WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State James A. Baker III's expected move to the White House, designed to salvage President Bush's re-election prospects, will also have a strong impact on how foreign policy is managed, even though the actual policies won't change.
Mr. Baker, the president's closest friend, political partner for the last 15 years and 1988 campaign manager, is to resign from his Cabinet post in mid-August, shortly after a scheduled visit to the United States by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the New York Times reported last night.
The White House, which declined to comment last night, has delayed announcement of the move to allow Mr. Baker to visit the Middle East and Asia this week without diminishing his diplomatic stature, the newspaper said.
The Baker qualities with which the Republicans hope to shore up Mr. Bush's faltering campaign are those on display during Mr. Baker's current trip to the Middle East.
They include the aura created by an unparalleled personal relationship with the president, an acute sense of timing and opportunity, results-driven work habits and a passion for discipline.
For Mr. Baker, the shift to running the campaign presents both an exhausting challenge and a comedown from the heady role of statesman. The political chore is one he has performed four times before and had no desire to repeat.
That Mr. Baker is being tapped to control the campaign is a measure not just of the president's political desperation but also of the near-irrelevance of foreign policy in an election year dominated by a sluggish economy and widespread pessimism about the future.
Administration officials and outsiders expect widely respected Deputy Secretary Lawrence S. Eagleburger to run the State Department, as he usually does when Mr. Baker is out of the
While Mr. Baker draws more on the bureaucracy than is widely known, he still relies heavily on an inner circle of aides who were with him in previous posts and are politically experienced.
"When major policy decisions have to be made, it is often one of these people who carries the water and makes the decision happen in a timely fashion," says someone familiar with how the Baker team operates.
Within the Bush campaign, it is hoped that at least three of Mr. Baker's top aides would leave the State Department with him: Margaret Tutwiler, assistant secretary of state for public affairs; Robert Zoellick, under secretary for economic affairs and counselor; and Janet Mullins, assistant secretary for legislative affairs.
The biggest question mark is Dennis Ross, director of policy planning, who has been Mr. Baker's chief adviser on the former Soviet Union and the key architect behind the secretary's Middle East initiatives.
His departure could deepen what diplomats see as potentially the biggest void left by Mr. Baker's job shift.
For more than a year, Mr. Baker has kept an authoritative hand on the Middle East peace process, an effort that set the stage for what could be dramatic gains now that a Labor-led government has been elected in Israel.
The widespread hope is that Mr. Baker's current trip will give sufficient momentum to the peace talks to allow them to progress through the fall without his constant attention, under the management of a group of senior State Department and National Security Council specialists.
But a European diplomat voiced the worry that "without this constant emphasis and dynamism" shown by Mr. Baker, "there is a question whether something can be achieved in that period."