Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Baker surfaces as key adviser to Bush on Iraq :: Insight


President Bush has acceded to his father's urging and has made former Secretary of State James Baker a leading adviser on Iraq.

Administration sources said Mr. Baker, head of the congressionally mandated Iraq Study Group, has been discussing with the president recommendations on an exit strategy that could begin after the November elections. They said Mr. Baker's approach to Iraq differs sharply from that of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The sources said Mr. Baker has maintained an extremely low profile and slips in and out of Baghdad without fanfare. They said that unlike the elder Bush's national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, Mr. Baker has avoided stepping on the toes of such senior officials as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has been wary of Mr. Baker's access to the president.

"The president has understood that he needs a trusted outsider without any personal stake in U.S. policy on Iraq," an administration source said. "Jim Baker also has a lot of clout and credibility on the Hill."

Over the past two months, Mr. Baker has been shuttling to Baghdad where he has been meeting U.S. diplomats, military commanders as well as Iraqi politicians. The sources said Mr. Baker has also been quietly meeting with leaders in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

The sources said Mr. Baker's increasing access to the president comes amid declining confidence in Mr. Rumsfeld. They said that until June 2006 Mr. Rumsfeld consistently reassured the White House and Congress that the Sunni insurgency war would diminish.

"Those who sought to join Baker and Bush came from the circle around the former president [Bush]," a source said. "But in this case, there was clear support from Republican leaders in the Senate and House."

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