Most ‘foreign policy experts’ didn’t put much store in the fact that Bush could actually put together a coalition that the World would accept as something beyond American expansionism. I differed but kept my peace. Rick and Candi had returned with the Hussein piece and it was running when I debriefed them with Harold, Gwen, and Tori in the conference room over a Sarge’s Deli catered lunch. Both corned beef and pastrami with cole slaw, french dip, swiss cheese, sauerkraut and condiments. As usual Tori and I stuck to a glass of wine, while the rest had bottles of Piels.
I started: “Rick, what’s your take here?”
“A coalition large enough to pass the sniff test would involve at least twenty-five to thirty countries, at least half outside the Middle East. I don’t think it can be done. The Arabs are pretty much constantly at each other’s throats, this just seems like more of the same. Most of the World is content to let it pass. Lots of saber rattling, but not much but noise. Hussein won’t go after the Saudis with us in his way. It’ll settle into normalcy, with the addition of an American base in the Saudi desert. However, Candi has another take.”
“I do as well, so we’ll save her for last. Harold? What do you see?”
“Already beginning to see it. Hussein controls over a quarter of the World’s crude, with Kuwait, too close to half for comfort. Oil import countries will reluctantly come to the table because they can’t afford to have Hussein pulling the strings of their economy. I had Gwendolyn looking into it, what did you find,” he said looking at his foster daughter.
“Most of the Arab oil producers will sign up, as they can’t afford Iraq virtually controlling the market,” started Gwen. “I had Tori go through the Importers.”
Tori picked it up. “It hinges on Asia. Singapore already stepped up and that’s a surprise. One or two more Oriental powers, a China, a Korea, India or Pakistan, and Europe will tumble. I’d say it’s about on the edge, about fifty-fifty that Bush has what he needs by year’s end.”
“I’d go with that, but I’d say closer to ninety percent,” I said. “You’re forgetting who Bush was.”
“My cue Nick?” said Candi. “You in my head?”
“Let’s find out, Go.”
“We’re too American to see it, most of the time we don’t know who the head of the CIA is, and he holds very little power at home. In most of the World, the spymaster, head of the secret police is known and feared. All the people Rick and I have talked to in foreign governments tend to watch their backs more with Bush in the White House. He’ll be too hard to turn down directly, so he’ll get a couple planes, the odd troop from a lot of countries. That will be enough to put it over the top by years’ end.”
“I guess I was in your head a bit. I talked with my contacts and bribed my way into some truth from Heaven and Earth. Plus, a Japanese contact tells me Japan won’t take the field, they can’t with their Constitution, but they will commit to laying a checkbook behind it. Both Taiwan and China will pass, according to Heaven and Earth, but South Korea will dispatch troops shortly. I make the coalition between thirty-five and forty nations, with a few more contributing monetarily.
“I know Powell. As a general he’s a fan of the unstoppable force, I fully expect that come New Year’s Day the largest military force since D-Day will be on the Kuwaiti border.”
“Is that why Jerry’s coming?” said Harold. “You bribed John Shao?”
“I did. He’ll earn his keep on another story as well. Where we are weak here is in the Moslem countries. Either Pakistan or Malaysia falling in would cause a domino effect through Europe.”
“Malaysia has oil. Pakistan is tied up with the Persians there,” said Harold. “Iran won’t make an overt move, but Sharif’s take down of MS Bhutto was partially backed by the Ayatollahs’ pocketbook and they have no love of Saddam.”
“So, my instinct is to send Rick and Candi to the desert, or at least Riyadh. Let’s get some American GIs faces out there. If it is going to be the largest military action since the end of World War Two, we want a ringside seat. Also, we want a team on how this is going to sit with the American public. Despite the saber rattling, it’s been almost a decade since American troops have faced any vaguely competent enemy in the field. I’ll place Ali from San Francisco in Annandale for that. Finally, there is another angle we need.
“This will be the first high tech war. Silicon Valley will be going to war. How do I know? Even game designers like Teddy have had a hand in our weapon systems. We have smart bombs and missiles that can find doors and go through them. Laser guided ordinance that can target the fleas on a camel’s ass. The dirigible hangars at Moffett Field hold stealth planes that are undetectable with conventional radar. I’m putting Dee and Joey on that. What will happen to our happy little geeks in the Valley? They will see what they have created ripping into real human bodies, not cartoon characters on a monitor. What will that do to them? What will be their reaction?
“Finally, Rick and Candi, when the tech war has broken the enemy, after we’ve used our laser guided missiles, dropped the smart bombs from the invisible bombers, overridden their communications, and jammed their controls, the ground war begins. While the lead up is all high tech, the ground war is still Bob, and we need to see his face.
Since nobody came up with any we all started setting the wheels in motion.
Later that afternoon Chavy Compton showed up at my office door.
“Uncle Nick,” she said, “I want to go with Rick and Candi. My Dad is reluctant, but he said to tell you I’m good enough.”
“No, Angel, I have other plans for you. Any picture of something going boom is like any other picture of something going boom. You’re better than that. I need some pictures taken that get under the skin. Annandale was bitten pretty bad by Vietnam, half the boys who didn’t go to college died there. This will be the first major incident since. I need to see their faces as it goes down, and I need to feel what they’re feeling; on staff only you and your Dad can give me that, and without you, he’s too busy. And that’s just the half of it. Down in the valley a whole lot of geeks are going to be watching their programming rip apart real human bodies, blow up real buildings. Their fantasies of war as a game will collapse before the reality. I need that reaction, and I need to feel it.
“So, you’re set up with Ali Washington in Annandale to start. Kat has a room for the Ali and you always bunk with Deena. Engineer a rapport between you and show me the emotions of a small town stuck between by jingo and oh no not again. The day after it breaks Joey will pick you up and take you down to Los Altos. You’ll stay with Dee and Angie.”
“Yes, you know them both and have a good rapport with Dee. Teddy and Donna will bring you the geeks. You show me how they take it.”
“Christmas and New Year’s, pretty much as always.
“And Angel, don’t be disappointed. This is more important.”
Nearly everyone called Chavy Angel, it was actually her name. In Khmer, Chavy means the little Angel.
“You really think we’re headed for a war?” said Tori as we fell to the center of our brokeback Queen bed.
“No, I don’t think Bush is that stupid. He crosses into Iraq and it will shatter, leaving a couple dozen militias jockeying for power, and leaving us with a shadow for enemies. Freeing Kuwait will be enough, any further and it will bog us down with another unwinnable war like Vietnam. Remember that it was Bush who rebuilt the CIA after Vietnam. It’s a trap someone our age might fall for, no one from the greatest generation will. There is only one wild card and Hussein would be a better strategist then I give him credit for if it pans out.”
“His play would be to throw his air force and missiles at Israel, who really cannot join the coalition. His air force is worthless against us, against the Israelis, he’s at least got numbers. Now how will the rest of the Arabs jump? Remember the Arab dictum, ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend.’ If the Israelis go after him it will shatter the coalition, and hand us a two-front war, quartered in hostile territory.”
“I don’t think Yitzhak will take the bait. I think both of us know him better than that. As far right as Likud is and as much as he’d like to take out Saddam, he’d see that. His Mossad background matches Bush’s CIA. And I seriously doubt the Iraqis can make much of a dent against Israel.”
“I’m not so sure Yitzhak will have the choice. Likud’s hold is razor thin. And you know how vindictive the Jews can get.”
“We’ve seen what Saddam can do. He had a problem with nearly unarmed Persians. I don’t see any air or missile strike he can make getting through. But I could be wrong.”
“I don’t think you are, but there is always the chance.”
The next day Jen, Gio and Chavy trooped in to say goodbye before heading off to wine country. I had Gio fixed up with IDs that made him John Baker from Nashville. Gwen made his package, which included an AMEX card in his AKA through the magazine. Until we settled with the Italian gentlemen on the Island, Gio Leibowitz would be a ghost.
Kat had arranged for Gio to stay with Ed Michelson. This made it convenient for Jen and Gio to take Deena’s room while Deena snuck down to Ed’s. Of course, Deena ‘sneaking’ into Ed’s was common knowledge in Annandale. A team of private dicks couldn’t untangle the secrets of Annandale, so it was all relatively safe. Deena showed on the weekends and the whole arrangement brought a smile to Jen’s face.
The World was in a sort of time warp. Slowly the coalition came together, pretty much as Candi, Harold and I saw it doing. There was little to do but wait, watch and hope that I had guessed right. In a perverse sort of way, I was glad to have the murder mystery out on the Island take up some time. Both Ken and Jerry settled into the house in the Hamptons and were there when Joey D made his initial survey, on a crisp October Monday morning.
Tuesday, I got a call I wasn’t expecting.
“Nick,” said John Russo, whose voice was impossible to forget, “is the line clear?”
I flipped a button on the phone, which isolated it and basically disabled taps on any conversation. “For about five minutes we’re on our own, John.”
“Joey D starts Monday on the Island. The hit will come between lunch and happy hour.”
“You’re telling me this? Where’s Omerta?”
“Ask your lovely Sicilian wife. Tell her that Joey D is a made man. You’ll be able to sort it out from there. Ciao.”