Hocus POTUS: A Fictional Account of the Search for WMDs in Iraq

Editor's Note: The following is an interview with author Malcolm MacPherson and an excerpt from his book Hocus POTUS.

In Malcolm MacPherson's fictional Iraq, Ambassador Taylor, head of reconstruction, is preoccupied with his image of "contrasting notes of Brooks Brothers and army gear" and Kristin, an executive assistant, is just glad the old ambassador is gone because he had no definable jaw line.

Rather than looking for real WMDs, the goal is to find something that at least looks like WMDs to justify POTUS' (President of the United States) foray into Iraq. In other words, MacPherson's fictional Iraq may be only a sip of moonshine from the truth.

Hocus POTUS is a thinly veiled satire based on MacPherson's time in Iraq immediately following the occupation. A veteran journalist and former Marine, MacPherson's fiction goes a remarkable way to capturing a truth about Iraq that you won't get from reading the daily news.

His story starts when Rick Gannon tries to steal 17 tons of U.S. currency off a C-130 military plane. Kristin, Ambassador Taylor and the other Kool-Aid-drinking members of the reconstruction team, use this to land him in prison. Not, mind you, to punish him for his crime, but rather to keep him out of their hair. Gannon has a big mouth and a propensity for calling a spade a spade. But in an environment where White House appointees, still wet behind the ears, are running the show, there's no room for Gannon's kind.

When Gannon escapes, Ambassador Taylor wants to call off the search for WMDs and look for him. Kristin, in an apoplectic fit, lets him know why that's all wrong: "Was he losing it? POTUS was why they had invaded Iraq, and POTUS was why they would find POTUS a reason for invading Iraq. Was that too fucking complicated?"

It isn't complicated, and Gannon, busy painting a rocket-ship kiddie ride so that it looks like a WMD, knows it. He plans on selling the fake to the ambassador and his crew. They just might buy it. By the end, readers are inclined to wonder whether MacPherson's satire is convenient euphemism for truth, or whether it's the other way around. MacPherson recently sat down with AlterNet to talk about his experiences in Iraq as well as the writing of Hocus POTUS.

Onnesha Roychoudhuri: You've covered a lot of wars. What was different about Iraq?

Malcolm MacPherson: I covered the occupation, not the war. The fighting itself was over by the time I got there. How many times have we really occupied a country after combat? You couldn't say that was true in Vietnam.

The last time was either Korea or WWII. It was a unique experience to be in a place that had been subdued militarily and was now being dealt with post-combat. We haven't done that very often, and we proved to be terrible at it in Iraq, We were brilliant at it in WWII. There are a huge number of on-the-ground differences in Iraq, including the sectarian hatred. But I believe that what we brought to Iraq has none of the genuine commitment to help, which contrasts with the post-WWII experience.

OR: What made you doubt the commitment?

MM: I'm sure there are people over there who are genuinely interested in doing the best that can be done for the Iraqi people, but a lot of what I saw were people doing the best they could possibly do for themselves. A lot of self-centeredness, a lot of ambition that had nothing to do with doing a good job for as long as needed. Some of the younger people who Bremer brought into the CPA reminded me of high school students who go down to Costa Rica to build a house in the summer. They hammer a nail and then they go to the beach and then they hammer another nail and they have a Mai Tai.

They never really get engaged with the people whose house they're building. They smile at them and pat them on the head. I saw a lot of that over there. And just as high school kids are trying to make their application look better for college, these young people were trying to make their resumes look better for the White House, so that they could get a better job.

OR: This reminds me of the character, Kristin, in your book. In one episode, she demands that her driver stop at a traffic light despite the fact that it's not functioning.

MM: I didn't have to make this stuff up. This actually happened. It's just a huge collision between idealism and reality, and what Kristin preferred was the idealism. Here's what actually happened. Me, my friend (the basis for Rick Gannon) and a Defense Intelligence Agency guy would meet at the front of the palace at night and go eat outside at one of the restaurants, pick up a bottle of whisky and just talk. It was us older guys.

One night, these two young women were with the DIA guy. They had just gotten there, but they were connected, so he had to kowtow or thought he had to. He said, "They're coming with us." We just looked at him as if to say, "You've broken the rules here, pal." These two young women jump in the car. One got in the front passenger seat and one got in the back, which meant that my friend and myself, among a few others, were going to have to crunch into the back.

I thought, "I don't really want to do this." So I went back to my place with my friend to have some cashews and whisky. An hour later, this DIA guy came back and he looked miserable. We started laughing. We asked what happened. He said, "You wouldn't believe it. She started screaming at me at this intersection in the green zone." There are no cars there, because they couldn't get into the Green Zone. There are checkpoints. But she was screaming at him to "stop the fucking car" at the nonfunctioning traffic light.

OR: Was it frequently the case that the people who had experience and knew the realities on the ground were taking these orders from young upstarts? Are they running the show while the people who have experience are sitting there drinking and saying, "I can't believe this"?

MM: Yes. It's trickle down incompetence. Take the first leader of the reconstruction effort, Jay Garner, who was eminently qualified. He'd basically rescued the Kurdish nation in 1991. He had guys around him in Iraq, former generals who had come out of retirement to work with him.

One was up in the north in Irbil, one was down in Hillah and then there were a couple in Baghdad with him. These are men who had great experience and were smart. When Bremer came in, they were all told to leave. Garner told me that in a meeting with one of his generals in the north, Bremer said, "I want you tomorrow to disband the Kurdish army" and this guy said, "Wait a minute. We can't disband the Peshmurga. They're our allies. They've been our allies for ten years."

Bremer started to walk out of the room, and he turned over his shoulder and said dismissively, "Do it." The general refused to do it. He went back to Irbil; he never issued the order to disband the Peshmurga. But that's what Bremer wanted to have happen.

It was a clash of experience and inexperience. It was also a clash of ideologies. The military guys are used to working together to get things done. These other people are used to working against each other to try to outfox the other guy.

I felt that that was worth reflecting in the book. That's why I made these Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) people the antagonists. The character Kristin embodies this. She's also kind of hapless. She wasn't really mean; she just didn't know what the hell she was doing. She was probably scared like a lot of them were, and when people are scared, they tend to be a pain in the ass.

OR: In her fear, she tries to make a few desperate, and pathetic, attempts to regain control.

MM: Exactly. Anyone who has ever worked in the office has seen this behavior before.

OR: Who is Rick Gannon based on?

MM: This is a guy I know, a pal of mine. He could talk the birds out of the trees. He's a commodities trader and entrepreneur. He's made a huge amount of money over the years, and he's lost a huge amount of money. It doesn't seem to bother him.

A few years ago he cornered the market on sesame seeds. He had bought these sesame seeds from the brother of the King of Morocco while on a golf course. The character Rick Gannon is an archetype. He's the original capitalist. He doesn't need a company to work for. He's out there trading coal and sesame seeds. Whatever he can get his hands on. He's going to buy it low and sell it high.

OR: Given all these unsavory characteristics, how does he become the hero of the book?

MM: He's a hero because he's retaliating for something very underhanded that was done to him. Gannon is in Iraq because he's trying to escape some people he stole money from. But he can't keep his fingers off the machinery, so he's telling the ambassador how to do and not do things, and he always turns out to be right. The ambassador always turns out to be wrong. The ambassador basically banishes him and Gannon is pissed off about that. But he becomes this anti-hero because we're rooting for him. In fact we're rooting for the bad guy. What's more fun than that?

OR: The characters seem to have an interesting combination of incredible self-awareness and total self-delusion. There's Kristin's demand to stop at a nonexistent traffic light. But then, as we see with "Ambassador Taylor" and the rest of the CPA, they want to keep Gannon in prison not because of his crime, but because he won't drink the Kool-Aid. And they talk about themselves as drinking the Kool-Aid.

MM: Yes, they hate Gannon because he's not playing their game. The truth of the matter is that, in the Pentagon, in 2002, if you walked around offices, you would see signs posted in cubicles, saying, "I've drunk the Kool-Aid." In other words, "I've bought into this whole Bush deal."

I'd always heard of it as being the neocon thing and that these people were really proud of it. They didn't seem to get that, basically, "I drank the Kool-Aid" means you're dead. But I guess they didn't bring it back to Jim Jones.

OR: The neocon propensity to absorb a negative connotation and then spin it as positive is impressive. The book does a remarkable job of portraying this process.

MM: These neoconservative ideologues are not dumb by any means. They're as smart as whips. I think that anyone who is smart has to wake up in the middle of the night, has to have that moment of real self-evaluation. You have to know that what you're doing is illogical and defies reason. So you get up the next morning and go about your job of illogic and unreason.

I think this is really how a lot of these people are. That's why I think we have so much trouble with figuring out what they're all about. They're both intelligent and illogical. What they say and do sometimes makes absolutely no sense. I think that's probably true of most administrations. But I've never seen one like this before. When Clinton was saying, "I didn't have sex with this woman," I was thinking, "What are you talking about? How could you say that?" How could any man say that with a straight face? That's pretty funny stuff.

OR: That was discussion for grounds of impeachment. Compare that to the discussion for the grounds of impeachment of this president, and we're not even in the same world anymore. The fact anyone cared whether Clinton lied to us about his sex life now seems like pure satire. Now we're being lied to about a war, about torture and about domestic spying.

MM: The moral weight of each one is hugely different. There are also these people who are incredibly hysterical, like this guy Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, the guy doing the hand signals underneath the partition of the men's room. He's the one who's railing against homosexuality and gay marriage. Those people are really funny. They're scary, but funny. It makes me wonder if it's just now that this is happening, or has always been this way.

OR: It's seems like we're in a climate friendly to politicians with conservative beliefs, encouraging them to speak fervently about their causes. But then the most vocal of these folks turn out to be so fervent precisely because they themselves have a massive personal insecurity about something.

MM: Sure. They have something to hide. What better way to hide something than to throw up a huge smokescreen?

OR: Yes, but now it's become formulaic. Now any Republican who speaks heatedly against a particular kind of corruption or issue might be suspect. Maybe that itself should be grounds for investigation.

MM: It's true. If you want to suspect somebody of being a homosexual in the Senate, you look at the way they vote. I don't think that there's ever been this much hypocrisy alive as there is right now. And they're proud to be hypocrites. They think that's just the way you do business, rather than being embarrassed or shamed by it.

OR: One character in the book whose name isn't changed is Ammo Baba, the Iraqi soccer star. Does he know that he's been immortalized in your book?

MM: I doubt it. I can't imagine he does. I think he's in Amman right now. I hope he's safe. Everyone with any kind of standing or stature and money is out of there at this point. The only people who are left are these poor sods who just have no choice. It's Katrina. The ones who get hammered are the ones who can't leave. They don't have enough money to leave and that's what we've created over there: the perfect hurricane.

OR: The character Kristin, on behalf of Ambassador Taylor and the other CPA folk goes to the Iraqi soccer stadium, which is being used as a prison, where Rick Gannon is being held to see if the guards can "lose" Gannon in the system, so that he can be out of their hair indefinitely. The guard says, "That's not even a request. It's, like, our standard operating procedure."

MM: All those guys had over there was a laptop computer. They didn't have a clue how to spell these people's names. Sometimes they'd give them names. They used these yellow metal meat tags, about four inches long, and made out of plastic with a clip at the end of it. They're designed for sides of beef. You pinch into the meat with this tag to identify one part or another. They'd give the prisoners numbers, and then they would clip these tags to their shirts. On the back it would say, "Suspected Baathie."

A lot of these prisoners were taken out of the houses in the middle of the night -- Ammo Baba was. I didn't get it. I just couldn't figure out what they were trying to accomplish by putting these people into a large prison or a soccer stadium. They had to know that most of these guys were not a problem. But what better irony than to put the soccer legend in a soccer stadium? I wouldn't ever have thought of that.

OR: I want to talk about the character of Ambassador Taylor. There's a point in the book where Kristin is telling Taylor about a fake WMD that they're hoping can be pawned off as real. "The president will think it's real. Don't you get it?" He did, and he didn't. He guessed maybe he did. He felt uncertain about who was telling the truth, to be honest." Talk about this fraught sense of honesty. Is Taylor really that witless, or is he conflicted about drinking the Kool-Aid?

MM: In the New York Times recently, we saw the letters Bremer sent to Bush about disbanding the army. Here was this incredibly important policy change, and the letter was three pages long. All but one sentence of this letter was kissing Bush's ass about how wonderful the people of Iraq thought he was, and what a great service he was providing the universe. It was just brown-nosing beyond brown-nosing.

How embarrassing to write this as a man in that position. I always saw Bremer as a guy who really wanted to be secretary of state and was willing to do absolutely anything. In fact, he was even willing to defy the powers and forces of logic and reason in order to satisfy the wishes of his master.

We see that a lot in people. They put up with stuff, they lie and they're dishonest, all for the sake of getting ahead. I think the worst thing you can do in this life is lie. In these public figures, honesty is just treated as a useful tool. When you lie, you have to have a very good memory. The thing with these people is that they lie so much they don't know where they are. They're confused about what they're supposed to be thinking and saying. I think the ambassador character reflects that confusion. He doesn't know what he believes in anymore. That's who he is, and that's who so many of these people are, including Bush.

OR: There's a passage in the book around the time that they're expecting Gannon to try to sell them a fake WMD: "They knew to distrust Gannon, but they understood how desperation could make an honest man of thieves." You're so successful in getting the reader to inhabit this alternate sense of truth that I first read this as meaning that the Kool-Aid drinkers were the thieves, and they thought the simple fact of their desperation, to find even fake WMD, would make them honest.

MM: Yes. And then, for all time, their minds would tell them that is was a real WMD. It's amazing what we can convince ourselves of when we're faced with ambition and profit and with making ourselves look good. I wonder whether these people bring this kind of a thing into their marriages and into their families. Do they lie to their wives, or else tell them these half-truths and treat them like idiots? I wouldn't doubt it. You've got to believe that Sen. Craig has been telling half-truths to his wife for years. I don't think I've seen a time when truth was so damaged as it is now. It's a pretty battered quality.

OR: In the book, Kristin certainly has her personal life intricately wrapped up in her career. In one scene, she's in the middle of the desert looking up at a constellation she recognizes from her childhood, and she wishes for WMDs. It's both humorous and heartbreaking.

MM: And they're all here in Washington. I remember meeting this guy on an aircraft carrier from the personnel office at the White House. He was a really good friend of Bush's. He was with three young women who were also from the personnel office. I've never seen people who struck me as being more entitled. I found these poor girls and this guy really sad, because when it's all over, nobody is going to pay any attention to them.

There was guy at Newsweek, a friend of mine. He used to go up to Marlon Brando's house and other movie stars' places. He really thought that they really liked him. Of course, he was in for a shock when he left Newsweek and nobody called him anymore. I always knew that people didn't invite me to parties and things and come up to me in restaurants because they liked me; they came up to me because I worked at Newsweek, and they thought I could do them some good. So I feel sorry for these young people, because they're going to find that out the hard way when they leave the White House. Like Bremer. He's found that out. Nobody will call him, and he can't get a job.

OR: Kristin's hunt for WMDs leads her to a book of hidden locations. When she finally uncovers the site, she finds hundreds of copies of a fantasy book by Saddam that never sold -- a book that was supposedly a bestseller. What's the kernel of truth here?

MM: Saddam wrote this book called Zabibah and the King that was published. Zabibah is a young virgin princess, and she represents Kuwait. America represents the villain, and of course the king has got to save Zabibah from these nasty villains. He has all these anachronisms in the book, which is wonderfully hysterical. He doesn't know whether he wants to insert himself into this thing that's set in the 12th century. Kuwait didn't even exist in the 12th century, much less Iraq, so it's all over the place, and the CIA actually translated the book to see if it could lead to some better understanding of his character, motives and personality.

I know this sounds like I'm making it up, but its' absolutely true. Just before we invaded, Saddam was working on making Zabibah and the King into a musical. I firmly believe that he wanted to be a novelist. He didn't want to be a dictator anymore. It's hard to get out of that business once you're in it. He had to sneak writing because it would have been perceived as a weakness. I have a feeling that he liked to write a lot when he wasn't killing people. It's like Hitler. He would get all dreamy about Wagner, and then he'd order the liquidation of 2 million people. I think dictators always have this soft side, and it helps to maintain their sanity.

OR: While you were in Iraq, you yourself looked for a WMD.

MM: Jay Garner and I met a Shiite cleric down in Hillah and he said he knew where there were some, so I went down the next day and he told me where the location was. We drove out there, and it was nonsense. There was no way there were WMDs there. That's when I went back to the palace and the DIA guy started laughing and said, "You did what?!" He said, "They don't exist, get over it."

OR: Was that a general sentiment that early on when you were over there?

MM: Yeah. I don't think anyone believed they existed. There were millions of dollars being spent looking for this stuff. I think they had to maintain the charade. Anybody with a brain knew that they didn't exist, but they wanted to string it out long enough that people would forget that there were no WMDs. The idea was, if we keep looking and spending money, that means there could be something, and we'll just change the discussion.

I don't see how Americans can cut these guys that much slack. They really did lie to us about this again and again. If we had a parliamentary democracy, they would be thrown out in a minute. A vote of no confidence would come up in a second. Unfortunately, we don't. But how can we be so forgiving? I guess we don't have any emotional investment in this war. So what's to forgive if you don't give a damn?

The following is an excerpt from Hocus POTUS, by Malcolm MacPherson (Melville House, 2007)

© 2007 Malcolm MacPherson and reprinted with the permission of the author and Melville House Publishing.

In the Palace, along the red Security Corridor, the Ambassador was seated in a liberated Iraqi barber's swivel chair being prepped for a live interview on the "Today Show" with perky Katie Couric. A makeup artist from CENTCOM's Public Affairs staff stuffed a paper towel inside his Brooks Bros. shirt collar and was brushing his face with a soft brush and blush and pancake. Taylor was complaining to himself in a lighted mirror. His best conversations took place in mirrors, usually spoken out loud, and he did not hold back now, just because an Army corporal was fussing over him like a fairy.

"Five minutes, sir, to air," a voice from the doorway called.

"Kristin," he told his own image in the mirror, "I know that only the young hold the keys to the Kingdom anymore. You went to Yale and were a legacy, just like POTUS. I know you will do right by me. What is it I desire? You can tell him, once this is tied up with a neat bow, I'd like to take over in his second term for Balloonfoot, who isn't doing anybody much good, or for the Guru, who'll be moving on. We have our work cut out for us, Kristin, but the rewards are worth the work and the risk." He tried out a pained smile on the mirror, just as the reflection of Gen. Montoya loomed up behind him.

"Why general, welcome to my humble abode," he told Montoya.

Montoya stared at the enlisted man teasing the Ambassador's topknot. He hated primps and fops like Taylor. He could not pry his eyes off the kind of fine attention to detail that he was getting to his personal person, even knowing, as he surely did, the career benefits of looking the part of whatever the drama called for. What a contrast with the Ambassador's predecessor, the retired Army lieutenant general who was a good man, and every soldier in the theater thought he was great, too. He was given the boot because he would not be fussed over like a French poodle and he wouldn't suffer fools. Talk about the Right Stuff! He was long gone.

"What's up?" the Ambassador asked in the mirror.

"Just a couple of rollback issues," the general replied too offhandedly. "And this and that."

"I'm rather busy."

"I wish you had consulted me, at least, on the Iraqi army decision," he said.

"The minute after you announced you were firing their army, the RPGs began to fly, and they won't stop, if you ask me."

"Can't have Republican guards and Baathists wear the uniform."

"But, Ambassador, don't you see? You made a half million enemies in one stroke."

"They'll get over it."

"They have weapons that they know how to use."

"Nonsense. You wait and see."

Single-handedly and overnight, the idiot had created an insurgency that the Army was being forced to deal with.

"I beg you to roll back your decision and put the Iraqi Army to work on civilian projects. For God sakes, give these men back their dignity."

"Once they prove they aren't friends of Saddam."

"They never were. They are soldiers."

"Anything else, general?"

A voice called, "Three minutes to air time, sir."

"What's in three minutes?" Montoya asked, and Taylor told him. "What does she want to talk to you about?"

His tone reflected his attitude toward Katie Couric, who just about made him retch when he thought about her colonoscopy on live TV; it was way more than he knew -- or ever wanted to know -- about another human being, much less a female, including his wife of thirty-two years, Harriet, back in Tampa.

"WMD." The Ambassador said in the mirror. "The nincompoops in the media keep asking the same cockeyed question, and we keep answering them like we really don't know, wink wink, and the game goes on, and on."

"One minute to air," a voice called.

The Ambassador slid out of the chair, ready for prime time. He waved to Montoya, saying, "Stick around." In his office, he situated himself in his executive chair before the golden damask curtain and the set of American and Iraqi flags. An NBC technician had set up a camera, lights, and a monitor in which the Ambassador could see Katie on the screen and thus was meant to pretend she was in the room with him -- the illusion helped interview subjects over the hurdle of distractions and was widely employed. He pulled at the back of his suit jacket and smoothed the lapels. The Army make-up corporal flicked the soft brush a last time over his cheeks, and the Ambassador folded his hands on the desk like he had seen POTUS do. He stared at his knuckles and concentrated on the moment. He had learned the tricks of television performance from a professional consulting firm that taught such techniques as shrinking the length of sound bites and the art of minimalism and how the smallest raising of an eyebrow, the curl of the lip, or minor cast of the eye communicated huge meaning to vast audiences on a subliminal level. He had to appear relaxed and confident but not too relaxed or the audience would think of him as a slacker.

While NBC-TV New York was cutting away for a commercial break, Katie Couric came on the monitor, smiling her big-sister smile -- warm enough to make a snake purr. As TV's white Oprah, she was genuine and in touch with and trusted by the vast waist of Americans outside the major Metro regions. A few minutes on her show were worth a million times their weight in sales, and the Ambassador was very aware that he was as much of a huckster for the president's policies as George Foreman was for Double Knockout Grills.

"Hello, Ambassador," said Katie in the monitor. "Keeping your head down?" She flashed her patented smile. "We're ready to go in less than a minute. We have one segment, Ambassador. I'm going to ask you a few questions about progress in Iraq. From what we're reading in the New York Times, the reconstruction effort is going in reverse, and I want to set the record straight."

He did not like the sound of that. She was no pushover, which explained why Americans trusted her, but she was also an American. He felt immersed in the suspension of reality. He was talking to a head on a TV screen like it was a real person. "Fine with me, Katie," he told her, on a chummy basis, and the technician kneeling at the edge of his desk gave a thumbs-up for sound levels.

The segment started. Katie introduced him to her audience. He looked at the camera, waiting until she turned to him.

She asked finally, smiling, "What's going on over there, Ambassador?"

"We continue to make excellent progress, Katie," he replied, according to the script the White House had given him. "Day after day, conditions improve. The Iraqi people are seeing the fruits of freedom and democracy."

"This is not what we are hearing, Ambassador. What is the reaction of the Iraqi people to our invasion?"

"They love us." He gave a theatrical chuckle.

"They did not welcome us with open arms, as we expected, or did they?"

"Iraqis do not do open arms."

"What do they do then?"

"They shoot off their arms."

"At our soldiers?" Katie asked, incredulous.

"Sometimes our boys get in the way, but it's accidental, as far as I can tell."

"The casualties we are taking are a result of expressions of Iraqis' happiness with the occupation?" She sounded upset.

"Exactly right, Katie. You know the Arab people. As a whole, they shoot off their guns at weddings and funerals and parties."

"How many of our soldiers have been wounded at these festive Arabic occasions, Ambassador?"

"Some, but not as many as in the actual war."

"Sounds like an insurgency, sir."

She had used the I-word. "Just happy people, Katie, exercising their right to be happy and free, like the president promised."

Couric paused. She looked down at her hands as if she were summoning all her self-restraint. "Turning to another question, Mister Ambassador. Americans are asking why you fired the Iraqi army?"

This was a Gotcha meant to embarrass him, he could tell by the sudden melting of her smile. Journalists had to ask at least one Gotcha to prove their worth, and he was prepared. He'd already tried out one response on Montoya, whom clearly he had left unconvinced, and he decided on a new tack ... see how it floated. "Well, I'd think you would know the answer to that, Katie, without me telling you," he replied using a waspish tone. "I fired the army ... ah, for cause."

Her face dropped further. "What cause, Ambassador?"

He didn't like the sound of that. She was going toe-to-toe here. "Why, for not doing their job. That's what 'for cause' is. What other cause could there be, except for, like, violation of computer-use policy or sexual harassment? The army was simply incompetent. That should be obvious, too ..."

"But they're an army."

He wished she'd leave it alone. "I know that, Katie." He was going to turn it back on her, but decided to expand a rationale not so much for her, per se, as for her electronic audience. "Not doing the job you were hired to do is not doing your job, no matter what your line of work. Am I right, here? You either perform or you don't, and if you don't, you have to move on, perhaps into another career field. I moved the Iraqi army on."

"Into an insurgency," she said.

"What was that, Katie?"

"Their line of work, as you call it, Ambassador, was defending Iraq from invaders."

He sat back in his chair. "I rest my case."

"But, Ambassador, if they had done their job, they would have repulsed our invasion."

He was confused now. "Katie, there you go again, taking the negative. We did win. The transformation of Iraq into a democracy will succeed, as it is succeeding. I do foresee a time when we will rehire the Iraqi army, after they are chastised and warned and retrained. We must give them the confidence to succeed, so that the next time they will not have to be fired. Does that answer your question?"

She gave the camera a blank stare. "Let's move on," she said sharply. "What is the situation with electricity? I understand that ..."

"Looters," he said, cutting her off.

"The looters knocked out the electricity plants? What about our bombs?" she asked. "What about the lack of sewage treatment and drinkable water?"

"Looters," he said, staying on message. He was already complimenting himself on the amount of time he was staying on the bubble. A further question slipped past his hearing. What had she asked? "Could you repeat that, Katie?"

"You flopped on WMD, Ambassador," she said. "Is that looters, too?"

He could sense an edginess; PMS over WMD? "I have something I want to say about that," he said. "Please go ahead."

He had never seen her this snappish, like a peckish crocodile. "I think we will have an announcement for the American public soon on that." "On WMD?" she asked.

"Yes, quite."

"You have found one?"

"Not, quite."

"You haven't found one and won't ever find one?" asked Katie.

Was he wrong in his impression that the American media, to say nothing of the Dune Media, wanted the whole Iraqi experiment to flop? "That is simply not true," he retorted with perhaps a little too much vocal and body emphasis, lunging, as he did, at the camera lens. In the monitor, he could see white flecks of spittle foam in the corners of his mouth. "At the moment, I can only say that we are making rapid, and I mean rapid, Katie, progress. On other fronts, the few elements of resistance in Iraq are unorganized and ineffective. Ninety-nine percent of Iraq is at peace, and the process of rebuilding is going on. Peacefully."

As Katie's image on the screen went blank, the Ambassador wondered if he had gone too far in his rush to get her off the damned WMD question? He looked at the NBC technician and said, "She didn't even say goodbye."

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