James Baker update! As we noted in the post earlier this evening, the White House wants James A. Baker, Uber-Fixer-Maximus to take over running Iraq.
Now when I originally linked to the story in question at the Washington Post it was datelined just after twelve noon today. It was headlined with the news about the probable return of Baker (“White House Wants Baker to Head Iraq Reconstruction”)and hinted on various levels that Bremer might be on the way out.
What the story actually said was that Baker would likely be asked to run the economy and the physical infrastructure in Iraq while Bremer would run the political side. Significantly, the story said it was unclear whether Bremer would report to Baker or vice versa.
For those who remember how ole’ Jay Garner got the boot, that sort of ‘transition’ had an awfully familiar ring to it.
Now, just before nine I again checked the story. And it had changed — a lot.
Now there’s no James Baker in the headline (“Bush Considers New Overhaul of Postwar Iraq Administration”). And he’s not even mentioned until the 5th graf, where it says …
As part of an effort to beef up the reconstruction, the White House is considering asking several major figures, including former secretary of state James A. Baker III, to help with specific tasks like seeking funds from other countries or helping restructure Iraq’s debt.
The new article is larded with lines about how everyone loves the job Bremer is doing (which, by and large, I think I agree with, given the constraints he seems to be operating under). And the second mention of Baker’s name — down in graf #8 — says …
An aide said Baker is on vacation, and he did not immediately return messages left at his law firm, Baker Botts LLP in Houston. Several administration officials predicted that Baker would not become involved, but said the White House might still seek “a Baker-like figure” to share duties with Bremer.
Here’s CBS’s pick-up of the original Post story — though who knows how long it’ll remain?
Now, I’ve gotta ask: what happened here?
Between noon and 7 PM we went from the likely sending out of Baker as viceroy to the possible appointment of “a Baker-like figure” to help out Bremer.
Something’s fishy here. Did the authors — Mike Allen and Glenn Kessler, two real pros — get spun by some bad tips? That’s hard to figure. Or did they get walloped by a tsunami of Bush spinmeisters furiously walking back the story? Or did the Baker boomlet at the White House really only last for half an afternoon? Is there a tug of war? And where’s Bremer fit in in all this? And, while we’re asking questions, how many neos with offices at OSD or at the corner of 17th and M Street suffered nervous breakdowns when they heard James A. Baker might be put in charge of Iraq?
Something worth knowing happened here.
Special Note to Post sources (you know who you are!): Your own TPM mug for whoever can send me a copy of the original piece. And even more TPM prizes for whomever can fill me in on the backstory.
Late Update: Another blog, “Uggabugga” (no, I have no idea how he came up with that name), has both versions of the article lined up side by side on his site.
Even Later Update: Is that your final answer? As of 12:50 AM, we have yet another version of the story (“Changes in Iraq Effort Debated”). Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. This one sheds a little light on the tug-of-war that likely led to the differences between versions one and two.