“I want to know for sure. Get some goddam face recognition software or something. This is bad. I’m gonna’ be asked what the hell is going on and I need answers fast.” The President slammed the phone down and turned to Leon Panetta.
“NSA’s on it. You on it?”
Panetta peeled his glasses off his face and looked the President in the eye, “Mr. President, it is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khamenei. We’ve just killed the government of Iran, probably all the Ayatollahs. They tend to travel together in a gaggle. This is precisely...”
Obama cut him off.
“David, get Gibbs and start working. And not just for domestic consumption,” he turned to face the balance of the team. “Hillary, could you have someone get with David and work on a diplomatic statement?”
“Sure, but I need to know our position.”
Obama shouted at her. “I don’t have a fucking position on taking out a foreign government. I want you to give me one.”
“You don’t have a position? Let me recommend that the US position is that we didn’t do it. That it may have been political opposition or insurgents.”
“I’m afraid it’s too late for that,” said National Security Advisor Jim Jones. “I have Bob Gibbs on the line.”
“What line? asked the President.
The President punched the button.
“Gibbsy. What’s up? Who the fuck is Malini, what? Malini Wilkes? Hang on.”
“Malini Wilkes has a story,” Obama reveals to the assembled group and puts the phone back to his ear. “Fox? Oh, shit. Major, punch up Fox News on the monitor!”
The face of Fox News Channel’s Bagdad reporter appeared almost full screen on the Hi-def monitor. The caption read, “Malini Wilkes, Tehran EXCLUSIVE”
"My cameraman had put the long lens on our camera and was scanning the neighborhoods, the horizon, and we spotted these two jets. You can see the flight path is a typical bombing run, the jets are on a fairly straight and level flight and they suddenly drop their bombs and peel off that flight path, and then we lose them in the sun. These are F-22 Raptor fighter jets. They were manufactured in the United States and the US Congress refused to let Boeing sell them outside the country in a move critics said was designed to kill the program. President Obama, in fact, did kill the production of F-22s shortly after he was inaugurated, citing budget overruns. That was just a few weeks before his administration insisted on the $3 Trillion stimulus package to prevent unemployment levels above 8 percent. The F-22 program employed about 3,000 people.
"The bombs created a huge explosion followed by this mushroom cloud just about a mile from our building. We watched the cloud for several minutes. No word on radiation, Brian...”
“Oh, shit,” the President was watching his job, his reputation and his presidency come apart before his eyes.
“Malini, we have Colonel Hunt on the line. We haven’t put him on yet but we want you to know that he already told us that it was extremely unlikely that a bomb could set off a nuclear explosion. Also, tactical nuclear weapons are much more sophisticated than Iran would be capable of producing. This was more likely a Daisy Cutter, a giant conventional weapon.”
“Well, I am very glad to hear that, Brian. We were concerned that there might be radiation or additional explosions. We have this footage of an Iranian HazMat team combing through debris near the scene. We were shooting through streets and alleys but you can see them definitely dressed in anti-radiation coats.”
“Turn it off,” ordered Obama. “We’re in a world of shit here people. Fox was tipped off. How did they get that footage? I need ideas and I need them fast.” He grabbed his cell phone and made a quick speed dial call to Robert Gibbs while the group cross-talked and tried their own arguments out on their neighbors.
“Yes, sir,” the standard answer Gibbs offered Obama whenever he called.
“Bob, you don't need to know what’s going on right now. I want you to remain in the safety of deniability, got it?”
“Got it. But, listen, I’m getting a lot of calls and there are suggestions that there’s some video out there of US military in HazMat suits walking through the rubble of this attack in Iran and machine-gunning some survivors.”
“Not our guys,” said Obama.
“Good. Can I say that?”
“You better say that,” replied Obama emphatically.
“I think it’s probably a good time for me to call the President, Ehud,” suggested the Israeli Prime Minister.
“He’s probably quite upset. You could wait until he calms down a bit.”
“He won’t calm down. The pressure will build from the media, from the Arab states, Islamic nations, his liberal political base. It will get worse fast.”
“Then we risk his making a mistake, making a bad judgment.”
“Right. There’s a high probability of that. The only good judgments he’s made are those we forced him to make.”
“Very well. I will arrange to have the package delivered to the consulate.”
“No, no. Deliver it in Tel Aviv to the American Embassy. I don’t want it in Jerusalem. How long do you need.”
“The plane arrived from Teheran about an hour ago. I’d say thirty minutes.”
“Fine. Have Pinkus call the Ambassador, and make sure the package is driven over in a military vehicle. No limos.”
“Yes, that’s good. I’ll make the arrangements. Thirty minutes?”
“Yes, from right now.”
“Listen people,” Obama had made some decisions about the direction this crisis needed to go. “As a practical matter we need to lay this off on Israel. I really don’t care as much about your religious or cultural sensitivities right now as much as I care about what kind of grief the US is going to get if we’re caught up in this.”
“Blame the Jews? Not very original, Mr. President,” said Mrs. Clinton. It was a stunning comment to be spoken aloud. Obama decided to respond calmly as though it was good advice.
“I know, Hillary. But it’s not a hollow claim. The world knows they led a strike on Iran. We’re not making that up. Now the world knows we sent two jets into Iran. We need to explain why.”
“And that explanation is...?” asked the Secretary of State.
“Classified.” responded Obama.
“That’s it?” asked Mrs. Clinton.
“Absolutely. We indicate we may be able to reveal the reasons in a few days, maybe a few weeks...”
Emanuel spoke up, “Mr. President, that’s just not going to fly. We just blew the entire government of Iran to hell. Now, I’m not saying we should feel real bad about that, but it just isn’t done. We can’t say we have to be mum about what’s happened because everyone fucking knows what happened. I mean why we did it can be pretty much inferred from what happened, you know?”
“Ah, shit. You’re way too practical,” replied Obama in frustration. “Listen, if we say we can’t talk about it, it’s going to imply that there’s more to the story that just the strike and its results. It makes it bigger than it even appears to be.”
“Nope. This is as big as it gets. This is ‘we screwed up” time,” pleaded The Chief of Staff.
“I’m not gonna’ do that, Rahm,” insisted the President. “I’m not taking the fall for this when our decision was the right one. This is Israel’s fault. I was lied to and we were tricked,” Obama shot back angrily. "Now, get the Speaker, get the Leaders and the minority leaders and get them in here. I also need to call the Chief Justice and inform him, too. See, Rahm, where this bullshit gets us. It was a trick and I'm pissed."
“I know. We all know. We were here when it happened, Barack. But the explanation that we can’t talk about it is bullshit. It’s bullshit. Do you know what the Republicans will do with that? What I would do with that. They’ll say, ‘we’re waiting for the president to order an attack on Pyongyang, or Caracas, or Havana, or Toronto, or Boise. Hopefully, after he has a few weeks to craft his story, he’ll tell us about it.’”
“Rahm. You’re leaving me no way out.”
“There IS no way out.”
“Nope. There’s always a way out. We just have to find it. Mike, I want an evaluation of our current state of security. You and Jim work that out. Leon, help them out, and anyone else who needs to give input. I don’t want to be caught flat-footed if we’ve pissed off someone. Just get the leaders in here.”
Most of the military officers had long since checked-out of the conversation mentally and emotionally. The battle was over, at least for the time being, and Israel had performed an amazing feat. They had somehow defeated their enemy with a flock of medium range ballistic missiles, a computer hack, six helicopters and bunker buster bombs delivered by an unseen hand. It was shock and awe on a scale that had never before been achieved.
The politics of the matter was a morale-killer, however, for those who were true warriors. Some generals have political aspirations, like Wesley Clark. He and the Clinton Administration were part of the same political machine. But is arrogance never caught on because he had no folksy side to give it balance. He was no Ike. But it was uncomfortable, when you were among those who deal with the outcome of battles conducted with lethal force, to sit among the politicians and maintain one’s silence while such trivial and inconsequential matters, like the outcome of an administration, were being discussed. As a result, only the political types were animated.
Mrs. Clinton spoke up, “Mr. President. Ambassador Cunningham is calling me from Tel Aviv. He says Alon Pinkus is pulling through the gates in an Israeli Army lorry.”
“What the hell is that all about?” said Obama shaking his head is disbelief.
“Mr. President?” the Major interrupted, “Prime Minister Netanyahu is on Green 10, sir.”
Obama punched the button and picked up the handset.
“Mr. Prime Minister. I have been lied to and compromised because I trusted you. We are at risk now because we treated you as a friend and confidant.”
“Yes, I understand. But I did not lie to you. You spoke with Ehud about this and not me. I didn’t make you any promises so save your anger for Barak.”
“What?” Obama was incredulous. “Like you didn’t know we were being suckered into making a raid on Ahmadinejad?”
“No. You were not persuaded to attack Ahmadinejad. That’s not what happened. You were persuaded to attack Osama bin Laden. Is that not true?”
“Yes. That’s precisely the case. But Osama was not the target. The target was Ahmadinejad and the Ayatollahs and you knew it.”
“What I knew was that you would never help us. You would never attack. You wouldn’t even allow us to fly over a country you occupy - not your country but one that you occupy - in order to protect our own people and the stability of the entire Middle East. What kind of a foreign policy is that? How do we separate ourselves from the way the United States treats its enemies. So don’t tell me you were lied to. I know when I am being lied to. There is no slavery Jews haven’t experienced and no lie we haven’t heard, so don’t try to claim any moral high ground.
“Like it or not, Mister President, you have done the right thing and every nation in the Middle East knows it. You have found a way to earn the respect of a culture that has been based on tribe against tribe for thousands of years. A culture that respects the use of violence as a measure of your resolve and even your veracity. They will believe you now merely because you have cut the head off this snake. Don’t you see that unless you’re willing to do that there’s no reason they should believe you?”
“You lied to me. You knew we were targeting Ahmadinejad and you didn’t tell me. That’s the bottom line.”
“No, Mr. President, that is NOT the bottom line. The bottom line is you have preserved the stability of the Middle East. You have stood by a putative friend. You have demonstrated to those who would attack you and call you a Great Satan that they could incur your wrath - not a bad thing.”
“We do those things with diplomacy, not with violence.”
“Precisely wrong, Mr. President. War is merely an extension of diplomacy that works. Diplomacy does not work until after wars have been waged. You haven’t noticed that? It’s in every history book. Diplomats fail, wars are fought, diplomats rush in to fill the void and things go along well for a couple generations. What are you missing?”
“Prime Minister, I don’t need a lecture right now. I am going to issue a statement condemning Israel for the raid. I’m going to indicate that we were close to an agreement with Iran...” Netanyahu interrupted.
“Then what do you want me to do with the body?”
“The body of Osama bin Laden was just delivered to your embassy in Tel Aviv. You can take it to the States for DNA testing and claim it was a casualty of the raid, or we will claim we captured him in Pakistan and flew the body back on a cargo flight from Pakistan, which we did, and which we have the video to prove.”
“Mr. President, Ambassador Alon Pinkus and Jim Cunningham are on the line,” interrupted Mrs. Clinton as she held her Blackberry aloft.
“Pinkus and Cunningham are on Hillary’s phone Benjamin, what’s that about?” asked the President.
“They’re confirming what I’m telling you, I knew you had no reason to believe me without proof, so here’s proof.”
“Hang on. Hillary, confirm...I mean, tell them you’re here with me, I’m on the line with Netanyahu and I said for them to tell you whatever they have to say to me.” Clinton nodded her understanding.
“Mr. Prime Minister, if you hand that body over to me, my immediate problems are solved. But the political crap I’m going to take for killing the Iranian government is not going to go away.”
“I know, Barack. But this is the truth. We did not know the Ayatollahs were with him. This was a miracle. We believe we may have also, you may have also, eliminated the Mahdi Army and Hizbollah with this raid. We’re still checking.”
“A miracle, huh? We need to meet. I’m okay with this on the short term, but long term we have issues we need to get straightened out.”
“Yes, we do.”
“Are you sure this is bin Laden? I'm serious.”
“Absolutely. This is no trick. We also have video you can use for media releases that we will supply to Ambassador Cunningham.”
“Thank you for keeping your promise.”
“No. Thank you, Mr. President. You are a pragmatist. I knew you would understand.”