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Former Senate Majority Leader visits campus

Howard Baker and Tom Gri

In “A Conversation with Howard Baker” between the former U.S. Senator from Tennessee and his former press secretary Tom Griscom, now publisher and executive editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Baker said the most dangerous place in the world is the Korean peninsula.  Baker made his remarks before an audience at the UTC University Center. 

“Iraq is terrible.  But it is nothing, in my view, compared to North Korea,” Baker said.  “North Korea has a huge army, well over a million men.  The country has a contentious foreign policy and little resistance. Their leader, Kim Jong Il, is unpredictable and has nuclear weapons.”

Baker was appointed in 2001 as U.S. Ambassador to Japan, and served as Minority Leader of the Senate from 1977-1981 and as Majority Leader from 1981 until he retired from the Senate in 1985. 

Saying Vietnam was the first war “fought on television,” Baker observed that the American public’s exposure to violent warfare had a profound effect on people, as has the Iraqi violence.

Howard Baker

“This coverage diminishes the authority of every president and leader to conduct foreign defense policy.  The U.S. will find a way to disengage.  I hope we don’t do it in a precipitous way, and we don’t leave the Iraqi people to the wolves,” Baker said.

Baker rose to national prominence during the Watergate Hearings of 1973-1974 as Vice Chairman of the Senate Watergate Committee, the highest ranking Republican on the Committee. Saying “I have no idea who Deep Throat is,” Baker added he did not believe it was W. Mark Felt, former assistant director of the FBI during the Nixon Administration, who came forward in 2005 as the secret source of the Washington Post’s coverage of the Watergate scandal.

“Watergate had an enormous impact on the world,” Baker said.  “It had an impact on politics, especially the Republicans in 1974.  If you think ’06 was hard on the Republicans, we really got wiped out then.  And we came right back, and we will come back again.”

Recalling a more cordial relationship between the two parties under the Lyndon Johnson administration, Baker lamented the current state of American politics.

“There is more personal animosity.  It is more difficult for parties to reach common ground,” Baker said.  He added that the Senate should take a fresh look at its role as a senior body, with different rules and responsibilities than the U.S. House of Representatives.

“The Senate should focus more on broader national issues, taking a more senior role.  Senators with six year terms need to check on the House, where representatives have two-year terms,” Baker said.

November 30, 2006

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