a white handkerchief for a break.
LAMB: What was the longest time you ever sat in a negotiation?
BAKER: Nine hours and 45 minutes with him.
LAMB: Never moved. Stayed in the same room, just kept talking.
BAKER: He stayed there. I think I took a -- I took at least one break to go to the men's room.
LAMB: When you traveled around the world and negotiated, and you're on these non-stop trips, how did you do it physically?
BAKER: It was not easy physically. And jet lag is very debilitating as a cumulative thing. It builds up. The only way I was able to make it was that I had a bed on my airplane, and every time I would be between legs, I would jump on the airplane and go to sleep. And I have -- I'm very fortunate, I have the ability to drop off to sleep almost any time, so I could get rested between hops. That's the only way to do it.
LAMB: What about the staff?
BAKER: Staff had a tough time. It was very, very tough on the staff because they had to sleep on couches in the back or very narrow benches or sleep sitting up in their chairs.
LAMB: Do you ever make mistakes because you're tired?
BAKER: Yes. Yes, you do make mistakes. I can remember several times, Brian, getting out of the limo at a particular stop and feeling dizzy, just the rush of standing up and the blood leaving my head because I was so jet-lagged.
LAMB: Anything you can do about it?
BAKER: And particularly some of those really hard shuttles that I was on there in trying to pull together the international coalition that ejected Iraq from Kuwait. I think there was one trip that I took that lasted something like 36, 38, 40 hours, something like that.
LAMB: When you talk to foreign leaders, do you always have an interpreter with you?
BAKER: Generally speaking, you have an interpreter if the foreign leader is -- does not want to converse in English. Many of them do.
LAMB: So let's say you're in your office at the State Department, and you want to talk to your friend, Mr. Shevardnadze.
BAKER: Well, you have to talk to him through an interpreter.
LAMB: So how do you -- how did you do it? I mean, let's say you're sitting in your office. All of a sudden, it's 10:00 o'clock in the morning and you want to talk to him. Do you -- you pick up the phone...
BAKER: You call -- you call the operations center of the State Department. You say, I want to place a call to Foreign Minister Shevardnadze. They will then line up our Russian -- one of our Russian interpreters and call the foreign ministry in Moscow and say, Secretary Baker wants to talk to Minister Shevardnadze at such-and-such a time. They get the call all lined up. He has an interpreter on the line at his end. I have one at my end. And that's the way we would talk.
LAMB: How long...
BAKER: Same thing -- same thing in meetings that we would have. A one-on-one meeting generally was a meeting between me and my interlocutor, whoever that was. And he would have a note taker. I would have a note taker. And we would each have an interpreter. There'd be six people in the room on a one-on-one.
LAMB: What if you're caught at your ranch in Wyoming and you -- somebody needs to get ahold of you. How do you do that interpretation?
BAKER: Well, you always run it through the State Department operations center. That's the way you get the interpretation done. But I'll tell you a funny story -- I'm not sure it's in the book -- about that. I bought this ranch because it's remote. I love a remote -- I love remoteness and being out in the country, and it's good for hunting, good wildlife, good fishing. When I bought it, I said, No, we're not going to have any television out here. We're not going to have any telephone. This is going to be a place where we can retreat. And this was in November of 1988. Well, we lasted about one year with no telephones. What the State Department would do is bring a -- they'd bring a secure communications satellite dish up and put it on the big boulder outside my cabin. And I would talk to whomever I needed to talk to through that. It's a little TACSAT, about like this. But to do it overseas, I would have to hit the satellite over the Indian Ocean. And there were occasions when we couldn't hit that satellite, couldn't make communications, for instance, with a -- with a Shevardnadze. And finally, State Department insisted on putting in a telephone line, said, We're just -- you know, You just -- we just can't continue to do business this way. And I acquiesced, provided I could pay some of the cost.
LAMB: Tell us about your relationship with Mr. Shevardnadze. How did it start?
BAKER: It started as a -- just as a counter -- counterpart. He was my counterpart in the Soviet foreign ministry. Then he became a colleague. Then he became a partner. And then he became a friend. And he remains a friend today. The recent assassination attempt on his life here a month or so ago, his office called mine to tell me that he was all right before the news even hit the United States, before it was reported over here. So we stay in touch. We're still very, very good friends. I write in the book about the very large part that I think he played in so many seminal events, such as the unification of Germany in peace and freedom as a member of the North Atlantic alliance, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Gulf war, a whole host of things.
LAMB: When was the first time you remember meeting him?
BAKER: I met him first in May of 1989 at a Conventional Forces in Europe meeting. It was a meeting of the Warsaw Pact countries and NATO countries to talk about reducing conventional arms.
LAMB: And how do you go through this process? When -- at what point did he become a friend?
BAKER: I think probably when we went to Wyoming later on that year, when I took him out to the American West. You know, the Soviets up until that time had been restricted to a 25-mile radius around the U.N. in New York and around their mission here in Washington. And so when we went out to the West, we got a lot of good -- a lot of really good business transacted. We made great strides on chemical weapons treaties and on arms control and on a host of bilateral issues. And the mere fact that we were out there in that setting and away from -- from the normal procedure of a ministerial meeting with -- between the Soviet and American foreign ministers made a big difference.
LAMB: And everywhere you went, you had an interpreter -- everywhere.
BAKER: Everywhere. Absolutely everywhere, yes. He speaks no English, and I speak no Russian.
LAMB: Who in world politics speaks English but we don't know that? In other words, that...
BAKER: Well, President Assad of Syria understands English. He understands quite a bit of it. He doesn't speak it. But he always works through a translator.
LAMB: How about Mr. Kohl in Germany?
BAKER: Helmut Kohl understands a lot of it, but he does no speak it. No, he always works through a translator, as well.
LAMB: Mr. Chirac?
BAKER: I don't know the extent to which President Chirac...
LAMB: Actually, I think I've heard him -- I'm sure I've heard him speak English.
BAKER: He does speak English. No, that's right. I've heard him, too, because when he was -- I remember now, it was when he was mayor of Paris, his speaking -- speaking English.
LAMB: You know, you mentioned earlier about the whole business of you running for president. How much thought did you give that?
BAKER: I gave it some thought in '93, but not as much, probably, as people suppose that I did. As I've told people since, I never really had the virus to the extent and degree that people thought I did. They thought that because I had been chief of staff to two presidents and treasury secretary and secretary of state and -- primarily because I had run these five presidential campaigns, everybody sort of assumed that I really wanted to be president, that I was going to run for president I '96. I've given you the reasons why -- why I didn't.
LAMB: Any chance of you ever getting into politics?
BAKER: I expect to stay active in politics, Brian. I campaigned for 25 of our -- I went to 25 states in 1994 for our senatorial and congressional candidates, to help them either politically or financially, raise money, did probably 45 events or so. And I -- I will be -- you know, I will be doing the same thing for our candidates in '96, to the extent that any of them want me to. I'm heavily involved in public policy and expect to remain so. I'm chairman of the James Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University in Houston, Texas, which is going to be -- we're in the process of building that now, but it's going to be a -- it's really going to be a first-rate public policy institute. we've been very successful in our fund-raising. I think we raised $31 million in a little over 33 months, which is pretty good. And so we're going to have a first-rate operation...
BAKER: ... and I intend to remain active with that.
LAMB: What do you want it to do?
BAKER: I want it to serve as a -- as an institution that can bridge the gap between the world of action, on the one hand, people who've been out there in the real world doing these things, such as myself, and the world of ideas on the other, the academics who give a lot of thought and serious study to these problems, because as a policy maker, I often found myself without the time to utilize or to think about some of the ideas that boiled up there from academia, and yet I know that there are many in academia who come forth with a lot of ideas that have very little chance of implementation or being actually transformed into policy. So we've created an institute. We will be granting fellowships and professorships and holding seminars and conferences that are designed to bring together people from the world of ideas, on the one hand, and the world of action on the other. We're having our first conference on the 13th and 14th of November in Houston, Texas, and we'll have people -- a lot of people that I worked with out there, former prime ministers, former foreign ministers. President Bush'll be there, and so forth.
LAMB: You say in your book -- I think it was a footnote -- that at one point, you thought about becoming a doctor.
BAKER: I did. I spent a summer in a -- working in an emergency room. But I couldn't have handled the physics and chemistry and math that would have been required to be a doctor, and I'm not sure I could have handled the -- I'm not sure I could have -- after watching a few operations, I'm not sure I could have handled that aspect of it, either.
LAMB: Where were you born?
BAKER: I was born in Houston, Texas, lived there all my life. I'm a native Houstonian, which is sort of a rarity these days.
LAMB: Where'd you go to school?
BAKER: I went to a private school in Houston called Kincaid School up until the 10th grade. I graduated from the Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, in -- for the 11th and 12th grades and graduated there in 1948 and then went to Princeton University, got a degree in history. I majored in history and minored in classics, as I write there in the book. And then I went in the Marine Corps for two years during the Korean war, although I didn't have to fight.
LAMB: And what about law school?
BAKER: And then I went to the University of Texas law school after getting out of the Marine Corps. Went to the University of Texas law school and got my law degree in June of 1957.
LAMB: You got a long dedication. I want to read it. "To my great-grandfather, my grandfather and my father for three generations of James Addison Bakers, whose belief in God, integrity and hard work gave me a remarkable heritage that inspired me. And to my wonderful mother, whose love and support gave me wings to fly." What about those great-grandfathers, grandfathers and fathers? Are any of them alive?
BAKER: They -- no, they're all gone. My great-grandfather was the -- was one of the founders of the law firm that I'm now associated with, Baker and Botts. It's a Houston-based law firm with offices all over the world, really. And we've got almost 500 lawyers. It's a big law firm. Have an office in Moscow. We've got offices in Washington, New York, Dallas, Austin. And those James A. Bakers all worked there. I never worked there until I left government in 1992 because there was a nepotism rule in force when I got out of law school. They thought about making an exception for me because I had the grades in law school, but the firm finally decided it would not make an exception. And of course, I was -- I was very disappointed in that at the time because I'd been brought up to believe that there was only one law firm, Baker and Botts. But I went to work for another very good law firm in Houston, Andrews and Kurth. I worked for them for 22 years. And I write in the book that if I'd gone to work for Baker and Botts, it would have been the worst thing that could have happened to me because if I had succeeded, it would have been because my father was there, and if I hadn't succeeded, it would have been, Well, what did you expect? He's only here because of his father. So it was the right thing.
LAMB: When did you first meet George Bush?
BAKER: George and I met in 1957, when I moved back to Houston from law school and when he moved to Houston from Midland, Texas, where he'd been in the oil business.
LAMB: What do you remember about that first meeting?
BAKER: I remember that he had known some -- he had known some people in Dayton, Ohio, who -- he had some relatives, excuse me, in Dayton, Ohio, that were friends of my first wife's, the one who died of cancer at 38. And we'd talked about those mutual friends in Dayton, relatives of his, friends of mine -- of my wife's. And neither one of us -- we'd just moved to Houston. I'd moved back. He'd just moved to Houston. Neither one of us had a tennis partner for the tennis tournament, and they put us together, and we became a pretty good tennis combination.
LAMB: What'd you learn about him from tennis?
BAKER: Competitive. He's very, very competitive. He's dogged. He has great determination and great instincts. As I write in the book there, he's the man that I -- that I always looked up to, and he'd really always been there for me when I -- when I had needed him. Some people -- I ran Jerry Ford's 1976 presidential campaign. I was president -- I was chairman of the President Ford Committee. And after that, I talked to my friend, George Bush. He talked about the possibility of his running in 1980. And I signed on with him right away because we were good friends and said that I would be glad to try and help him. And you know, a lot of people came to me and said, You're nuts. You're crazy. He's got no name identification. He's got no chance. He's going to be running against people like John Connally, who's got this big national reputation, and Howard Baker and others. And how could you possibly -- how could you possibly make a mistake like this? Well, to me, it wasn't a mistake. I mean, I knew I -- I thought I knew, and it turned out I was right, the potential that the man had.
LAMB: You say here that, "We often argued like crazy, and loudly."
BAKER: We did, quite frequently. And I also say in there that he said on more than one occasion that I'm the one person who tells him what I think, even when I know he doesn't want to hear it. And that's true. And he has likened our relationship to a big brother/little brother relationship, and I say also in the book that I consider that quite a compliment.
LAMB: "If you're so smart, why am I vice president and you're not?"
BAKER: That's the way -- that was his way of cutting off the conversation when the argument had gone long enough, sometimes he would look at me and he would say, Well, if you're so smart, why am I vice president and you're not? Or why am I president and you're not? And I always knew that was his way of saying, Conversation's over.
LAMB: What are the five P's?
BAKER: Prior preparation prevents poor performance. That's something my dad taught me. He drummed it into me. He said, Just always make sure you're prepared. Don't ever go into anything unprepared. Whatever you choose to do, do it, enjoy it, do it -- do your best at it, but always be prepared.
LAMB: Did you ever go unprepared into a meeting when you were secretary of state?
BAKER: I don't think so. I tried not to. I think if you talk to the people who worked for me at the department, or even in other incarnations in government, they would tell you that I -- I always liked to see -- I always liked to see something before a meeting. I always liked to know exactly what it was we were seeking to achieve. I did my homework. If you give me something to take home and to read and to study, I'd take it home and read it and study it. It's just the way I'm built.
LAMB: What are some of your principles of managing people? I mean, you talk some in here about the building and the State Department and the difficulty of the foreign service relationship with the politicians.
BAKER: I think in government, particularly in -- but also in politics, it's a people's -- it's a people game. Getting people to work with each other is very difficult sometimes. There's always a lot of jockeying for position. And I think that you need to -- that you have to know when to be firm with people. You have to know when to be willing to give and to grant them some latitude. And managing people I think is -- is very -- is every bit as important as managing issues.
LAMB: Negotiator. What's a good negotiator?
BAKER: I got my negotiating skills, whatever they are, from 22 years of practicing law, in my opinion. I mean, I was a business lawyer dealing in mergers, acquisitions, reorganizations. And I think a good negotiator is one who knows what it is he's trying to accomplish and knows pretty much before he goes in what the limits of his opponent are and what his own limits are. That negotiating skill is, I think, also a political -- a political skill. One reason I call the book "The Politics of Diplomacy" is because I really believe that my political experience and my negotiating experience made me a much better diplomat. Diplomacy is international negotiation, but it's also -- it's also helped if you're able to put yourself in your interlocutor's shoes, to the point that you know what the political constraints are on him or her and you know how far they can go, and you can craft solutions that you think they might be able to sell to their publics back at home because they've got to do the very same thing you have to do. You've got -- no foreign policy is going to be sustainable that doesn't have a firm grounding in domestic politics and doesn't have a firm domestic consensus behind it. Political experience also tells you, I think, what the limits are in your own back yard.
LAMB: There was a -- there was a conversation -- you called Hans Dietrich Genscher at the time of the fall of the Wall, and his secretary...
BAKER: Yes.
LAMB: ... said to you, God bless America. Thank you for everything, sir. (CROSSTALK)
BAKER: ... a very emotional time. Actually, he was calling me, and she got me on the phone, and she was crying. And she said -- she said, Sir, Minister Genscher is calling you. And before I put him on, I just want to say God bless America and thank you for all you've done for us. It was very emotional. The Germans were truly -- and remain truly appreciative of what America did to accomplish German unification in peace and freedom as a member of NATO. And it wasn't -- it was not easy. Moscow had great difficulty accepting it. London and Paris were unenthusiastic, to put it mildly, given the history of Europe. And had there not been strong American support and resolve, I don't think it would have been accomplished in the manner that it was.
LAMB: When she said that to you, did you write it down, or just remember it?
BAKER: I wrote it down. I just made a little note of it. Yes.
LAMB: Did you know her?
BAKER: No. No, I may have met her, you know, when I was over there going -- meeting with him in the foreign ministry in Bonn, but I don't remember who she was.
LAMB: At another moment, you were meeting with a 91-year-old Czech cardinal.
BAKER: Yes, Cardinal Tomasek.
LAMB: And your interpreter broke down.
BAKER: Yes, he did. He works for the Voice of America. Interestingly enough, I was in -- and I can't remember what city, Brian, but I was on the book tour not long ago, and I did a Voice of America radio show, and this young man walked up to me, and I immediately recognized his face. And he said, I was your interpreter in that meeting with Cardinal Tomasek. He said, It was such an emotional moment for me. Of course, you know America was responsible for the creation of Czechoslovakia, Woodrow Wilson. And that was what the cardinal was reviewing, was -- I mean, was talking about, was the debt that country owed to the United States. There were so many things like -- emotional things like that throughout because everybody was embracing the principles and values that made this country great. I talk about addressing a crowd in Tirana, Albania, the most closed society in the world for 50 years. I go to Tirana, the first high-ranking American official ever to go there in 55 or 60 years, to address a crowd in a city of 250,000 people and 450,000 people show up. From all over the country, they've come in. And they're chanting, Freedom and democracy, and they've got signs out there with my name on it. And they weren't there to greet me, they were there to greet the idea that the United States of America represents, to greet freedom. And it was a really emotional experience. John Dancy with NBC News was on the trip with us, and he'd been a political reporter for years and years, covering political events here in the United States. He said he'd never seen anything like it. And I must say, I'd -- in five presidential campaigns, I'd never seen anything like a crowd of 450,000 people.
LAMB: You say that you're not very emotional. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) not very emotional. You say you only lost your composure once.
BAKER: I think that's right.
LAMB: When you left the State...
BAKER: The department, yes.
LAMB: But how -- how do you stay unemotional when you see all these kind of things?
BAKER: Well, sometimes I would lose it but not publicly. I think what I've said there is the only time I lost it publicly was when I was saying good-bye at the State Department, and I -- I really did lose it then. That was very tough. But I try not to lose it publicly.
LAMB: Why?
BAKER: Well, I don't know. I think it's -- I don't think you -- I think it's all right -- I think it's excusable if you do it infrequently, but if you do it frequently, I don't think it -- I don't think it's a particular sign of strength if you lose it publicly too often.
LAMB: You -- as we talked earlier, you remembered the earthquake and taking care of them when you were in the Marine Corps.
BAKER: Yes.
LAMB: You also remembered seeing footage of the 1956 Russian invasion of Hungary...
BAKER: Yes.
LAMB: ... that impacted you at some point.
BAKER: It did.
LAMB: Why did you remember that?
BAKER: Well, I remembered that in conjunction with -- with whether or not we were going to dance on the Wall or be too ebullient about events as things were changing in East Germany. And I don't think that -- I think it was important that we walked a fine line. The president felt that way, and I felt that way. We didn't think it was -- having won the cold war, we didn't -- we didn't want to see things go out with a bang, we wanted to see them go out with a whimper, which is the way they went out. The cold war ended peacefully. It didn't have to end peacefully. And I think that's probably why that recollection came to me.
LAMB: If -- and maybe this has even happened, but if a new secretary of state ever came to you and sat down and said, All right, Jim Baker, tell me -- tell me what I should be cautious of in this job, or what I should worry about, or give me your five main points as secretary of state, what would you tell him?
BAKER: Prioritize your -- prioritize what it is you're going to do. Make sure that you understand you can only really pay concentrated attention to one or two or three issues at a time. Don't spread yourself so thin. Surround yourself with some extraordinarily capable and loyal aides who can handle things that you are just not going to have time to handle. Make sure that you have a president who will support you and protect you and defend you because everyone in Washington wants a piece of your turf. So do everything you can in your discussions with your boss to make sure you're not constantly having to look over your shoulder. Greatest thing that I had was a 35-year friendship with the president. I never had to worry about my backside. The job is hard enough without having to worry about your backside.
LAMB: What would you tell them about the media?
BAKER: I would tell them that it is really important to work with the media to the extent that you can, to keep the media informed and aware of what's going on, to the extent that you can. Make sure you explain to them what your goals and purposes are when you take action. Make sure you always have the Congress in the back of your mind, and make sure you do whatever you can to bring them along, so that you can help build a public consensus behind your policies. Much of what you do is going to be seen through the eyes of the media. Much of what you're doing is going to be translated to the general public in the country by the media.
LAMB: How often did you -- when you knew there was a column about you -- and there were lots of them written -- did you read them?
BAKER: Oh, I think I read most all of them. I don't think I ever picked up the phone and called and griped about a column. I never felt that that was the right thing to do. I just -- you're going to get the -- you take the bad with the good. You're going to get some good, you're going to get some bad. Generally speaking, if one was written about you, you read it. Most people are, human nature being what it is.
LAMB: You ever change anything because of what you read about yourself?
BAKER: Not that I can recall, no.
LAMB: Give the -- give the media a grade. Grade them as far as accuracy and understanding what's really going on versus a lot of extraneous matter that people are reading that isn't true.
BAKER: I think that there's been an unfortunate tendency to rush to judgment as things have gotten more competitive in the American media. I think we're not as careful as we used to be. I think back 20 years to 1976. On the other hand, there's media and there's media. The State Department press corps were very careful, and they were thoughtful. And they were -- and they went about things in a somewhat different way, quite frankly, than the White House press corps. White House press corps lives on politics and it lives on -- on unattributed background quotes, and so forth and so on. It's a little bit different in the State Department. In the White House, you talk on background a lot. In fact, if you're a staffer, if you're chief of staff, you ought to be on background. You shouldn't be out there publicly with a high profile. Chiefs of staff who take -- who adopt a high profile always come to no good end. On the other hand, when you are a principal, like secretary of the treasury or secretary of state, you are, generally speaking, always on the record. Only when you're trying to explain a policy, when you're flying into a country or flying out of a country, will you normally be on background.
LAMB: Let me ask you about some odds and ends. In a recent BOOKNOTES, we talked to Marlin Fitzwater, and he tells a story about you and Jack Kemp in that book, where you two had words in the Oval Office over Lithuania.
BAKER: Yes.
LAMB: I just want to ask you if it's true.
BAKER: Well, Jack said -- Jack said we -- you know, the first story was that we had fisticuffs. Jack said it never happened. Well, I said it never happened because we never did have fisticuffs. We had plenty -- we had words. Absolutely. The words basically were, Jack, you go run the Housing and Urban Development Department, I'll run the State Department. That's basically what -- what that was all about. But it was nothing more than a shouting match, and that's not something that is -- that's not something that's very rare, as a matter of fact.
LAMB: You say in here in your book that you interfered at a point where he was trying to have a meeting with Mr. Sharon of Israel, and you didn't want it to happen.
BAKER: I did. I did. Because Sharon, I think, was a -- was an obstacle to peace at the time. He was building settlements right and left. Every time I'd fly into Israel as the American secretary of state, he would stick it in our eye. Knowing it was contrary to American policy, the settlements were, he'd announce a new settlement just to sort of stick it -- stick it to us. And so I did not think that a member of the Bush cabinet should receive him in their office. So I did weigh in on that, and Jack went over and saw him at -- at his office instead of in Jack's office.
LAMB: Another odd or end was -- in two different locations in the book, you talk about martinis. One of them is the story about John Tower and the -- "the squalid business we're in."
BAKER: Yes.
LAMB: And it says, "As we nursed our vodka martinis" -- what's the John Tower story, 1978, San Antonio?
BAKER: Well, that was when John and I were -- it was my only effort at elective politics. I was running for attorney general of Texas, having left -- having come off the chairmanship of the Ford campaign bitten with the political bug. And John Tower was running for reelection as senator. And we were passing out leaflets one hot summer afternoon in San Antonio, and that's when he said, Let's go get a drink at the Menger (ph), and we went over to the -- to the Menger and had a drink.
LAMB: Well, the second martini story actually got my attention more than that first one, was the beginning of the Gulf war.
BAKER: That's right. Yes.
LAMB: You said you got yourself -- put your feet up and got two double...
BAKER: I did.
LAMB: ... martinis and...
BAKER: I ordered -- I got myself a stiff double martini. That's absolutely right. And I -- and I tuned into CNN, and CNN -- I never will forget it. It was Bernie Shaw and John Holliman. They were in Baghdad, and they're saying, Well, nothing's happening here. And I was sitting there looking at my watch, and it was all -- it was about 3 or 4 minutes beyond the time that the air war was supposed to have started. And I was thinking to myself, Good gracious. Something must -- something must have happened. And then with that, the sky lit up, and they were -- the next thing you heard from them, well, they were under their desks. And I thought to myself, This is the last -- first and last time I will ever -- I will ever see a war start that I had known in advance was going to start and exactly when it was going to start.
LAMB: You say, though, that at the last minute, the Russians, through Mr. Bessmertnykh, tried to talk you out of this.
BAKER: They tried to talk us out of our land war very -- yes, through Mr. -- through Bessmertnykh, but also through Gorbachev direct to President Bush.
LAMB: At the last minute, they wanted you to stop right there in the last hour or so.
BAKER: Absolutely. Yes. Oh, well, now you're talking about the air war. They tried to stop the air war. That's correct. At that point, they called and I -- I had waited until the last minute to call them because I knew they would try and ask us for time. And they asked us for time, and I said, I'm sorry, but it's too late to -- to do anything about that. These -- this kind of an action is in train, and you can't pull it back. And then they tried to do a lot of -- they tried to pull a lot of diplomatic maneuvers to avoid a ground war. I mean, they were -- they were well-intentioned, from their standpoint, but -- but we constantly had to keep them at arm's length. We didn't want to force them out of the coalition. We didn't want them to think that we didn't want them on board. But we didn't want to change our plans.
LAMB: What did you -- what do you think of this whole experience of writing this book?
BAKER: Well, it was an interesting experience. I'm delighted now that I wrote the book. It was hard. It took two years. But I wanted to make a record of -- of an extraordinary time insofar as changes in the world are concerned. And I have written such a record, and I've written, I think, an almost unimpeachable record, in the sense that I've written it from the very memorandums of conversation. It's not designed to be a picture of what everybody was doing. It's designed to be a portrait of what my role was in these -- in these seminal events, and what I was saying to people when I would meet with them and what they were saying to me and what the consequences were.
LAMB: How much of the actual writing did you did, and how much did Tom DeFrank do?
BAKER: Tom did practically all of it. I did a tremendous amount of editing. And in editing, you do writing. I mean, I did a lot of writing, but I never did first drafts. Tom did first drafts. I would tell him what -- the way I thought a chapter should go. We -- my policy assistant, Andrew Carpendal (ph), and others that work for me furnished Tom with outlines of each chapter and said, Here's the way we think the chapter ought to be approached.
LAMB: Are we ever going to get that political book out of you?
BAKER: I don't know.
LAMB: What will it take?
BAKER: I don't know, Brian. That's -- I had -- I had sworn I would never write that political book, and I still I probably won't because such a book is almost of necessity a kiss-and-tell. And I think the people that come to Washington and write "kiss-and-tell" memoirs generally diminish themselves in the writing of those memoirs. It's hard to write a political book like that, on the inner workings of the Bush and Reagan White Houses, for instance, that doesn't turn into a kiss-and-tell. Everybody that's reviewed this book has acknowledged this is not a kiss-and-tell. It's a serious -- it's a serious rendition of the fundamental changes in the world from 1989 to 1992, but written in a readable and interesting way.
LAMB: This is what the cover of the book looks like, "The Politics of Diplomacy." Our guest, James A. Baker. Thank you very much for joining us.
BAKER: Thank you, Brian.


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