QANDAHAR

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Chapter 10

March 10, 2009

Russell Caucus Room

U.S. Senate

Fifty-three Democratic U.S. Senators were visibly tired by late afternoon. After nine ballots, no decision was reached on whom would be the Senate’s new Majority Leader. Most of the 53 had been shocked by the sudden and immediate resignation of Senator Allen Campbell of West Virginia. A handful of liberal Senators from the West Coast and the Northeast corridor, though, were not surprised. They found Campbell overbearing, arrogant and corrupt. For years, they had wanted him out as Majority Leader.

But a new Majority Leader had to be elected quickly. The President’s nominees for Defense Secretary and Vice President were up for confirmation. The votes could not even be scheduled without a Majority Leader in place. And special legislation proposed by President Forster had to be considered just as quickly. A bill already had gone to the House of Representatives to cut off funding for military operations in Iraq, effective July 1. It was expected to languish there with Democrats in control. The party affiliation breakdown in the House at the moment stood at 201 Democrats, 179 Republicans and 55 Independents.

A few of the Senate’s 38 Republicans were mildly amused by Campbell’s abrupt departure. “It serves ’em right, those damn Democrats,” said one GOP senator. West Virginia’s governor, a Democrat, was under pressure to make a quick interim appointment and schedule a special election before July 1st.

At the start of the year, there were only eight American Independent Party members in the Senate. They predicted a Congressional logjam unless more members in the House and the Senate switched parties. They also were concerned a confirmation vote on President Forster’s choice for

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Vice President would be delayed in the Senate with either a filibuster or a series of procedural votes.

For many members of Congress, the unspoken “problems” about Forster’s V-P choice were race and gender. Could Senators and Representatives swallow, and the country accept, having two women, one an African American, as the nation’s leading political officials? Quick polling soon would show most Americans were not receptive to having Rep. Constance Stowe as Vice President. Many Senators and House members would use that polling data to back up their votes against Stowe’s candidacy, thus solidifying future electoral support in their respective state and district constituencies.

A day after the President’s press conference, the Senate’s makeup underwent an historic change. Literally overnight, and for the first time in the nation’s history, a national third party had acquired more political clout. Democrats, though, were still in the plurality. But the party had lost six members by 10:30 pm. Republicans also had lost six. By midnight, the Independents had gained twelve. The Senate’s makeup now stood at 47 Democrats, 32 Republicans and 20 Independents.

A shakeup occurred in the House as well. Ten Democrats defied Speaker Dodge. Five Republicans defied their leaders. Independents gained fifteen, giving the party 70 members in the House. Democrats in the House at the end of the day had 191 members, Republicans 174.

__________

World Press International on-line news bulletin:

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WPI) – American voters are surging behind President Lorraine Forster’s call for a quick U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, according to results of a nationally syndicated poll released earlier today.

Baxter Research of Palo Alto, California, showed 86 percent of those polled supported President Forster’s troop withdrawal proposal. Many of those responding to the troop withdrawal question said they did not want the President to wait until July 1st. They wanted all U.S. troops now

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based in Iraq home by April 1st. The poll showed a vast majority of Americans was tired of the war, and they blamed former President Morris for the debacle.

Eighty percent of the 9,335 voters contacted by pollsters between Monday and Wednesday said they trusted President Forster implicitly with her choice of former President Jefferson Mark Wheeler for Secretary of Defense.

Many of those polled said they believe President Forster will eventually become a much better chief executive than President Templeton, although they gave the deceased chief executive high marks for choosing Forster as his running mate in last year’s presidential campaign.

Poll respondents said they would blame Congress solely if it did not cooperate with President Forster in her call to cut off funding for military operations in Iraq by July 1st. Seventy-four percent said only enough funds to bring U.S. troops back to their stateside bases should be appropriated. Combat operations with U.S. involvement should cease immediately, nearly 90 percent of the respondents said.

Thirty-nine percent of white, African-American and Hispanic men and women favored President Forster’s choice for Vice President, U.S. Rep. Constance Stowe of Illinois, according to the Baxter Research poll. In the sampling, only 27 percent of all women polled – Democrat, Republican and Independent – favored Stowe’s selection as the nominee. Fifty-five percent of African-American women and nearly 42 percent of African-American men surveyed throughout the country said they supported President Forster’s choice of the American Independent Party House member to be Vice President.

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.

-- 7:16 a.m. EST. 3/12/09

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9:05 a.m. EST. March 12, 2009

White House Situation Room

“This Abu Mahmoud Rahman character is quite elusive,” said Timothy Connors, President Forster’s National Security Advisor. “We believe he has some support among the Pakistani military, but we don’t know why. Our operatives from Defense Intelligence and the CIA report that Pakistani military leaders are in complete denial about this.”

Connors stood near a bank of three, wide-screen video monitors, recessed in the wall behind him. All of them were turned off, as was another bank of monitors on the opposite wall. Seated under glaring fluorescent ceiling lights at one end of a sixteen-foot-long, cherry wood table were President Forster, Helen Brown and Constance Stowe. Defense Secretary-nominee Wheeler and Attorney General John Gardner were expected within the hour.

President Forster, at the head of the table, was taking notes. As Connors spoke, she wrote down Abu Mahmoud Rahman’s name and then circled it in bright red. Next to it she wrote “Jihad Front.”

“Mr. Connors, if you please,” said Forster, “do we know anything about him at all? How much of a threat he is? And I’ll have more questions later.” She began jotting them down.

“Ma’am,” said Connors, “we know he was in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation. We know he trained mujahidin fighters, and he was quite successful as a tactician in bloodying the Soviet forces. He’s a typical street, uh, guerrilla fighter, just better than most of them. He knows how to use minimal forces for the greatest tactical gain on the battlefield, whether it’s a set battle, like against the Soviets, or in the close quarters of city streets, like in Kabol or Qandahar.”

“How was he against our forces in late 2001 and early 2002?” asked the President.

“Ma’am, we don’t know,” said Connors, “but his fighters from the Jihadist Front were tough to round up. They, too, were very elusive. This Rahman character most likely, it appears, pulled most of his fighters out of Afghanistan – those who could get out – letting the whole thing fall into the lap of the Taliban. I believe if we had had to fight the Jihadist Front in Afghanistan, it would not have gone so well. We only found mostly rag-tag Taliban forces who quickly surrendered.”

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“Where could they have gone, these Jihad Front terrorists?” asked a bewildered Forster.

“There was no place else for them to go except into caves in the mountains along the Afghan- Pakistan border. Most probably they went into hiding in either the northern or the southern tribal areas of Waziristan in northwest Pakistan,” said Connors. “That’s where we lost ’em, and the Pakistanis at the time had little nerve to go after a group of guerrilla fighters who would have cut them to pieces. They appear to have even less nerve now.”

“Weapons? Where’s he get them? How does he pay for them?” Forster leaned back in her

chair, tapping a red pen on the table top. “And where does he get all these fighters, these guerrillas as you call them? God, they’re just terrorists, really.”

“About weapons, ma’am, we don’t know specifically,” said Connors. “But most probably they come from the black markets in Peshawar in northwest Pakistan. What weapons either we, NATO forces, the British or the Pakistanis have pulled off bodies or found hidden in caches have been from all over the world: South Africa, France, Italy, Belgium. You name the country, ma’am. He’s got quite a pipeline, from somewhere. How he pays for them? Well, ma’am, the answer to that question kinda points to all those poppy fields in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province that aren’t getting eradicated. But how money from that gets turned around and placed in the hands of arms dealers anywhere in the world is just speculation.

“Oh, about his fighters. They come from every tribe and clan in Afghanistan, but they’re mostly Pashtuns with Uzbeks, Tajiks and Hazares thrown in for good measure. They’re tough and well trained and well disciplined, I’m told. They’re a heck of a lot more than just a gang of bumbling terrorists who want to blow up things and take potshots at American soldiers and Marines. I believe that’s because they’re quite loyal to their cause.”

“Cause?” asked Forster. “What cause? They want to run Afghanistan, don’t they? Or, is it to take over the world?”

“The latter, ma’am, I’m afraid,” said Connors. “They have big plans to install Islamic states in the Middle East and in large swaths of Asia and Africa. But, uh, let me get back to an earlier

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point about Rahman himself. We’ve been able to compile about five different descriptions of him, which is no great help, but it’s all we got at this time. We got these from Pakistanis, Afghans and some of the prisoners we have at Guantanamo and in CIA ‘black site’ holding cells.” Forster jotted down “Gitmo/CIA” on the pad of paper in front of her. “Ask AG??” she also wrote.

9:47 a.m. EST. March 12, 2009

Russell Caucus Room

U.S. Senate

Three Democratic Senators remained in the running for Majority Leader: Jack Murphy of Illinois, Bridget Armstrong of California and Oregon’s Brian Hughes. Each had received twelve votes in the first secret balloting of the morning. Margaret McCluskey from Minnesota had received five votes, and Jaime Chavez Alarcon from New Mexico got six. The two dropped out.

President Pro-Tem of the Senate Jaspar Pickett of Montana slammed down a gavel on top of a long and wide, 19th-century oak table with six fluted legs. “Order, order,” he yelled above a constant din. Senators were talking loudly and boisterously among themselves, oblivious to Pickett’s attempt to silence them. Others were conversing with their aides who’d come in during a break between voting; three others were on cell phones. “God damn-it, y’all, sit down,” Pickett shouted. “We’re gonna do another vote. All you aides get the hell outta here.” He banged the gavel three more times. “And get off those god-damn, silly-ass phones. Turn the damn things off. We got serious business here.” The aides scurried from the room; cell phones were switched off. Pickett lowered his voice: “Sergeant-at- arms, close and lock the damn door ... please.” The large oak doors swung shut. Senators took their seats. Finally, there was silence.

“One more time, folks,” said Pickett. “We only got us three candidates now for Leader. Let’s do this right and walk outta here with some dignity.” The balloting began again. One by one the Senators lined up and dropped into a metal ballot box a slip of paper with a name quickly written on it. Pickett was the last to drop in his folded piece of paper. Then one by one he pulled out forty-seven slips of paper. The final tally was: Murphy, 9; Armstrong, 13; and Hughes, 25. Three

-term U.S. Senator Brian Hughes of Portland, Oregon, was elected the new Senate Majority Leader.

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“Thank you, thank you for finally coming to a decision,” Hughes said, standing up. “It was almost too close to call, wasn’t it?” Some Senators looked at each other with quizzical looks on their faces, wondering what Hughes meant by the remark. A few started laughing. Murphy and Armstrong applauded. Others stood up and joined them. Still clapping, Armstrong ran up to Hughes and kissed him.

Hughes walked to a podium on the other side of the table from where Senator Pickett was sitting. “I didn’t mean to be at all funny or humorous by my rhetorical question. But we have to get serious here and start minding the people’s business,” he said, gesturing with his hands, turning his head left, then right. “And above all else, we have to stick together. Our party cannot afford more defections to the Independents. Is everyone in agreement on that point?”

At first, stoic silence greeted Hughes’ question. But one by one, then in groups of twos or threes Senators stood up and applauded, shouting several times the party’s slogan of “Yes, we can ... Si, se puede.”

“Thanks for your heartfelt support,” Hughes said. “Now to the important matters some of you may have forgotten about. The people’s business right now is focused on President Forster. So, what do we do? The people want the war in Iraq to end now. They wanted it to end at least three or four years ago when Morris was President. We fought Morris, well, at least some of us did. Those few senators, myself included, saw the huge black hole of Iraq Morris had dug out and led us into. We few wanted to end the war as soon as possible and get our troops home. Now though, the times we live in have offered another chance for our party, and for our Senators gathered here, to do the people’s bidding. We have to support President Forster on the withdrawal of troops. Otherwise, we will be vilified by centrist and liberal Democrats and moderate and conservative Republicans and all the Independents here. Some of you are going to have to come to realize that if you don’t support the President now, you could lose your seat if you’re up for re-election in 2010.

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“Yes, she’s not from our party. But we must show deep concern about what is happening in Iraq and around the world. Our soldiers are still dying over there in that Mesopotamian hellhole. I agree with the President that the killing must stop ... NOW. The slaughter of our young men and women in that quagmire can go a long way to ending if we lend strong support to the President’s decision to get those troops out of Iraq by July 1st. Iraq belongs to the Iraqi people. The country and its resources do not belong to us. Let the Iraqis run their country and military whatever and whichever way they want to.” Hughes noticed some Senators had started talking among themselves, obviously not paying much attention, if any, to what he was saying.

“Ladies and gentlemen, please,” said Hughes, “LISTEN to me. Let’s all put aside our differences with President Forster. Our country’s future, I believe, depends on our supporting the President on this issue. We are in a position to provide her with advice and consent. Let’s do our job for the American people, the vast majority of whom now want our troops out of harm’s way.

“As soon as I get back to the Senate Chamber I’m putting out a quorum call for all Senators to be in the Chamber and at their desks no later than 2 p.m. I plan on scheduling a short period for debate. Then no later than three p.m. there will be a vote on President Forster’s nominee for Defense Secretary, our former President Jefferson Mark Wheeler. We should have no problem in confirming his appointment. Then at three-thirty I’ll schedule a short debate on the nomination of Representative Stowe of Illinois as the next Vice President. I hope then we could schedule a confirmation vote on Ms. Stowe no later than six p.m. And I tell you right now, I’m not concerned about recent polls or party affiliation. I’m voting for her.”

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