New Look by an Old Hand

By Al Kamen
Friday, August 4, 2006

The Bush administration, loath to admit mistakes, has never listed what it thinks its biggest mistakes were in the Iraq campaign. But former secretary of state James A. Baker III is stepping into the void in his soon-to-be-published book "Work Hard, Study . . . and Keep Out Of Politics!"

"And after fighting successfully [against the State Department] to secure the lead role in winning the peace and reconstructing Iraq," he writes in an analysis that closely tracks that of our colleague Thomas E. Ricks in "Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq," his new best-seller, "the Defense Department made a number of costly mistakes, including disbanding the Iraqi army, outlawing the Baath Party, failing to secure weapons depots, and perhaps never committing enough troops to successfully pacify the country."

Baker, co-chairman of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, says Iraqis, especially those still alive, "are clearly better off now than under their murderous dictator. But the costs to our nation -- primarily in terms of sacrifice by brave young Americans and their families, but also economically, diplomatically, politically and militarily -- are very real and cannot be ignored."

Still might be worth it, he writes in his forthcoming memoir, if there's freedom and democracy in the Middle East. "The jury is still out" on that, he writes. Equally unclear is whether a "full-blown civil war or an Iraq with a government hostile to America" can be avoided.

Based on Gen. John P. Abizaid 's testimony on the Hill yesterday -- saying the top priority now is to secure Baghdad -- seems like the jury may be getting ready to come in.

Same Address, Different Neighborhood

Speaking of the Bush administration's snappy new Middle East, one observer is not impressed.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal , asked at a news conference Wednesday about the new Middle East, joked that he'd like the old Middle East back.

"We did not see anything" in the new Middle East "apart from more problems and disasters," he said. "The Middle East is not an uninhabited area -- it has people, governments, and our destiny is determined after God's will by its people."

New Treasury Offering: 5.5% Fashion Notes

The Treasury Department's official newsletter indicates concern that the standard of dress at headquarters may not be adequate for new boss Henry M. Paulson Jr ., a former Wall Street executive.

"Treasury's fashion collection needs an upgrade," says the July 21 issue of Treasury Notes. "It's time to use Treasury's long marble hallways as a runway.

"Ladies, we work for Treasury. I don't have to encourage you to shop -- it should be your priority, nay, your national duty to contribute to our nation's economic growth," says the newsletter, published by the Office of the Executive Secretary. "I would recommend visiting different types of stores and mixing, and, since everything is on sale, you should indulge."

". . . Take your every day suit, find a fabulous and outlandish oxford, and pair it with glamorous sunglasses and colorful bag and shoes to match. . . . Gallatin would have wanted it this way, trust me." (Albert Gallatin served as Treasury secretary under Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.)

"Gents," the newsletter goes on, "have to get creative to make the every day jacket and tie less like an every day sandwich and more like an every day special." So "indulge in the beauty and love of a suit, by buying yourself a custom-made suit," the newsletter advises. "Outfit it with quality oxfords and eye-catching cuff links." Then "a pair of elegant, perhaps distressed leather loafers and you've got yourself a look more debonair than Alexander Hamilton , himself." Maybe as sharp as Paulson himself.

Have those folks been given a big raise no one else knows about?

Triangle Goes Full Circle

Former president Bill Clinton has been stumping for Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), trying to keep the Democratic faithful in line as Lieberman fights to fend off a primary election challenge from businessman Ned Lamont .

At the same time, Clinton's speakers bureau is touting on its Web site praise he received from none other than Ned Lamont:

"Again, on behalf of YPO [Young Presidents' Organization] our heartiest thank you for your brilliant presentation before our group. . . . You asked me how people reacted, and I can tell you that all 200 Republican CEO's and 10 Democratic CEO's were very impressed. More importantly, YPO is discussing how we can better influence the public discourse around the issues you emphasized, including foreign aid." -- Ned Lamont, Event Co-Chairman, Young Presidents' Organization.

No Santorum Ad

An item in Wednesday's column incorrectly said that the campaign of Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) had produced an ad about al-Jazeerah.com's endorsement of challenger Bob Casey Jr . GOP blogs and Santorum aides jumped all over the endorsement -- which turned out to be not from the Arab news network al-Jazeera but from a Georgia Web site -- and Santorum noted it on television. But there was no ad.


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