James Baker

Former Secretary of State James Baker III received an award for lifetime achievement on Oct. 27.

A key member of the George H.W. Bush White House was recognized for his selfless service to the United States.

James A. Baker III was awarded the George Bush Award for Excellence in Public Service by the George and Barbara Bush Foundation, Wednesday, Oct. 27. Baker worked in the cabinet of three presidential administrations, one of which as chief of staff and secretary of state for former President H.W. Bush.

“The George Bush Award for Excellence in Public Service recognizes an individual’s or group’s dedication to public service at the local, state, national or international levels,” the foundation’s website reads.

Baker’s most notable contribution was as the secretary of state during the first three years of the H.W. Bush presidency. As secretary of state, he saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Persian Gulf War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. During the 1991 Gulf War, Baker led the formation of a coalition of 35 countries against the Iraqi invasion and occupation of Kuwait. This coalition led to one of the most decisive military victories in U.S. history.

“I think this will go down in history as a textbook example of the way to fight a war, the way to fight politically, militarily, diplomatically [and] economically … President Bush knew what he wanted to do. He defined victory [as] kicking Iraq out of Kuwait, not going to Baghdad,” Baker said during conversation with the former Vice President to H.W. Bush, Dan Quayle.

Baker said the impact this short war could have on future conflicts is what made the Gulf War so effective.

“I think that future presidents could learn by looking at what President Bush did in the First Gulf War. There was no mission creep. Victory was clearly defined as kicking Iraq out of Kuwait,” Baker said.

He contrasted the Gulf War, in which the fighting lasted less than six weeks, with the almost 20-year War on Terror in Afghanistan.

“Afghanistan turned out, I think, to be an invalid analogy,” Baker said. “We let mission creep take over there. We went in there to take out Osama bin Laden — who was there — but then he went to Pakistan, [and] the inertia of bureaucracy tends to take over. And that’s why what President H.W. Bush did here in Kuwait is so perfect, because he did not let the mission creep into something else.”

Baker also gave his thoughts on the problems facing the U.S. in 2021. One of the biggest problems the U.S. faces right now is polarization and a loss of “the center” in U.S. politics, Baker said. Redistricting also feeds into this problem, Baker said, as the leading party in each state tries to minimize the other state party’s impact in elections.

“The responsible center of American politics has disappeared, and I don’t know how we handle this dysfunction,” Baker said.

Another problem facing the U.S., Baker said, is debt and government spending.

“The debt bomb is going to bite us big time. When interest rates start staying up … we’re going to be paying inordinate amounts of debt service to China and Japan … and there’s no way out of it because there is no fiscal cooperation,” Baker said.

Baker said the country’s shift toward isolationism under the last two presidents has hurt the country internationally.

“America benefits from our engagement abroad … and if we don’t lead, there will be a vacuum,” Baker said.

In addition to Baker, Mark Welsh, dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service,  talked about his experience in the Air Force, fighting in the Gulf War. Baker also shared a story about Dave Magar, a master sergeant in charge of ensuring the planes were ready to fly by the morning, who has since passed away. 

Before one mission, Welsh saw the flag Magar had on his vehicle antenna. He said he asked Magar if he could carry it with him in his pocket during the mission. Magar took the flag off of his vehicle, reverently carried it over to Welsh, and gave it to him, who put it in his flight suit pocket. When he returned home, Magar had the flag matted up and hung it above his living room couch. Magar gave this to Welsh, who described it as “the greatest award I will ever receive.”

“Those white stripes just remind me of his integrity. The red stripes are his courage and conviction, and the blue field is his loyalty,” Welsh said, describing the flag he was given.

Max Angerholzer, the CEO of the Bush Foundation, said Texas A&M is the most fitting place for the Bush Presidential Library and what this award means to him.

“It’s very easy for me to see, now that I’ve been here for a year, why the president and Mrs. Bush chose Texas A&M for the presidential library,” Angerholzer said. “Putting others before yourself. And that selfless sacrifice was so important to the Bushes, [and] it is core to everything that happens on this campus here.”

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