Author:William Johnstone

    Iranian officials called the attack an act of wanton, lawless aggression against a peaceful nation and called on the world community to express its outrage over this unilateral assault by Israel. The Secretary General of the United Nations has convened the Security Council and has promised a full investigation of the incident.

    The White House is withholding comment for the time being. Press Secretary Davisson said, “I assure you, the President is on top of the situation and will be issuing a statement as soon as she is certain that she has all the facts concerning this incident. I can tell you, though, that she considers this situation to be very grave, and that the response of the United States will be measured and appropriate.”


    The President’s index finger stabbed angrily at the remote control as she switched through the channels on the TV monitor that had been set up in the Oval Office.

    The story was the same on every network.

    “. . . aggression by the Israelis . . .”

    “. . . unconscionable arrogance . . .”

    “. . . unprovoked act of war . . .” Well, almost every network.

    “You’re an absolutely terrible singer. Just appallingly bad.”

    The President jabbed the button that turned the monitor off. One by one, she looked at the advisors gathered around her.

    During the campaign that had gotten her elected, she had promised a rainbow administration, and she had followed through on that promise. The Vice President was young, handsome, and black. The Secretary of State was Hispanic. The National Security Advisor was a striking Chinese American woman who was rumored to be bisexual. The Secretary of Defense was female, too, a former general in the Air Force. The Chairman of the JACKKNIFE


    Joint Chiefs of Staff was the only white male in the room other than the President’s husband, who sat quietly in a corner, if the Oval Office could really be said to have corners.

    Despite the carefully calculated diversity of the group, at this moment, after being called to this emergency meeting in the White House, they all had a couple of very important things in common: They were scared, and they didn’t know what to do.

    “Well?” the President snapped. “What’s our response to this going to be?”

    “How bad is it really?” the Vice President asked. “In military terms, that is.”

    The President looked at the Secretary of Defense, who said, “The Israelis blew the crap out of the place.

    Leveled it. It was a good clean strike, too, with little or no collateral damage, despite what the Iranians are saying. Our satellite imagery confirmed all of that.”

    “What about civilian casualties?” the President asked.

    The SecDef shrugged. “I’m sure any workers who were inside the plant at that hour were probably civilians. But they were civilians who knew damned good and well that they were working on nuclear weapons that were intended to one day blow Israel off the face of the earth. I wouldn’t call that innocent.”

    “What about the civilian workers at our nuclear facilities?” the President shot back. “Wouldn’t you consider them innocent?”

    “Of course I would.”

    The President folded her arms across her chest. “Well, the Iranians feel the same way about their people.” She prided herself on being able to empathize with other points of view—especially those of America’s enemies.

    “I don’t see any way we can support Israel on this.” 30

    “What about sixty years of friendship between the United States and Israel?” asked the National Security Advisor. “Doesn’t that count for anything?” The President frowned. She wasn’t sure she liked or trusted the NSA. The woman had a brilliant mind and all the proper academic credentials, as well as mixed ethnic-ity, debatable sexuality, and camera-friendly looks. She was freakin’ perfect, as the President’s husband had put it . . . except for the fact that the President had come to realize that she didn’t fully share all of the administration’s views. Neither did SecDef, but being a good soldier, she would go along with whatever her commander in chief said.

    “Israel is still our friend,” the President said as she looked at the NSA. “But that doesn’t mean we have to be one hundred percent in favor of anything Israel happens to do.”

    The Asian American woman shrugged. “Respond however you want, of course, but if you condemn Israel’s action it’ll be a slap in the face. The Israelis won’t forget it. And it’ll make you look like you’re waffling and soft on the threat of Islamofascism.”

    “We don’t use that word in this White House,” the President snapped.

    “Why not? It’s a perfectly good, descriptive word. Or did you mean the word waffling?” The President heard something, and glanced around to see that her husband had his hand over his face. He was trying to look solemn, but she could tell that the big bastard was actually stifling a chuckle. He loved seeing someone get the better of her, even for a moment, probably because he had never been able to.

    “All I’ve tried to do is repair some of the damage that the previous administration did to this country’s standing JACKKNIFE


    in the community of nations,” she said to the National Security Advisor.

    “Oh, sure, that’s what the rest of the world says they want from the United States,” she responded, much as she would have slashed right through some feeble argument from a student in one of her classes. “They want us to make nice and consult them on any action before we ever make a move and do whatever they tell us. But when we behave like that, they don’t see a strong but cooperative nation. They see a patsy, a pushover. They see an impotent giant without the balls to do what needs to be done.” The NSA shrugged. “I’m sorry if that’s not politically correct enough for you, Madame President, but you hired me to tell you the truth as I see it—and that’s the way I see it.”

    For a long moment, the President thought about firing the arrogant bitch on the spot. Nobody talked to her like that and got away with it. Nobody. Even her husband would be licking his wounds—literally as well as figuratively, in his case—if he ever dared to speak to her in that tone of voice.

    But the slant-eyed slut had a point, the pragmatic part of the President’s brain insisted. Ever since the bloody debacle in Iraq caused by the total troop pullout as soon as she took office, America’s enemies around the world had been licking their chops, just waiting for the right opportunity to humble the giant even more. So far it hadn’t happened, but according to the intelligence brief-ings from the CIA and Homeland Security, it was only a matter of time. Of when, not if.

    But maybe she could postpone the day when some other rogue nation or organization would spit in Uncle Sam’s face. Maybe a show of strength now really was what was needed. For one thing, it would take the rest of 32

    the world by surprise. It was good to keep your enemies off balance, a little unsure of what to expect.

    The atmosphere in the Oval Off ice following the NSA’s comments was thick with tension. The President broke it by turning to the Secretary of State and asking,

    “What’s the diplomatic response by the Iranians going to be? Can they do anything except whine to the U.N.

    and get the French and the Germans and the Russians to feel sorry for them?”

    The heavyset man shrugged his shoulders. “What else can they do?”

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