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President Bush and Secretary Baker

During most of the Cold War, the Secretary of State and the National Security Adviser competed for influence over the President’s foreign policy. Presidential candidate George H.W. Bush pledged to end the centralization of foreign policy decision-making in the White House, which had reached extremes during the “Iran-Contra affair.” Bush wanted ambassadors to have a larger advisory role, while a reduced NSC staff would be less intrusive. Choosing his cabinet from among people he already knew, Bush selected one of his closest friends, James A. Baker III, as Secretary of State. Baker had served as White House Chief of Staff and Secretary of the Treasury under Reagan. Bush characterized Baker as a “gimmie,” and announced his appointment less than 24 hours after his election. The foreign policy of the Bush presidency benefited greatly from the personal rapport between the two men.

Secretary of State James Baker

Bush brought his own considerable foreign policy experience to the presidency. In addition to his eight years as Vice President, he had served as Ambassador to the United Nations, U.S. envoy to the People’s Republic of China, and as Director of the CIA. Bush was at the helm of a smooth-functioning national security team comprised of Secretary Baker, Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney, National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin L. Powell. Although intense policy differences occurred, a collegial approach to foreign policy-making was the norm, especially in the “breakfast group” of Baker, Cheney, and Scowcroft, which met weekly to iron out problems that could not be resolved through the bureaucratic channels of interdepartmental meetings or the deputies committee system.