Cloture: The only procedure by which the U.S. Senate can vote to place a time limit on consideration of a bill or other matters, and thereby overcome a filibuster. Under Senate Rule XXII, the Senate may limit consideration of a pending matter to 30 additional hours, but only by vote of three-fifths of the full Senate, normally 60 votes.
9:46 a.m. EST. March 17, 2009
U.S. House Chamber
Majority Whip Edward Albright of Pittsburgh quickly went along an aisle between the desks of his fellow House members on the left side of the Chamber. He carried a clipboard with a copy of the House Chamber’s seating chart. Each square on the piece of paper contained the last name of each House member. In his other hand was a ball-point pen. A check mark over a name meant a vote supporting the nomination of U.S. Rep. Constance Stowe to be the next Vice President.
Melanie Knott, an Independent Party congresswoman from Ohio, also carried a clipboard and was pacing up and down aisles in the center of the Chamber. Rep. Thaddeus Washburn, a South Carolina Democrat, did the same on the right side of the Chamber.
At 9:57 a.m., the three African Americans met in front of the House Majority Leader’s desk and tallied their check marks. The names of all 70 Independent Party House members were checked off, though Rep. Stowe would not vote for herself. The three seating charts showed 115 Democrats were willing to vote for Stowe. Question marks were beside the names of 19 other Democrats. Twenty-five check marks were beside the names of moderate Republicans. Question marks were written over the names of ten other Republicans, also moderates. The final tally showed 209 check marks, nine short of a majority.
Bradley Jenkins, the Majority Leader, looked up at his three House colleagues. “I’m gonna call the House to order and start the vote, you hear,” he said to them. “I’m leaving the switch open
for as long as it takes to get 218 votes. As soon as y’all pull your switches, get out there again. We need those nine votes.” Jenkins rose from his desk and walked toward the House Clerk’s desk. “Don’t close this votin’ until I tell ya. You got that?” The clerk nodded. Jenkins slowly walked around to the steps that led up to the Speaker’s dais. He paused a few seconds and gazed to his left and saw Washburn, Albright and Knott bustling up and down the aisles. They must have been called, too, he thought.
The night before, Jenkins had received a phone call from President Forster urging him to get as many Democrats on board to support Rep. Stowe’s candidacy. He went to bed unsure how he was going to vote. An hour before he left home in the morning Jefferson Mark Wheeler had called him. The former President reminded him of the times they’d worked together closely during his two terms. “Forget about the party for now,” Wheeler had told him. “Do what’s right for the country, or we can kiss our asses goodbye if that son-of-a-bitch Dodge ends up being Vice President. You want that on your conscience? That demented jerk’ll screw up President Forster’s plan for withdrawin’ our boys and girls from Iraq. Christ, Brad, we got enough blood on our hands as it is. But, in the end, you should do what ya think is right for the country.”
Jenkins stepped to the dais and banged down the Speaker’s gavel. Less than a half-hour later the Majority Leader looked up at four large electronic vote tallying boards on the Chamber’s wall above and behind him. A broad grin came across Jenkins’ face. It slowly turned into a smile, and then he shook his head and laughed.
The final tally was 226. Sixty-nine Independents, 124 Democrats and 33 Republicans voted to confirm the nomination of Rep. Constance Stowe as the next Vice President of the United States.
World Press International Bulletin:
LONDON (WPI) – Governments across Western and Eastern Europe have expressed some deep concern about U.S. President Lorraine Forster’s plan for a complete withdrawal of American troops from Iraq in less than four months.
Many European foreign ministries predict a political and military vacuum could result when American forces depart because they have a complete lack of trust in the Iraqi military and police forces. Many believe the ongoing civil war involving Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish militias inevitably will spill over into neighboring Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran.
Each of those nations that border Iraq now house at least three million Iraqi refugees who fled the battlegrounds of Baghdad, Al Anbar Province in the west, Dahuk and Arbil provinces in the north and Najaf and Basrah provinces in the south. Most of the fighting has taken place in those areas in recent weeks and months.
Similar sentiments about Iraq’s civil war also were voiced by political leaders in Australia, South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Russia and Canada.
Many foreign government officials say a massive international effort is needed to bring electricity and potable water to most of the country.
Analysts in several Arab nations and in Israel say the failure of democratization in Iraq has been a telling sign for the region. When America invaded Iraq in 2003 little or no regard was shown for the country’s culture, language and traditions. As a result, efforts to install an American-like President and a legislative body, the Iraq Parliament, were doomed from the start.
Iran, say these same analysts, more than likely will become a regional military power that could threaten Saudi Arabia for dominance in the region. In that case, they say, Israel’s existence as a democratic state will be jeopardized.
European leaders say regional security must become the benchmark in discussions between states in the Middle East. Iraq should be the focus of talks with leaders in Syria, Iran, Jordan, Saudi
Arabia, Kuwait and Turkey, all states that border Iraq. Without steps taken to assure regional security, analysts say the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq only will exacerbate enmities between those neighboring states.
An issue of importance in Muslim countries is the lack of credible progress in reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, many analysts and Muslim leaders say. Without peace between Israel and the Palestinian state, Arab regimes could be perceived as supporting American and further Western hegemony in the region.
--10:32 a.m. GMT (5:32 a.m. EST.) 18/03/09
10:21 a.m. EST. March 18, 2009
U.S. Senate Chamber
“I move the Senate reconsider at this time,” Majority Leader Brian Hughes said from his desk on the Senate floor, “a motion to proceed with a vote on President Forster’s vice-presidential nominee, U.S. Representative Constance Stowe of Illinois. I direct the Clerk of the Senate to call the roll.”
“Point of order, Mr. President,” said Ray Barton of Texas, the Minority Leader, who stood up and glared at Hughes across the aisle. Senate President Pro-Tempore Jaspar Pickett hesitated a moment to bring down his gavel.
“How long,” said Barton, “does the Majority Leader expect us to wait around until his party gets enough votes? We have more urgent business to conduct than this here Vice President nomination. We yammered away on this issue last week, and your side didn’t have the votes then, and it ain’t got ‘em now. An’ I don’t care what the lower body on the other side of this building has done. It’ll make no difference here. Go ahead there, Senator Hughes, you gotta response?”
“Senator Barton, your side of the aisle has made it perfectly clear where it stands on the nominee.” Hughes turned away from Barton to look at Pickett, who was standing on the Senate dais, gavel still in hand. “It’s time now for a procedural vote, and I will follow Senate rules to the
limit to get the votes necessary to bring the nomination to a successful conclusion.” Hughes turned back to Barton. “Is that understood, sir?”
“It’s your funeral,” said Barton, who sat down and crossed his arms. Pickett dropped the gavel once. Senate Minority Whip Clyde Lawson came behind Barton, whispered in his ear: “Let ’em go at it, good buddy. They ain’t got the votes and never will.” Both Senators smiled.
In alphabetical order, the clerk began reading the names of the Senators and calling out their votes as they passed by his desk. In less than an hour, 31 Republicans had voted against cloture. Republican Senator Young was the last to vote. He voted yes. The 20 Independent Party Senators and 29 of the 47 Democrats voted in favor of ending debate, with four against. Fourteen Democrats abstained. Senator Hughes wasn’t surprised by the number of abstentions as he mentally counted the tally. He was 10 votes short of the 60 needed to end debate and have an up-or-down vote on Representative Stowe’s nomination to be Vice President.
The Senate Majority Leader told the clerk to schedule another cloture vote on the following Tuesday, March 24th. In the meantime, he planned to gather a small group of Senators, Independents and Democrats, to lobby and cajole the 14 Democrats who’d abstained.
3:14 a.m. GMT+3hrs. March 19, 2009
Iran’s Qeys Island, northeastern Persian Gulf
Four bearded men dressed in traditional Afghan garb unfurled black keffiyahs from their heads. Each used the scarves to wipe away heavy perspiration from their faces, necks and arms. Then they each tied the garment in a loose knot around their necks. Two of them grabbed rope handles on the sides of a long, wooden crate and dragged it off the beach into a nearby palm tree grove. The other two dragged another matching long crate and placed it beside the other. The four sat down in the sand, exhausted. They shared water poured from a sheepskin pouch and munched on dates and figs each had carried in satchels looped and strapped over their shoulders.
Two Omega inflatable boats from the freighter Barcelona had dropped off the four men and the two crates on the eastern tip of the small island under a half-moon less than an hour before. Sadiq Haqqani had piloted one of the boats onto the beach. He was the commander of the Barcelona, the Cadiz and the Cordoba, which were anchored two miles southeast of the island.
The four men would rest and wait on Qeys Island another two hours, until daybreak, when an Iranian military helicopter would land on the beach. The helicopter carrying the four men and the two crates would fly 700 miles north to the western Iranian city of Mehran, about ten miles from the Iraq border. That night, the four Afghans would cross into Iraq, where they would meet five Jihadist Front fighters, Shiite militiamen sent by Abdul Mohammed Aziz. The Afghans would be less than 100 miles from Baghdad.
By the time Sadiq returned to his ship, it no longer was the Barcelona. Painted in white letters fore and aft now was the name Barreiro, a Portuguese city. The Cadiz was no longer; its name had been changed to Chaves, another Portuguese city. The Cordoba had become Coimbra, also the name of a city in Portugal. Crewmen had hoisted red and green Portuguese flags up short flagpoles on the stern of each ship.
For nearly thirty years, Sadiq was Abu Mahmoud’s most trusted aide. They had fought together against the Soviets, dealt with the Taliban in Afghanistan and later fled the country to the relative safety of Pakistan after Americans forces attacked in late 2001. Sadiq was Abu Mahmoud’s chief organizer who had figured out the most secure routes to smuggle arms and traffic opium. He also had the job of checking the backgrounds of arms dealers. On several occasions he had made arrangements to have summarily executed those who could no longer be trusted.
3:16 a.m. CST. March 20, 2009
Gulf of Mexico, 20 miles southeast of Peveto Beach, Louisiana
Four Portuguese-flagged freighters steamed west at ten knots in a single-line, zigzag pattern. Their starboard and port running lights had been switched off since midnight.
On the bridge of the lead ship, the Seixal, stood Abu Mahmoud Rahman, clothed in traditional Afghan dress: a gray pakul wool hat, salwar loose trousers and a kameez long shirt. A pair of binoculars he’d first used during the Afghan-Soviet war dangled from a brown-leather strap draped around his neck.
He ran a hand through his unkempt beard and scratched his face. He knew he’d made the right decision about returning to America. It was for revenge, he thought, only revenge.
He raised his head skyward, closed his eyes. Fleeting images of his boyhood appeared, rolling filmlike across a grainy, off-white screen. Imagery stopped, started, then stopped and started again. Rafi Haddad walked hand in hand with his father along a Mediterranean beach in Lebanon. His father spoke of a bountiful future in America. Abu Mahmoud’s eyes flickered open. A cool sea breeze blew across his face. The cinematic-like vision had stopped a brief moment, then restarted. Rafi Haddad’s view faded to black, faded to red: a pool of blood on the floor of Malik Haddad’s Detroit delicatessen. Another cool, yet pungent breeze of salt air swirled around him. He suddenly shivered, thought about what lay ahead.
Abu Mahmoud peered through the binoculars and saw the lights of Galveston Bay in the distance. Closer even, three well-illuminated, oil-well drilling platforms in a close cluster were off to his left, about a half-mile southwest. He could make out the faint, muffled shouts of the rigs’ roustabouts in the now still, night air. A half-mile ahead to his right was a Texas Gulf Oil drilling ship, its crew bustling under the glaring lights of the ship’s drill-rig superstructure. It was a brief reminder of the time he’d spent on drilling rigs in the Java Sea off Indonesia.
Below deck, crews of Jihadist Front mujahidin finished preparing ten Omega boats and attaching each with two, 100-horsepower Yokosuka outboard engines. Once done, the fighters
went up on deck to eat and then rest. They would stay on deck until nightfall, when they went
below into the ship’s cargo holds to arm each boat with two M-240 belt-fed, mounted machine guns, fore and aft. Two Carl Gustav M2 anti-tank rocket launchers and two rocket-propelled grenade launchers would be strapped to the decks of each boat. Each crewmen would be armed with an AK-47 assault rifle. The pilot of each boat also would carry a nine-millimeter Beretta pistol.
Before daybreak the Seixal, the Vila Real, the Tondela and the Cantanhede came to a full stop. The ships anchored about five miles southeast of the mouth of the Sabine River, the border between Texas and Louisiana.
11:04 a.m. EST. March 20, 2009
New York City
“I call upon the nations of the world,” President Lorraine Forster said in her address to the United Nations General Assembly, “to contribute a substantial number of personnel from their military organizations for a United Nations force to help provide security throughout war-torn Iraq.
“This force I propose has as its end-goal a guarantee of peace between warring militias now engaged in a gruesome civil war. I also propose that in the coming weeks the U.N. Secretary General convene a meeting of Iraqi militia leaders in Geneva, Switzerland for the purpose of planning a pullback of all engaged militia forces and establishing a ceasefire.
“Once that ceasefire has been maintained over a reasonable period of time, at least ten days, then the U.N. force could land in Iraq and set up its forces in strategic locations in the northern, southern and western areas of the country. The U.N. peacekeeping force would have its headquarters in Baghdad and would work closely with current Iraqi government officials and that nation’s military and police forces.
“The United Nations has numerous commitments of its personnel throughout the world. But at this time, there is no more important need than for a ceasefire to take hold in Iraq. I believe that
a U.N. force of at least 45,000 blue-helmeted personnel should be sufficient in the near future to guarantee peace and some stability in Iraq.
“Without a peacekeeping force in place, no reconstruction efforts in Iraq could be expected to continue and bring electricity, water and much-needed repairs to the country’s nearly destroyed infrastructure.
“On another matter, Pakistan must become the lead participant in a U.N. peacekeeping force in Afghanistan. I envision at least 10,000 Pakistani blue helmets patrolling throughout that country once all NATO forces have left. Without Pakistan’s help in that region of the world, chaos and bloodletting in Afghanistan will certainly continue unabated.
“I also call on the United Nations to help eradicate Afghanistan’s opium poppy fields and provide the farmers in that sector of the economy with markets for other crops. Afghanistan supplies the world with nearly all of the demand for raw opium and processed heroin. This must stop.
“The poppy fields of Afghanistan have furnished the seed money, if you will, for a network of arms smuggling by Jihadist Front terrorists. They are a threat to civilized nations in every corner of the world. Arms bought with illegal gains have ended up in Iraq and helped fuel the civil war there.
“On the issue of the Afghan poppy fields, I beg the U.N. Security Council to meet as soon as possible to discuss ways to eradicate this poison from the world.”
Following the President’s speech, U.N. ambassadors from China and Russia expressed “grave” reservations about a U.N. peacekeeping force of any size going to Iraq. Both said security should be the concern solely of Iraq’s army and police force. They also rejected President Forster’s proposal for the growing of alternative crops in opium poppy fields in Afghanistan, saying eradication efforts should be left up to local political officials.
The U.N. Secretary General told reporters he would seek Security Council discussion of the proposed peacekeeping forces in Iraq and Afghanistan as soon as possible. However, he said the size of the forces would have to be limited, due to plummeting U.N. resources. “The world body is stretched too thin,” the Secretary General said.
A guest commentator said in a TCN broadcast that President Forster “must not be dealing with reality in proposing this peacekeeping force for Iraq. There never will be peace. A ceasefire never will happen. And what country’s military is going to go to Iraq to get shot at and killed. I don’t care where they’re from, even cash-strapped and poor Bangladesh or the wealthier Netherlands.”
Pakistan’s U.N. ambassador blasted Forster’s proposal for his country to lead a U.N. peacekeeping contingent inside Afghanistan.
Iraq’s government announced it would not allow Kurdish, Shiite or Sunni militia leaders to travel outside the country, unless they went into exile, never to return. Abdul Mohammed Aziz through a translator told a WPI correspondent summoned to his headquarters in Sadr City that his Jihadist forces would “take over Baghdad’s Green Zone in a matter of days” and “expel from Iraq all Sunnis and Kurds once American forces left. I then will establish, before Allah, a military and economic alliance with Iran and Syria and take over all oil installations. That woman Forster in America is not worthy before Allah to tell me or my forces to stop killing the infidel Yazdani Kurds and the unholy Sunnis. Death to them all.”
7:40 p.m. EST. March 20, 2009
New York City
“Mr. Ambassador, what can you tell me about cargo ships seen off your coast recently?” President Forster leaned forward in an arm chair in a corner of a large, palatial suite at the Waldorf- Astoria Hotel on Park Avenue in Manhattan.
The U.N. Ambassador from Oman sat back and cocked his head as an aide translated the
President’s question. The aide looked at Forster and translated the ambassador’s response: “We know of no cargo ships off our coast. Only ships that come to bring vital goods to our port at Masqat. So sorry for your inconvenience, madam.”
“I’m not inconvenienced at all, Mr. Ambassador,” Forster said. “Actually, I’m talking about ships anchored off Suhar. Do you know the city on the coast of the Gulf of Oman?”
“Oh, very well, madam. I know it well. I’ve been there many times as a child,” the ambassador said through his translator. “But no ships go there, madam. There is no port to service any ships. Only dhows and small sailing vessels frequent that part of the coast of my country.”
“We, ah, my government has had reports of inflatable rubber boats, small I hear, coming ashore near Suhar in the last few weeks. Do you know, or does anyone in your government have knowledge of that?” Forster knew she was getting nowhere with the Omani U.N. Ambassador. If there was time before going to Baghdad, she’d have called in Oman’s Ambassador to the United States.
“We don’t know, madam, of any such activities by those kinds of vessels,” the aide said in translation. He leaned close to the ambassador, who was whispering to him in Arabic. The aide straightened up and looked at President Forster. “Why do you ask such questions and raise such accusations about which we know nothing? I do not understand.”
“I’m very sorry, Mr. Ambassador, for raising these questions. I did not intend to make you, or your government, feel uncomfortable. My government is not accusing your government of
anything. We merely had these reports, and I felt it my duty to ask you.” Forster stood up and
walked toward the Ambassador, who also stood. Forster shook the Ambassador’s hand. “I know you must leave, sir, but please pass on to your government the same questions I raised with you. I plan to cable our Embassy in Masqat and have our Ambassador there raise these questions with your government.”
The Ambassador finished listening to the translation from his aide. He looked to the carpeted floor, then raised his head and smiled. “Good night, madam President,” he said in English.
“It was nice to meet you.” He turned and walked out of the suite, his retinue of four others following close behind.
The President slumped into a chair. What a liar, she thought, shaking her head as Helen Brown came into the suite’s living room. Timothy Connors was with her.
“How’d it go?” asked Brown.
“About as well as expected,” said Forster, who stood up. “I got nothing from that smooth- talking Ambassador. I have nothing but contempt for him.” She turned to Connors. “And Tim, it’s a good thing you weren’t here. My, oh my, what a bunch of stoic, unemotional types who tell a story full of lies. I just want to get back to the White House and get ready for tomorrow.”
“Ma’am,” said Connors, “I was on a secure phone just now with Secretary Wheeler, about his visit with the Omani prime minister and that trip you wanted him to make to Islamabad.”
“Yes, yes, go ahead.”
“The Secretary said the prime minister denied knowing anything about cargo ships off Suhar.”
“That’s the same answer I got from their U.N. Ambassador,” the President said. “I imagine at this point, we’ll never really know. But, oh my.” She sighed. Forster sat back in the nearest chair and crossed her legs. “So, what did Jefferson say about his visit to Islamabad?”
Connors pulled up a chair and sat down opposite the President. Brown was standing behind her. “You’re going to like this bit of news even less.”
“Oh no, what now?” Forster leaned forward. “Is Jefferson okay?”
“Oh, yes ma’am. He’s fine. It’s not like that.” Connors quickly stood up and moved the chair away. He stood before the President, holding his hands in front of him. “Secretary Wheeler said we had a CIA operative of Pakistani descent trying to get a handle on what Abu Mahmoud was up to in Pakistan. The agent had been alerted about those freighters at the Karachi port. Then we lost contact with him.”
“So again, nothing? Right?”
“Right, ma’am,” said Connors, “but the Secretary’s contact with Pakistan’s Inter-Services
Intelligence agency said the body of our agent was found in late January. It was stuffed into an oil drum.”
“No, no,” said Forster. “Oh my, that’s horrible, really horrible, but where was this? In Pakistan? Somewhere else?”
“The Secretary said the body was discovered inside a warehouse near the docks at the port of Karachi. It was decapitated.” The President lowered her head.
“I’m so sorry to hear that. What next?” Forster appeared anxious, rubbing her hands together. She took a deep breath and exhaled. “Enough for now, Tim. We have to get back to Washington and prepare for tomorrow’s trip, which right now I’m not really looking forward to.” The President uncrossed her legs and stood up. “Oh Helen, I’ll just be a minute.” Forster headed to the suite’s bedroom.
Connors watched the President disappear behind closing French doors. After a moment, he pulled Brown aside. “Just so you know, Ms. Brown, and you can tell the President when and if you think it best, or I’m sure at some point Secretary Wheeler will tell her.”
“Yes sir,” said Brown, “what is it?”
“That agent killed in Pakistan was one of the Secretary’s old law school classmates at Georgetown. The former President was quite devastated when he heard about the barbarous way the man was killed.”