In This Review

The Politics of Diplomacy: Revolution, War and Peace, 1989-1992
The Politics of Diplomacy: Revolution, War and Peace, 1989-1992
By James A. Baker, III
G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1995, 687 pp

This memoir by President Bush's secretary of state presents a triumphant chronicle of his diplomatic activities from 1989 to 1992. Though not in the class of the great treatises of Dean Acheson and Henry Kissinger, it is a spirited defense of Baker's conduct and has a certain Texas charm about it. What Richard Nixon once said to Baker of Margaret Tutwiler--"she has that nice, soft southern accent. At the same time, she's tough, mean, and devious. Perfect!"--might stand as a fair description of our protagonist. Always the master of his brief and highly skilled in coalition-building, Baker's motto was Hiawatha's: "All your strength is in union. All your danger is in discord." That he was ever alert to the ways and means by which a congressional or allied consensus might be reached--a trait often held against him by ideologues--is actually one of his most statesmanlike qualities. Some of his dicta are worth chiseling into the frontal lobes of American negotiators: "constructive ambiguity," he notes, is more dangerous than useful in diplomacy; "absolute precision is the more preferable device." Though frequently acerbic to critics--particularly of the Gulf War--Baker will often ignore criticism rather than confute it. In his treatment of Bosnia, for instance, there is no mention of his attitude toward the negotiations over "cantonization" that took place in Lisbon before the outbreak of war in April 1992. As the principles of the settlement then proposed under EU mediation are similar to what has now been agreed to, and as the Bush administration is said to have advised Alija Izetbegovi'c to reject the plan, thus precipitating the war, some further attention to this question would have been desirable.