James Baker enters the Oval Office. Bush is alone; his father has just left.
W: Come in Jim. I havenít seen you for a while. I want to thank you once again for heading the ISG (Iraq Study Group). And Jim, I am glad you asked my OK first, before you got into it. Obviously we are in a pickle here.
Baker: Mr. President, we have a lot to talk about.
W: I know, Jim. But I cannot run over by too much. Cheney is watching me like a hawk since I fired Rumsfeld. He is pissed off. He thinks I am talking with my dad right now. If he knew you were here, there would be hell to pay.
But firing Rumsfeld was a needed first step, and I owe you a lot for insisting on it as the price of heading the ISG. At last we have taken control of the Pentagon from Cheney and his gang. It was hard to keep the firing secret until the last minute, and it took all my acting powers to lie about Rumsfeld right through the election.
Baker: Mr. President, you did a great job. You have a real talent for that. Rumsfeld was gone before the neocons knew what hit them. There was no chance for those jerks to mount a defense of that idiot. Let that sort of secrecy be our m.o. for the future.
But now we have to face facts as you decide what to do next. Mr. President, I hate to say this, but Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Libby, Perle and the rest played you for a fool. They knew damned well that the invasion would result in a civil war in Iraq. They were only a little off on that one; it took Negroponte and the Mossad to get the death squads going, and they managed to bring the Brits in to stoke the fire. And they knew that once they got you into the war, it would be near impossible to get out. What a bunch of f--king a--holes.
W: Jim, I still canít figure out Cheney. Wolfowitz, Perle and Libby, I know they put Israel first. But Cheney -- I donít get it. He campaigned very hard for the war, and he convinced me; and Rumsfeld helped him a lot. I knew there were no WMDs and it took a lot of acting to put that one over too, but I believed them when they said it would be a cakewalk and I would be a war hero. They sure took me for a ride.
Baker: Look, Mr. President, Cheney and Rumsfeld think only in terms of force. War is always the answer for them. They still cannot get over Vietnam. And Cheney is in bad shape -- I do not believe he can think clearly any more. I wish we could get a look at his real medical report. And I want you to keep that in mind, Mr. President; it may be the way to dump him.
W: I will have no hesitation whatsoever about that, Jim.
Baker: Cheney and Rumsfeld do not understand that the best way to get what you want is not to fire a shot. If you can get 95% by talking to folks, and only get yourself into a quagmire by fighting -- then why fight? They just do not get it. What jerks! And they were conned themselves into believing we have more power than we do. They basically have a military mindset -- and this country has made its greatest gains not just by war but by deals and stealth. Now is not the time for wars, Mr. President.
W: I see that now, Jim, but I have to admit that the idea that I could do anything I wanted to do really took over in my head. I was walking on air.
Baker: Well, not everyone is as wise as King Canute.
W: Who was that, Jim?
Baker (ignoring the question): So Mr. President, we have to take the next step. We have to begin to get those troops out of Iraq. We have been talking to some of the insurgent leaders that we met in Syria, and they will be happy to leave us alone as we retreat. But there is no way to escape having egg on your face. As far as your presidency goes, they f--ked you, Mr. President. Cheney and Rumsfeld and their neocon buddies played you for a fool.
W: I know that Jim -- and it really upsets me. It is the only thing that I lose sleep over. I really donít know whether I can face up to it. (Bush shows signs of breaking down, almost crying.) Fool me twice, shame on . . . (He pauses in a familiar confusion.)
Baker: But look, Mr. President, you can still save your presidency. You only need one achievement to get a lot of credit in the history books. You do not need eight great years -- only one.
W: So what do I do?
Baker: Have you read Carterís book as I suggested.
W: I looked at some of the maps. They were helpful. I didnít know where the Jordan River was. And I did not know the f--king Israelis had the West Bank completely surrounded.
Baker: With all due respect, Mr. President, please read the book -- or have Laura read it to you if the going is too tough. I know you have a bit of problem with reading -- but Carter has really taken a big hit in doing this. He is doing us a huge favor, and I have thanked him personally for it. And he is alone; the Democrats will not cross the Lobby to defend him.
W: I will try it again, Jim. Itís 216 pages, without the appendix, you know.
Baker: But the print is big, Mr. President.
My suggestion is that we convene a conference on Israel and Palestine with all the countries in the region -- including Saudi Arabia, and they have said they are willing, and Egypt and Syria and Iran. But the Israelis and their neocon chorus will howl.
And please keep the book in the living quarters. If Cheney sees you reading that, he will be even more suspicious. We can only afford so much.
W: Iran? Jim, I can only eat so much crow. You know Cheney still wants to bomb Iran, and he just wonít get off my back on that.
Can we rely on Gates?
Baker: Well, Mr. President, on Iran it is your call after all. And yes, we can rely on Gates. We talked it over when he was on the ISG, and he was on board -- even enthusiastic -- but he does get hung up on details. He is not a big picture guy -- so I will have to keep after him. But ďno hay problemaĒ since Gates keeps asking me what to do.
Just keep in mind, Mr. President, that they fooled you once, and now they are trying to do it again.
W: I told Olmert we would bomb Iran, and I meant it at the time.
Baker: Mr. President, Olmert has to look out for Israel, and you have to look out for our interests. What would Olmert do if he were in your shoes? You bet he would look after number one. And the Israelis have hundreds of nukes. They can take care of themselves. This bullshit that our interests and theirs are the same has to stop.
Look, it took hundreds of years to get where we are in the U.S. We are now numero uno. And it would be crazy to blow it all, following these neocons over the cliff. Cheney only understands force, and the neocons only look out for Israel. They cannot be allowed to hold sway when we face significant challenges in the near future. We have to be more wiley, because the Chinese are breathing down our necks, the Europeans are not far behind and we could lose it all. You just have to think of that. Do you want your kids and grand kids to be at the helm of a third-rate country? You just have to think about this, Mr. President. A lot of us are counting on you. Hundreds of years of hard work cannot be blown now.
W: Well, I donít know, Jim.
Baker: It is a golden moment, Mr. President. You are in control. There is nothing the Lobby can do to you although it is a dangerous time. You know what they did to Rabin. But I have checked on the Secret Service, and they are loyal to you not Cheney. And Gates has a backup protection squad.
W: Jim, this is kind of scary. I donít like this at all. It makes me kind of nervous.
Baker: Donít worry. You are as safe as can be. But if you cannot pull off a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, then your presidency will be seen as a failure. It is your only way out. And now without another election in your future, you are free of the Lobby. I think you have to go for it, Mr. President.
W: I have to think some more about it. I will arrange another visit soon -- maybe you can come up to Camp David with my dad over Christmas. Now you better leave. Cheney and his aide, another neocon nut, are on their way, and I do not want them to see you here.
Baker: I will talk to you soon, Mr. President. We may have to continue talking about a ďsurgeĒ to distract the neocons until we spring our surprise and bring the troops home. And if you do not make up your mind soon, we may have to actually carry out the ďsurgeĒ and delay the retreat by a few months. That is only going to make things harder. All hell will break lose with the public; only 10% approve of that course. And the Democrats will not stop you because of the Lobby wonít let them and they want to see you stew. Better to decide sooner than later.
W: I know, I know. I will think more about it. Goobye, Jim.
Baker: Goodbye, Mr. President. (Baker leaves by the rear entrance, as did the elder Bush. W turns on the TV to The View and waits for Cheney. He is tempted to have a beer but resists.)
Baker: (In the hallway outside the Oval Office, Baker sighs to himself.) Jesus, it is hard to believe he has the same genes as his mom and dad. What a f--king moron. Biggest mistake I ever made was putting in the fix to get him elected. After some time with Cheney, I will have to go over it all again with him. Oh well, you make policy with the president you have not with the president you wish you had. (Another great big sigh.)
John V. Walsh can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.