James Baker sat in a large dark red leather arm chair next to a fireplace that contained three logs. There was no fire going in the hearth as it was sixty-two degrees outside, and Baker thought it would be a waste of good lumber to burn the wood just for effect, even though it was Thanksgiving. Timothy, Baker’s grandchild of two years old, was playing with a Thomas The Tank Engine metal train that was hand-me-down from Timothy’s older brother. Baker could smell the aroma of the turkey cooking in the kitchen, and there was chattering of activity throughout the house, Baker’s kids, grand-kids, daughters and sons in laws, his own siblings and their spouses and kids. The house was an orchestra of family, the sounds as delicious as the meal being prepared. Baker was feeling content at having arrived in his mid seventies with a solid record of public and private achievements. Though he never thought of himself in these terms, the media and many had described him as a statesman. Baker thought this amusing given that his primary operating principal was honesty and humility, two attributes he considered lessons to be learned early on. And yet, the world seemed to have drifted into a morass of dishonesty and arrogance. And this, Baker knew, to be the case of the White House as well. Baker uttered these thoughts to his wife, and privately communicated the concern to his old friend George Herbert Walker Bush, the father of the sitting president. But he was circumspect about revealing too much. Though honesty was a governing principal, that did not justify communicating with a blunt instrument. Tact was part of the humility of life, that special place where one reserves the possibility that there was another point of view, a different legitimate perspective. Tact permitted others to open up, and such was the start of true communication.
So herein lied Baker’s problem. The truth, the honest truth was that Iraq was an enterprise that was now lost. Baker had no opinion whether the enterprise could have been a success if conducted differently. But he did know this: America could not stay in Iraq, and the sooner America withdrew, the better it would be for his country. But how to communicate this to President Bush in a manner that it would be heard. How much tact should Baker employ? And this was an important question because a mistake at this stage in Baker’s life might just define his whole life. Look what happened to Donald Rumsfeld, thought Baker. It no longer mattered that Donald Rumsfeld had a long history of service to his country, a long and distinguished career. That was now all forgotten, and not likely to be the part of his legacy that had any volume.
James Baker watched Timothy push the toy train on the plush rug. What kind of life would Timothy have? What kind of world had he left Timothy? Baker suddenly found himself getting angry. It felt like all the work of diplomacy he had done, all the work to erect an ethos of international discussion had been destroyed in just six years of Bush’s presidency. This was not just a matter of personal pride. This was a matter that affected Timothy, his two-year old grandson. James Baker adjusted his back in the chair and rubbed his neck. Tact. Was this a time for tact? Or was this a time for blunt language? Maybe Baker could get away with bluntness since it was bluntness that no one expected of him. Baker smelled the stench of incivility to the world’s discourse as he also enjoyed the aromas coming from the kitchen. Timothy and Thanksgiving. As he watched Timothy push the toy train o the plush rug without tracks, he wondered if the train had a set of toy tracks. Trains need tracks. And he would have to get this train on the right track.