A Republican Party campaign leader, James Addison Baker, III (born 1930) helped elect as president both Ronald Reagan and George Bush. He also served as Chief of Staff and Secretary of the Treasury for Reagan and as Secretary of State for Bush.
James Addison Baker, III, was born April 28, 1930, into a wealthy Houston, Texas, family. His great-grandfather had opened a law office in Houston that was to become one of the largest law firms in the country. His grandfather helped the firm grow and founded a bank. His father continued the legal tradition and had a great influence over Baker's formative years. His mother was the former Bonner Means.
Baker attended a college prep school in Pennsylvania. He studied classics at Princeton University and earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1952. After two years of active duty as a lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps, he entered the University of Texas School of Law at Austin. He received his law degree, with honors, in 1957. He later joined the American, Texas, and Houston Bar associations. As a corporate attorney, Baker practiced with the Houston firm of Andrews and Kurth from 1957 to 1975.
Baker had a long-term personal and political friendship with George Bush, who was a U.S. representative from Texas. Bush asked Baker to help manage his campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1970. Although Bush lost that race, Baker's political activities thrived. He switched political parties, becoming a Republican that year. Two years later he was working in the campaign for President Richard Nixon's reelection. In 1972 he became a state party official in Texas.
President Gerald R. Ford, with Bush's recommendation, appointed Baker as the Under Secretary of Commerce in August 1975. Baker joined Ford's campaign for reelection to the presidency in May 1976 as Deputy Chairman for Delegate Operations, and in August became National Chairman of the President Ford Committee.
Deciding to seek public office for himself, Baker entered the race for Attorney General of Texas in 1978, but lost the election. Afterward, he went back to campaigning for others.
Baker's friend and tennis partner George Bush decided to seek the presidency, and from January 1979 to May 1980, he headed Bush's campaign team for the Republican nomination. Bush faltered in his effort and became, instead, Ronald Reagan's teammate as the vice presidential candidate. Baker moved with Bush and became a senior adviser to the Reagan-Bush ticket.
Reagan was impressed with Baker's organizational skills and political strategies during the 1980 campaign. After the election, President Reagan appointed Baker White House Chief of Staff, beginning January 1981. He became a trusted adviser, reporting directly to the president. Because of his political contacts and experience, he also became an important link between the White House and Congress. Baker worked hard to win congressional acceptance of Reagan's tax reduction proposals.
In January 1985, at the start of Reagan's second term, Baker switched positions with Secretary of the Treasury Donald T. Regan.
Baker served as the 67th Secretary of the Treasury from February 1985 to August 1988. While in this office, he was active in trying to solve such problems as Third World debts and stabilizing the international monetary system, while continuing to support Reagan's tax reforms.
Baker resigned his cabinet position to direct the successful presidential campaign of George Bush. Within hours of his election, Bush nominated Baker to be Secretary of State. Baker was sworn in as the 61st Secretary of State on January 25, 1989 and served in this role till 1992, during which time he traveled to 90 foreign countries. He presided over American foreign affairs at the time of historic changes in American-Soviet relations, with the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, the emerging democratic participation in Eastern European countries, arms control, and American troop withdrawal in Europe.
When Iraq invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990, Baker played a key role in lining up wide support in the community of nations against the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. In mid-January, 1991, U.S.-led coalition forces launched massive air strikes on Iraqi military targets in Iraq and Kuwait (Desert Storm). Thirty-seven countries shared the financial or military burdens of the effort to liberate Kuwait. The allies took great care to keep civilian casualties to a minimum. But Iraq directed most of its military attacks against civilians, firing numerous Scud missiles at cities in Saudi Arabia and Israel, a noncombatant. In late February, the allies launched a ground attack, and a few days later, Kuwait was liberated and the Gulf War was over.
Baker was honored in 1993 with a National Association of Arab Americans Peace Award, marking the second anniversary of the Madrid Conference, where he had played a key role. The historic handshake on the South Lawn of the White House "was not just old enemies stepping across an important diplomatic threshold," but "a decisive commitment to peace," said Baker. "Palestinian autonomy and Israeli security have become inextricably linked."
In 1997, Baker was asked by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan to be his personal envoy to the Western Sahara. He was asked to help get the faltering efforts to settle the differences between the Government of Morocco and the Frente POLISARIO over governing the former Spanish territory in the Sahara back on track.
In a 1995 interview with David Gergen, editor-at-large of U.S. News & World Report, Baker spoke of his book The Politics of Diplomacy: Revolution, War & Peace, 1989-1992. Baker told Gergen that to include his entire 12 years of service in government would have resulted in a book of unreasonable length. "I wrote the book about my time as Secretary of State because the world changed during that 43 months. The world, as I had known it for my entire adult life, changed. There were so many historic things that happened with the collapse of Communism, the fall of the Wall, the implosion of the Soviet Union, the reunification of Germany, NATO, a Mideast peace, the Persian Gulf War, a war in Panama."
Baker received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1991, and has been the recipient of many other awards for distinguished public service, including Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson Award, The American Institute for Public Service's Jefferson Award, Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government Award, The Hans J. Morgenthau Award, The George F. Kennan Award, the Department of the Treasury's Alexander Hamilton Award, the Department of State's Distinguished Service Award and numerous honorary academic degrees.
Baker was a senior partner in the law firm of Baker & Botts and Senior Counselor to The Carlyle Group, a merchant banking firm in Washington, DC. He served on the boards of Rice University, Princeton University, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in the Smithsonian, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Baker was Honorary Chairman of the James A. Baker, III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University in Houston. The institute was established in 1993 and named in his honor. Baker had early and strong ties with the university, and his grandfather has served as first chairman of the board of trustees.
Baker was described as an outstanding administrator. He was labeled a pragmatist, with a belief in negotiation rather than confrontation when dealing with Congress and foreign governments.
Baker married Mary McHenry in 1953, and they had four sons. She died of cancer in 1970. Three years later, he married Susan Garrett Winston, a mother of two sons and a daughter. Together they had another daughter, who was born in 1977.
Further Reading on James Addison Baker III
Baker's The Politics of Diplomacy: Revolution, War & Peace, 1989-1992 (1995) is also available in audio format. There is no book-length biography of Baker, but aspects of his activities have been discussed by people with whom he worked. Some campaign-related events are recorded in George Bush's autobiography, Looking Forward (1987), and in Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover, Whose Broad Stripes and Bright Stars? (1989). Insight into his role as Chief of Staff and in his cabinet positions can be found in Donald T. Regan, For the Record (1988); Michael K. Deaver, Behind the Scenes (1987); and Larry Speakes, Speaking Out (1988). Biographical material is found in Ronald Brownstein and Nina Easton, Reagan's Ruling Class (1982). Articles on various issues authored by Baker can be found in The Los Angeles Times articles "Will Netanyahu have the will to fight for peace?" (June 9, 1996), "NAFTA fight offers competing visions of U.S. international role" (October 17, 1993), and "China plays its China card: N. Korea or human rights?" (April 10, 1994); and The New York Times article "Our best defense" (February 16, 1997).