It was nearly 11 p.m. and Clarissa had been sitting at her desk in the Oval Office for the last 20 minutes, contemplating the Situation Room briefing she had just received after a day of campaigning in Kentucky and West Virginia. She couldn’t decide whether the news was too good to be true or too sad to even contemplate. But that didn’t matter right now. For the first time in months she had a foreign policy option—an ugly one, but an option to consider nonetheless.
About 18 hours ago a woman named Jajang Lestari walked into the U.S. Embassy in the East Samatan capital and handed over a brief case full of maps that allegedly detailed West Samatan’s weapons of mass destruction sites and key military installations. American diplomats in Samatan City were used to pro-unification agitators making wild claims, but this one was taken seriously right from the start for a simple reason. Jajang’s husband of 36 years was a senior general in the West Samatan army.
Gen. Chung Lestari earned a political science degree from the University of Washington 44 years ago—at the age of 20. After graduation, he left Seattle for a visit to his family’s home in Dengali with every intention of returning to the United States to start law school that fall. Then, on the morning of Aug. 8, the low-grade conflict that had been part of life on Samatan for decades turned into a full-scale civil war after rebels from the west took credit for the assassination of Samatan’s foreign minister and his wife.
The Lestari family had the resources to get their youngest son out of the country, but when his two brothers joined up with a local rebel leader named Lee Haz, there was no stopping Chung. He was going to war. And he was the only Lestari who would live to see West Samatan win its independence.
“Come in,” Clarissa said in response to a knock at the door leading from Sarah’s office. “Come in if you must.”
The chief of staff entered with Gen. Pierce Keller following.
“We’re really spending too much time together,” Clarissa said, smiling a little as she motioned for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Sarah to sit in the chairs across from her desk. “The press might start thinking we’re doing more than tilting at windmills.”
“I’m sorry, Madam President, but the general has something—”
“It’s fine, Sarah,” Clarissa said. “What do you want, Pierce?”
In the 30-minute Situation Room briefing, the president was told that Lee Haz’s three Diplomat II launching sites were in abandoned (and now gutted) apartment towers crammed into residential districts near downtown Galang. The two entry points to the underground weapons development and missile maintenance facilities were in government warehouses—one of which was next to a hospital and the other a half-a-block from a school. It was far more sophisticated and covert than anyone imagined.
“Madam President, if I may speak more forcefully than I did downstairs, this is for real,” the general said. “What we’ve been presented today fills in huge gaps in British intelligence—”
“So we’re supposed to put Special Forces on the ground in Galang and then start bombing areas where real people live? Then we’re supposed to trust the East to do its part and take that whole island?”
“Madam President,” Sarah said. “This—”
“And one more thing,” Clarissa said, glaring at Sarah. “It occurred to me while we were downstairs. I didn’t want to say anything at the time, but why did I just learn about this tonight? You both knew this morning. Why am I only beginning to process this right now? Why was I out campaigning when you all were back here—”
“That’s on me, actually,” Keller said. “That was my call. The CIA didn’t want a disruption to your public schedule. If you’re not in Ashland, Kentucky, when your campaign says you’ll be there, CNN isn’t the only one who notices.”
“Fine,” Clarissa said. “That’s fine, we’re putting on a show for Lee Haz’s intelligence people, but this whole thing is still pretty thin.”
“Ma’am,” the general said. “This is as real as it gets.”
“By your own account, General Lestari is stationed at one of the metro Galang bases we’re supposed to bomb—if I ever agree to this.”
“That’s correct, Madam President,” the general said. “Lestari is based at Liberty Defense Base II. He would come under fire, absolutely. We’d level the entire base in the first wave of bombing.”
Sarah spoke up before Clarissa could respond.
“Madam President, Lestari is a patriot.”
The chief of staff continued after the president nodded without speaking.
“‘Patriot’ is my word, but it’s basically the point Glenn made just a few minutes ago,” Sarah said, referring to CIA Director Glenn Westin. “The general sent his wife across the border because he’s afraid a war is coming—and if it’s coming, he wants it to be over as quickly and easily as possible.”
“He risked his wife in sending her to the East,” Keller said. “He risked himself, too. If her crossing failed, he would’ve been shot—no questions asked. Since it succeeded, he could die in an attack. He’s a soldier and he’s sacrificing himself for his country.”
Clarissa stood and turned toward the window behind her desk. Keller and Sarah came to their feet, too.
“What do you think, general?” the president finally said. “If we hit the bases and the weapons, what happens next? Does the East pull its weight? And can we mobilize our assets in the region quickly enough to get this underway without anyone noticing?”
“Lots of variables at play, but—”
“But nothing,” Clarissa said softly, looking out the window. “I understand this might be the real thing. I certainly don’t dismiss your counsel, but I need something solid before we move.”
“Sorry, Pierce,” the president said as she started toward the door. “But I need more than we’ve got.”
Copyright - Christopher Truscott - 2013