SCENE TWO : RICHARD – THE DEMOCRAT
The war on terror has only gotten murkier with new theatres of conflict being opened up ever so frequently. The drone attacks that were meant to wipe out terrorists continue to claim civilian causalities, which the proponents of this warfare had claimed would be close to nil. The world seems to be insulated against moral accountability for ‘collateral damage’. There is a growing sense of concern amongst military strategists that the real bombings in Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen have contributed to the feeling of victimhood which has helped fill the coffers of the Jihadists and also provided fertile recruiting grounds in Europe, the middle-east and South Asia.
Until the 2000s it was Saudis, Chechens and Pashtuns who constituted the vast majority of foot soldiers for the Islamic resistance movement. Then, 9/11 changed the equations. The terrorist networks have spread their tentacles far and wide, managing to evade the radar of the CIA. Afghanistan and Iraq, for many newsroom pundits, had become the only stage where it seemed that the battle against terror would be won. The American public as well as the world at large waited for the dawn of democracy in these two regions and hoped that everyone then could go back to business as usual. It would be a matter of a few weeks or a few months, at the most.
What the American public wouldn’t ever be told about were the many deals that the west had discussed with leaders of the Arab world. Covert operations were carried forth inside the heart of these countries to nab terrorists in exchange for dollars and military hardware, resulting in significant deviation and sometimes compromise on the established principles governing American policies.
By the end of the decade, the Arab Spring came as a response to the increasing impunity of the regimes which enjoyed the generous patronage of America. They found themselves challenged by strong voices of dissent from within. The goodies at stake were too good to decline, and hence dissent would be met with suppressive measures. Politics has this uncanny ability to find foes and friends, and pitch them against each other for causes which the greatest proponents also may not have the slightest conviction about. What might have seemed to the West like minor sparks soon took the shape of full-fledged civil wars. Egypt and Tunisia would be shaken by mass uprisings while Libya and Syria would witness bloody confrontations.
It was as though the world had suddenly begun to romanticize damning revelations. The mass media would lap up pictures of Guantanamo bay, the sickening state of victims of drone attacks, and the human rights violations at the Abu Gharib prison in Iraq. A morbid fear would sweep throughout Europe resulting in knee-jerk reactions which would prove counterproductive. Attacks on Muslims in the States would threaten to take a more spontaneous design, and in Europe, growing xenophobia coupled with some politics of opportunism would procreate Muslim alienation. The Mayan calendar would complete its current cycle sans any of the apocalyptic predictions coming true. However, the land had been tilled and seeds sown for a phase of brutality and barbarism in the name of religion which would be unheard of since the days of the Nazi anti-Semitism.
The January of 2013 would be unlike before. In Iraq, a 23-year-old mother of two would be murdered by her family for her ‘un-Islamic’ behavior. Twenty-eight Shiite pilgrims would be blown apart by a suicide bomber. A female Christian teacher’s throat would be cut by dedicated Muslims. Islamic terrorists would kill two soccer players with a bomb outside their stadium. Two dozen shoppers would be massacred by suicide truck bombers in a commercial district. A suicide bomber would detonate inside a packed mosque, sending at least forty-two people to their graves. A mass grave containing eighteen al-Qaeda execution victims would be discovered. And, back in the US, a Muslim would target and behead two Christian Coptic migrants. The Islamic State, or the Caliphate as they called themselves, took the world by surprise. They are alleged to have taken in women prisoners to be used as sex slaves. Beginning with Iraq and now well entrenched in Syria and Lebanon, the recruits are sourced from Europe, the middle-east, Africa and South Asia. The sudden spurt in violence was received with anxiety bordering on fear all over the world, but what sent shock waves across was the fact that the omnipresent CIA had failed to gauge the enormity of the underground work that was taking place during the last decade. Especially after the revelations of the WikiLeaks cables, the first world is surprised by these emboldened assertions of the ISIS. CIA’s selective release of information has created suspicion, and questioned the effort, intent and risk of their actions, raising accusations on a game played by the same team on both sides.
The area around the White House is a no-fly zone, unless of course the Presidential fleet prepares to arrive or depart. It is a sunny afternoon with tourists all over the promenades around the White house enthusiastically clicking away photographs of the massive structure that houses the most powerful man in the world. The President returns from his much publicized South Asian visit at exactly 1300 hours.
Having gotten himself only deeper into this war on terror, the American president understands the importance of having on board an ally like India. India, with its aspirations to find its place in the comity of nations and with a prime minister who is in favor of private capital, has turned the visit of the president into an opportunity. It has ensured that the doors are open at both ends for business between the two countries.
The president is aware that if the war on terror is to be fought from an advantageous position, the country needs nations such as India by its side. He also needs to assure India of its own commitment towards talking tough with countries such as Pakistan. With a change of guard in India and a new prime minister who is determined on giving concessions to big businesses, the timing of the visit seemed prudent.
Talking tough on terror alongside India opens up doors for business, and this was evident in the way Richard clinched the nuclear deal and a major defense deal raking up billions of dollars that will be lent to the Indian capital market. The president couldn’t be any smugger. Part of his entourage included America’s biggest business houses which parlayed with Indian authorities to give them access to the growing Indian market, particularly the middle class which still harbor the great American dream.
With the country bracing up for another election, the president knows he has struck big in India; a nuclear deal with no liability for the supplier and speedy land acquisitions which means access to mines and seaways. That leaves the republicans little elbow room to work with.
Back home, the press is waiting for his views on his recent visit to Asia.
With his wife Lisa Barbara on his side, the President steps out of the helicopter waving to the official photographer of the White house. After receiving a salute from the Chief of Army Staff, he reaches out and gives his aides a shake of the hand. Walking towards the white house, he sees his field spaniel rushing towards them.
“Lisa darling, can you keep Caesar off your vegetable garden. There is just one thing that the secret service cannot detect and it is this dog’s ability to send each of my suits to the dry cleaner.” The president said with a big smile while ruffling Caesar’s head.
Lisa, a Harvard Law graduate, had given up a lucrative career to back her husband’s political ambitions. Over the years, she has been the brain behind some of the important policy decisions of the United States. Now walking along with her husband, she is as mindful of her husband’s suit as she is of the recent visit to South Asia.
Aware that this is her husband’s last term as president, she needs to ensure that he leaves office with the moral satisfaction of having served his people with integrity. There are, however, a host of issues that the Americans are battling with. The president could hardly get health care off its feet, he is yet to shut down Guantanamo, and Richards had ordered more drone strikes. If Lisa is to consider running for the White House job, it is essential for her to cover her husband’s tracks.
As these thoughts occur to Lisa, Caesar is all over Richard, greeting his master and sniffing him all over. What is it with presidents and their dogs? She couldn’t stop wondering. Lisa and Richards have been married for 20 years now and with so much politics and pre-occupations in their lives, Lisa welcomes her husband sharing some light moments with Caesar.
As the doors to the White house open, the first couple is greeted by the usual staff. President Richard heads straight to his office where his closest aides, Ronald Jenkins, his Deputy in the government, Robert Palmer, the economic and political advisor, and William Holder, the media advisor, are awaiting his arrival.
“How are things guys?” asks Richard.
“Well, the press is eager to hear from you. The visit to India seems to have set off a wave of expectations among the American public.” says his Deputy Ronald Jenkins.
Ronald has been a fellow traveler with Richard in the Democratic Party. At 60, no one really had expected him to rise to an important office. Then he was asked to be the running mate for Richard in the election in the summer of 2008. As vice president, he now keeps a close watch on internal security and works with Robert on Political strategy.
Robert enters the conversation by showing them the day’s headlines. He looks rather somber against Richard’s expectations. The American president’s overseas victory seems to have been dulled by the rise of a new kid on the block answering to the name of Timothy Arnold. Sharing space with the President this morning on the national dailies was Arnold’s blockbuster speech in Kentucky.
Reading from the Washington Post, Robert quotes, “In a candlelit room with Arnold’s speech lighting up a glorious flame……”
“While the president is busy in India, striking up deals for his business friends, Arnold is one of the first leaders in a decade to visit the town which gave birth to Lincoln. Even more, the things Timothy talked about took many a republican by surprise, though the speech itself was rated as rather populist by the experts. The speech seems to be trending on Twitter as well, and was the most talked about, after prime time news item.
“Although Arnold is yet to be declared as presidential hopeful for the republicans, as the man who holds the key for another republican to occupy the White House finds his heir on a spiritual journey in India, Timothy Arnold might just be the man to get the job done for the republicans”.
“The more right leaning American Capital states, ‘Democrats get a bail out- Timothy Arnold dashes all hopes of a republican comeback’.”
Raising his head from the newspaper, he watches his president sink into the chair.
Richard is looking out towards the beautifully kept lawns of the White House, pondering over the many decisions he made owing to various political compulsions of the party.
Now serving his second term as president, he is aware of the number of compromises he has made along the way to stay in power in the senate and in the House of Representatives. He has also had to ensure that his relationship with the democrats stays on solid ground.
It wasn’t easy, this political journey.
Richard was 48 and had been a successful lawyer to begin with until he joined politics with the democrats. He passed his early years fighting for juveniles wrongly convicted for murder. He truly was a feisty debater in the court room. Many families owe their children’s lives to Richard’s deft handling of those cases. Soon enough, Richard was reckoned as California’s foremost state attorney. The shift towards politics had a lot to do with his passion to help the downtrodden; in his case, the kids who were caught in the crossfire between the state and the mafia. The kids were easy pickings for both sides, either as human shields or carriers in drug trades. Often, the accused would give his friends away, and this would set of a chain of arrests leading to years of stay in the juvenile justice home.
While Richard hoped for a structural overhaul of the justice system, he knew how complicit the police were in this entire battle. The only way to bring about a change would be meaningful amendments that would make the police more accountable for their actions. It didn’t take him much time to realize that this could only be done through politics. Richard, holding an advantage with his background in law, felt fit to venture into politics. Money could still be made out of his practice, but at the age of 29 he was spending more time at parties than in the court room.
Looking out of the glass window, soaking in the coming of Timothy Arnold, Richard experienced a sudden flash of his own youth. A believer and an achiever, the Richard he once knew was now the President, and the path he took to get here was far removed from the ideals he once upheld. For him to see a man named Timothy Arnold is to see a reflection of himself. But having played this game long enough, he is aware of how long Timothy’s ambitions would survive. It was difficult for him to decide if it was sadness or relief that was overriding in his mind at the moment. His aides saw a faint shade of melancholy sweeping over his face.
President Richard found himself playing this game hand in hand with mafia and lobbyists, making deals with them which would compromise the democratic ideal. Nonetheless, it addressed a more crucial issue – funds. Also, he had to, unwittingly yet firmly, keep supporting all acts of war committed by the state, because doing otherwise would be a bigger folly given the conundrum that the country found itself in at the moment.
The silver lining on this dark cloud is Lisa Barbara, who has stood by him throughout his term telling him to see the larger good that comes out of the decisions he has taken for himself and the party. He wonders if ‘The larger good’ is worth bargaining for. How can there be a larger good when it leaves in its wake a trail of broken lives, sometimes bloodshed and at most times a lot of hypocrisy. Looking away from the window, he turns towards his aides.
Now he is not the man dealing with his own demons or living vicariously through Timothy Arnold. He is the President of the United States.
Back from a recent visit to India, and aware that Timothy Arnold represents the mood of the nation, he wishes to know how things stand.
Now looking at Robert, he asks. “It can’t be that bad. Can it be? We have sold the American public a dream and it is an old way of doing things in this country.”
“Mr. President, Timothy Arnold is a peculiar personality who has had his own share of a troubled past. Born to Jewish parents, he has remained under the tutorship of Warren, the old patriarch of the party. Arnold has proved his mettle in dealing with the lobbyists, in managing elections, and in handling his dead father’s business fortunes, all the while growing amongst the Republican ranks. He is particularly popular amongst the new guard who have moved away from the views of the past, and we all know what those views are. The peculiarity lies in the way he is marketing himself. Not only does he represent a party with an extremely conservative mindset in America, his views on climate change, homosexuality and the war on terror are contrary to what his party believes, or rather officially believes in.”
Robert paused for a moment and then continued.
“There is big money riding on him as for the first time we have a Jew holding such a vital position in American politics. The Jewish lobby is keeping their ideological differences aside and backing him to the hilt. At the same time, there is hope within the Republicans that Warren’s son will return to don the mantle of the next president of America.
“On the contrary, the boy has a lot of forces working against him but what is keeping him afloat are his public gatherings. The people who come to hear him are the ones who will eventually make a difference, and it is them that he talks to and inspires”.
The President soaks in the words of his key advisor.
“Robert, he does seem to have the accoutrement of a big leader, but being a Republican, his stand on a variety of issues will split the traditional votes of the party. What is, however, interesting is whether he takes away our voters, in which case we will have a Democrat president heading a Republican government.”
“Let’s head towards the press conference. It’s time I returned Mr. Arnold’s favor by hitting him where it hurts. The kid really thinks he’s going to beat us at our own game.”
The president gets up to leave for the press room with words flowing in a lot more confidently now brushing aside all doubts running deep inside his heart. Yet, deeper down there, albeit in one corner, there was a dominating feeling that though this guy is an underdog, he is a tough one, and most of the battles are won by underdogs. That was the case in his own election, first as governor and then the President.
William holder adjusts his suit as he leads the group to the press conference.
The news room at the white house is where most newspapers and TV Channels get their regular scoop from. The white house makes a regular broadcast each day, but with the President returning from his South-Asian visit and with the upcoming elections, it is a special event, and understandably, the media is eager to put him on the spot.
As the president enters the room, the cameras go off capturing the president as he waves at his friends in the press. As a two-term President and seasoned politician, he is expected to know his friends really well by now. There is Naveen Andrews, an old ally of the President from Harvard and now bureau head at Good Morning America known for its Left wing Leanings. Andrews is hoping to ask some tough questions to the president.
Then there is Monica Swartz, prime time anchor at Alternate Politics. Just back after covering the war on terror in Afghanistan, she is keen on picking the president’s mind.
William Holder requests everyone to take their seats so they can begin the conference. The President sets the proceedings in motion by his keynote address to the press. “Friends from the Media and citizens of the United States, it gives me immense pleasure to be here today, addressing you all on my return from South-Asia.
“We are going through a crucial phase in the history of this great nation. Having been dragged into the war on terror and now being fully committed to it, I must thank this country for resting its hope on my humble shoulders.”
“We will come out of this war like we did in the past – victorious. Our Drone networks are working overtime to ensure that we suffer zero casualties and that the enemy is zeroed in on and eliminated with minimum damage to the civilian infrastructure.
“Our relations with friends such as India have only grown stronger. My recent visit to India, something you all have been following for the past week, has been met with great expectations. As they take some real forward steps in the 21st century, we stand by our friends in India as partners in their fight against terrorism.”
The president pauses for a moment. So far so good, he thinks. There is nothing that can be contradicted here by any American, under any presidency, for that matter. He makes sure there is enough time for the intended euphoria to sink in.
“As part of our clean energy policy, we will now be partnering with India to help it bolster its nuclear energy capabilities. Our state-of-the-art reactors will enable the poorest of the poor there to have access to cheap and renewable energy. Our economic co-operation with India is going to lead to billions of dollars’ worth of investment in that country and this is going to result in more jobs in America. Furthering our commitment and cooperation in the war against terrorism, we have agreed to supply India with the necessary hardware so it can reinforce its defenses and internal security.”
Without giving time for the euphoria to ebb away, the president raises his voice.
“The future of this country, ladies and gentlemen, is looking bright. America is poised to lead the world and help make it a better place. Our progress over the last few years as a unified country should remind those who speak the language of anarchy that the people look towards us, Leaders (he stressed the word), to guide them with a vision, and not to dupe them with mere rhetoric.
“I am told our opponents have lost all steam on policy issues and have taken to name calling and populism. You heard me right! Our friend, Mr. Arnold, forgets that his seditious speeches go against the tenets and principles that this great country rests upon.
“America’s challenge now is to overcome these internal parasites, these romantics who block the growth of this great country. Only then will we occupy our rightful place in the world. Only then will the American citizens be free of prejudice, and instead invest themselves in making this country the greatest nation to have ever existed.”
Did it sound like rhetoric? Nay, he reassured himself.
He gestures towards William who is waiting to brief the press. “William will now take over from here, thank you very much.”
Enters William Holder.
He begins, “We are now open to questions. Some of you have sent us your questions in advance. We will also give an opportunity to allow more questions that are not on the list, if time permits.”
After finishing the questions that have been sent in advance, time was allowed for the media to question the president.
Naveen Andrews from Good Morning America stands facing the president.
“Hello, Mr. President”, Naveen begins. “How would you explain the growing number of Jihadi organizations and the rising American casualties in the war on terrorism? You seemed to have glossed over the fact that American policy is so tilted towards its own interests that you forget that your drone attacks are only fueling terrorism. We are in debt, our economy has not looked worse, and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel for us in the war against terrorism.”
The president looks a bit flustered.
“Thank you Naveen. Your question is interesting and that’s what makes my visit to India even more interesting. When we got into this war, honestly speaking, we were not aware of the magnitude of the involvement we were going to have in our fight against terrorism. That apart, through our increased involvement, we have contributed to spreading the torch of democracy around the world, particularly in the Arab and Middle Eastern countries. My trip to India has had many takers, and I can promise you that the growing economic co-operation between us and them is going to translate into more jobs, and bigger opportunities for our business houses.” President answers it like a true politician, perfectly evading anything on Jihad, casualties in the war, drone attacks and debt. One wonders if Naveen is playing a shrewd game of helping the president’s image.
Holder then encourages the various journalists who were present there to ask their questions. Most of the questions were about the trip to India.
The script of the next twenty minutes or so went something like this:
About human rights violations in Kashmir? (hostile, for sure)
“We have conveyed our grave concern”.
About outsourcing and job loss? (hostile? Can’t say)
“We will protect jobs”.
How? (hostile, for sure)
“Definite plans are on the anvil”.
About the growing gun culture? (hostile, beyond doubt)
“We will rein in the menace without compromising on personal safety”.
About South China Sea? (friendly, smile)
“American interests will be protected, at any cost.” (stress on the last phrase)
About growing distrust in Pakistan over increased India leaning? (friendly, smile again)
“Everyone will be taken on board”.
About his commitment to gay rights? (silly)
“No one reminded me of it in India. Can we keep that for some time later? I need to take all my gay friends on board”. (laughter)
The President warded off all the questions with utmost ease, sometimes bordering on ambiguity, until it was Monica Swartz’s turn.
Holder leans on to the mike and signals for the question to be asked.
“Now it’s your turn.”
“Mr. President,” she begins “I have two questions for you, one that was sent in earlier and the other in the light of the comment you made on your opponents in the Republican Party.”
“Yes Monica”, he beams a smile. It has been a long time since he saw her last, and he was rather happy.
“Your trip to India has been termed as a big success by the media, and congratulations on that. My question to you is, and I back this up with facts, since you have taken over as president, there has been a 70% increase in the number of body bags of our soldiers coming home. There has been an increase in the number of schools, hospitals and other such civilian infrastructure that have been bombed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen. Human Rights violations are being reported every day. Israel, our closest ally, goes to war with impunity on Gaza, and all we hear from you is that we are moving ahead?
“My second question to you is – Timothy Arnold has been well received across the states and his speech ‘I don’t need your vote’ has been subtly treated as an anarchistic opinion. Are you afraid that Tim has robbed the Democrats of their agenda and is drawing away voters towards his camp?”
The President smiles.
“I don’t need your vote. “A vote is not something that we should slight and merely use to raise the stakes before an election.”
“Mr. Timothy Arnold, unlike us, does not have a vision to take us forward. At best, he exudes a childlike belief of appearing idealistic. His party started this war on terror and his party oversaw the biggest recession since the great depression. I didn’t ask for your vote either, I asked for change, and I believe that when I leave office next year, I would have left this country in a better shape than it was when I took over.
“For Timothy to speak such language against the American way of life is to puncture the hopes of millions who believe in this nation and wish to contribute in the smallest and biggest ways.
“Timothy sounds desperate and this is the best foot his party can put forward. I’d say – stay with the democrats stay, with the idea of America. God bless you all.”
Aware that Monica had set the tone for more questions on Timothy Arnold and knowing that questions would only get tougher with him opening up the discussion, he decides to announce the end of the press conference.
“Thank you all for making it to here today. The president will now be leaving us”, concluded William Holder.
The President was already walking before William had finished.