by Titus Green
I enter the hallway and move forward, observing the decoration. On the walls hang pictures of suited heads of state grinning with poised photogenic assurance. One line shows a chronology of presidents spanning a hundred years, while a mirror image on the opposing wall shows counterpart prime ministers. For every cool-gaze-holding, composed-looking president there is a matching and suitably august looking Prime Minister returning the visual compliment across the six-feet width of the passageway. Each photograph, although entirely separate and a picture exposed in its own distinct point of time and within its own unique conditions, has an unmistakable relationship to its neighbor. Despite the fact that each of these men, who held the shared distinction of having reached the highest political position in office, were partitioned by different eras of history and wore different styles of clothes, they seem joined by a perpetual chain of ambition and covetousness, and each looks into the lens of the camera with the cold yet animated eyes of predators surveying the landscape for prey and mouths poised to unleash sense-tricking rhetorical clouds.
I possess no tangible or visible shape. I have the capacity to move through time and space at will merely to arrive at critical junctures in history and watch the follies and outrages of fools put on Earth to make fateful decisions for humanity. I was next to Heydrich at Wannsee when he made his dreadful presentation that so impressed the fanatic with the jet black hair and the walrus mustache. I was beside Kim-Il Sung in his Pyongyang Palace when, inebriated by his messianic hubris, he decided to send the crop crushing T-34s across the 38th parallel. I watched Cromwell, bellowing like a belligerent bull, grab his peers roughly by the collars and command them to sign a king’s death in 1649. In 2003, I overheard a folksy Texan, hosting a banquet of human jackals dressed in tuxedos, quietly tell a simpering British pretender that it was time to tell an obstinate Ba’ath party leader to leave town.
As I pass noiselessly though the thick oak door marked Situation Room, I know only too well the set-pieces of secret, seditious planning I will witness. I am only too familiar with the personalities and vocabularies involved, for they have a tendency to recycle themselves down the centuries. They will sit at a large round table and choose their words from a menu of stale language. They will deliberate on the destinies of remote nations whose laws they pretend to reject, whose moral fabric they claim is degenerate, but whose resources and land they silently desire.
I have passed through the door and am above them now. Just as I expected, the fake saints and impostors of salvation are sitting with puffed out chests and are drenched in the potent cologne of self-regard.
A woman in her sixties wearing a thick crusted mask of make-up and a hair style for a woman three decades younger sits at one end of the long rectangular table. The excess face paint gives her skin a glossy, scaly appearance and her dark, intense eyes seem almost translucent. She glowers fleetingly at the sleepier-looking faces of the attendees of this bizarre meeting, just in case they dare to doze during her grandstanding rhetoric. The hefty rebuke she’ll deliver should they fail to express a satisfactory degree of obsequious approbation towards her noble suggestions that are simply dripping with human decency won’t make their lives worth living. Better pay attention boys! “Transition to democracy” is the topic being obsessively explored here. The phrase moves around the space, jumping from mouth to mouth and lips to lips like a pinball flying between the pop-bumpers of an old machine. It seems everybody needs to say the expression at least once because saying it, it seems, is akin to chewing a stick of saintly gum or taking a toke on a spliff of sanctimonious weed.
“The sand is running out of the hourglass for Sagria.”
This is such a feeble metaphor. Completely and utterly insipid. What the hell is happening to rhetoric in the twenty-first century? I heard Machiavelli create a phrase about hourglasses in 1520 that would give that third-rate piece of word-smithing a bloody nose and a black eye in a boxing match of verbal impact. Although it is obvious that Secretary of State Madelaine Kissinger the Third needs to replace her script writer as soon as possible, the sombrely phrased piece of hackneyed imagery is greeted by murmurs of assent throughout the room. Now that her borrowed smidgen of recent CNN commentary has taken care of the drifting attention of some of the delegates, Madelaine moves from first to second in her crude oratory gearbox.
“Effective transition to democracy is necessary before the people of Sagria can finally enjoy peace, stability and freedom!”
The two men sitting either side of this formidable and terrible woman realize this is a cue to nod and show earnest facial expressions as they do. Their actions look so contrived you could swear you could almost see faint puppet strings attached to the crowns of their skulls pulling their heads back.
“Unless we send a clear message to the world that we are not prepared to stand by and watch this brutal oppression continue, the wheels of justice will not start turning!”
More dismal metaphors spurt from her lips and soak the members of her audience with a faux passion that’s been well practiced, rehearsed and refined during her five year career in international relations.
“And yet all we get from our friends in the east is inaction that is tantamount to complicity in murder.”
She stresses the last word with the rigorous, righteous emphasis of a Hollywood actress. The word seems to slap the emotional cheeks of her listeners, and many of them grimace, but all of them turn their heads and follow Mrs Kissinger’s stern, accusatory gaze towards the two empty seats at the table that bear the names of two countries currently persona non grata with the heads of state, media tycoons, and CEOs of weapons and oil industries and global finance sitting in attendance.
“It’s a bloody outrage. An affront to human decency and democracy!” splutters Timothy Vague with dulcet-toned indignation. Timothy is one of the men seated next to Mighty Madalaine. He is the Foreign Secretary of a country that enjoys—according to the political hacks writing in this decade—a “special relationship” with Madalaine’s nation.
“The Nassar regime cannot be allowed to continue.” Timothy stops for a moment to wipe his brow because, it seems, the sheer effort of moral pontificating is enough to make him perspire. His hairless head is glossy in the light. Foreign journalists who don’t like him—who are many—have called him a “dome-headed ignoramus.” Others have called him “the Meddling Mekon” or “a culturally challenged clown,” while those who do not dare to name themselves on internet forums have referred to him most pejoratively as a “grubby little rent boy of the New World Order.”
There are more nods of approval from others seated. Some look down briefly at their tablets and iPhones while other middle-aged alpha males in Saville Row suits fidget with pens or shift restlessly in their seats, anxious for the Secretary of State to dispense with the humanitarian cliché competition she seems determined to have with the unctuous little Foreign Secretary. They want to cut to the chase. Get to the terms of the deal. That’s the trouble with these politicians. These events invariably nourish their egotism and worse, their sound-bite hungry idealism. It turns them into podium crusaders and microphone superheroes and they start believing dictators and democracy deniers of the world will tremble at their words. Politicians become so absurdly grandiose they start believing they are in charge of the real program.
“Absolutely!” Madelaine again. Grudgingly, she offers solidarity to ineffectual little dreary-toned Timothy—she is obliged to because he is, after all, a precious coalition partner. She contains her irritation at being interrupted with the frosty-smiled finesse of an accomplished stateswoman.
“Unless we can hasten the process of transition, the regime will continue its brutal campaign. Our fellow League of World Security Members who threaten to boycott the vote to lift the arms embargo will have blood on their hands and be responsible for destabilizing the entire region!”
I am reminded of similarly theatrical announcements I heard in Congress and at the United Nations in 2003. While I silently gate-crashed a meeting at a place called Camp David in the same year, I recall hearing a self-proclaimed champion of democratic values who sometimes struggled with the English language berating his aides for being unable to brainstorm enough ways to provoke a war against a former business partner named Saddam Hussein.
“And time is running out for diplomacy!” says Timothy, unable to resist emphasising the urgency for action required. With the wavering pitch of pathos he puts into his voice, you would think his own son or daughter was being driven over by the wide steel tracks of president Nassar’s heavy tanks in the war-ravaged capital of Shom. Timothy’s a fluent operator in the double-speak of undermining undesirable national leaders. He also deploys it artfully from time to time to camouflage his culpability in the frequent blood-fests going on in overseas theatres of non-democracy. No average street news consumer will ever know that it was Timothy’s discreet little contract that gave these machines to the Sagrian army during his kick-back filled days as Defence Minister.
“We need to remove him because he is in the way, and we really don’t like any impediments to the progress of our plans!”
The deep voice comes from the other side of the table and carries immense gravitas. It belongs to an elderly man who exudes a suave menace and possesses the intimidating sense of ultimate executive authority. He is flanked by apparent subordinates, one of whom is wearing a military uniform.
“We’ll continue with the diplomatic dance publicly, but make preparations for the usual controlled regime demolition. He needs to go within two months. Otherwise our assets could get more seriously damaged. And our friends backstage . . .” He looks at Madelaine for a moment, before nonchalantly removing any potential seeds of objection by moving his eyes to each side of the room.
“Wouldn’t like that one bit.”
The statement has the desired impact. It hushes the room—and hushing vocal Madelaine is no ordinary achievement when the world’s innocent are being butchered and there are votes to be garnered and approval ratings to improve upon. Momentarily, the hands and fingers seem to have lost their urge to idly caress iPhone keypads or indulge in another quick fix of digital cocaine when nobody else is watching. Nobody is sipping the complimentary coffee, smiling or thinking of their naughty nocturnal options with the VIP hostesses after dinner anymore. Rapt attention has been attained.
“We all have to be on the same page here, seeing eye to eye, making sure the people of Sagria have the opportunity to have their voices heard in the shaping of their own future and destiny.” Madelaine gives the regime-change clichés a good stir as she cooks her stew of euphemistic nonsense. I’ve heard this stuff so often from these cheerleaders of change that it’s begun to sound like their default public relations copy for foreign government removal activity. I can envisage a promotional film showing the statues of once supported but then abandoned iron-fist dictators being pulled to the ground by zealous citizens while assisted by the brute horsepower of armored personal carriers using their towing cables to erase memories of oppression. Cut to montages of euphoric crowds assembling in the squares, chanting the names of their distant and concerned saviors while holding aloft media friendly messages of appreciation daubed in English. Then we see smiling processions of the liberated heading for polling stations beaming with democratic joy and preciously holding their voting papers aloft. The soundtrack to this sophisticated piece of hypnosis could be Michael Jackson’s We Are the World.
“No assets will be damaged, provided the Sagrian Opposition is allowed to form a transitional government as soon as all resistance is quelled and hostilities have ceased.”
Madelaine pauses with her lips curling ever so slightly, which shows her immaculate teeth. It isn’t quite a sneer, more like a subconscious gesture of confidence. She’s locked horns with the head honchos here before and takes delight from scoring intellectual points and winning concessions.
“You’ll get your time window, and your perks,” says the man. He picks up a glass of water and takes a slow and careful larynx-lubricating sip. “But make no mistake about this Mrs. Kissinger, we are on a tight schedule to install new compliant partners in Sagria who will be ready to share our strategic economic and military aims. He’s out of office by September, dead by November at the latest. We must have the assets in the hands of our partners by December. The groundwork must be in place. Am I clear on that point?”
Madelaine looks back at her interlocutor and purses her lips for a moment, as if pausing to load just the right assurances into her mouth. The muscular investment in this action causes fault lines to appear under the layers of her foundation cream. These unsightly cracks of nature have caused more than a few bathroom mirror tantrums for evergreen Madelaine on conference days like this, especially since this Sagria Emergency Planning Session is her one chance to drape her withering female charms all over that simply adorable Kamal Sufer, leader of the National Coalition for Sagrian Opposition and Revolutionary Forces, during dinner after the good intentions have been displayed and the bullshit is over.
“You have my word. Provided this capable guardian of democracy and his excellent transition team are allowed to rebuild the country and let the potential of Sagrians everywhere flourish.”
Madelaine is making her desperate physical desire for dashing Kamal embarrassingly obvious in front of her peers. She extends her hand towards the target of her longing in a grand master of ceremonies fashion, which encourages the honorably mentioned to stand up and take a bow.
“There will be posterity, and a new dawn for Sagria, with Kamal Sufer. Impossible is nothing!” she declares with aplomb.
Kamal is a square-jawed man in his thirties with jet black hair so luscious and “vital” that it could sell bottles of shampoo. He smiles bashfully at the compliment.
“You over-praise me Madelaine.” He casts a dentist’s-dream smile back at her and pulls back his thick and luxuriant hair. He could moonlight, when he isn’t participating in the cultural and political salvation of war-weary nations, as an erotic model or Monaco millionairesses’ elite gigolo who won’t penetrate for less than a new Rolex.
“I am merely a facilitator, but one contributor in a larger team of dedicated patriots working to consign the nightmares of war and the spectres of dictatorship to history.” He turns his head and nods ingratiatingly at his distinctly vicious-looking associates, who look perfectly capable of breaking necks and chopping off limbs. Kamal’s experienced in pressing the excitement switches of VIP cougars and satisfying ex-presidential wives. It’s a part of the job description for slick operators from his blood line of opportunists.
“I can’t take the credit alone, when we have removed the tyrant Nassar from office.”
I doubt his generosity of spirit will last long when he’s occupying the deposed president’s bedroom and using the champagne cellar and Iranian caviar refrigerator. Power. Privilege. Invincibility. These abstract nouns have an impressive track record of murdering idealism and making sure egalitarian ideals are barred from entering the conscience of the elevated forever. I heard Gaddafi promise Libya utopia on the steps of Berka barracks in ’69 as his followers cheered in the sweltering heat of Benghazi. It’s always the same. Madelaine’s mouth is open agape as she hears this selfless, noble peroration. There is a dreamy lustre in her beguiling, cat-like eyes as she surrenders to the power of attraction.
“I can’t wait to work with you on this Kamal.” A faint sigh is audible from the vocal chords of this formidable diplomatic negotiator as she says this. For a second, her cold chameleon exterior vanishes and something close to vulnerability replaces it.
“Oh, for god’s sake get a room Kissinger. Get a room!”
The exclamation is the most hushed of mutterings. The words are barely articulated, but confined to the chamber of the mouth where they cannot escape and wreak auditory embarrassment or the formidable wrath of righteous, horny Madelaine. Therefore, nobody hears them except for me. I hear everything, even thoughts, and the thoughts of these hombres you wouldn’t really like to know. Trust me.
The exclamation hides behind the lips of Donald Firemore, CEO of Alternative Military Solutions, a multinational company working in the Private Security sector. He isn’t an appreciator of preamble or diplomatic hyperbole. To him, time is money and any time not spent on securing contracts is lost money. He has his private jet on tarmac right at this moment with engines running, ready to fly him out to the Gulf states to meet a prince about a billion dollar private army contract, so naturally he is anxious to hear confirmation that Alternative Military Solutions has won the Country Pacification contract in place for when Nassar’s army is routed, the dictator is hung and the nation needs law and order enforced through a sub-contractor.
“Have your groomed, greasy Arab stud nail you in the penthouse Jacuzzi from behind for all I care. Just do it in your own time on your own buck because I didn’t fly halfway across the world to watch you practice fore-play with an anointed stooge of change.”
Donald’s thought hovers out and floats over the centre of the table, where it lobbies for support from the other business-like individuals pressed for time and not amused by Madelaine’s flirtatious departure from the items on the agenda.
“Right. Well, we’re all anxious to keep our eyes on the prize, so let’s get back to the details in the takeover presentation.”
It’s the silver-haired elder statesman. The floor’s back to him again.
Madelaine sits back and smiles at Kamal. She will soon be holding a different kind of strictly unofficial meeting with the Sagrian president-to-be, whose cause she has lobbied so energetically for and whose approval as the new leader for the tormented nation of Sagria her clout in congress secured. She can live with the fact that a few irritating and unflattering investigative pieces called her toy-boy fantasy an arms-dealing murderer, because she knows he’ll be attentive in bed and use his weapon of mass destruction decisively.
Silver Hair, a man infinitely more terrifying than the “Brute of Shom” Nassar, is directing everybody’s attention to a glossy hand-out which shows a flowchart for the orchestrated removal of Nassar. Step one in the chart states “Create protest and demand for democracy.” Step two recommends provoking the police and army with demonstrations and continues through a sequence of stages in escalating violent unrest right up to the point where military intervention by League of World Security member nations would be globally deemed justified.
“We’re at stage two now, so we’ve got to get a move on or we’ll never meet the removal-schedule targets.”
All he gets in response to this urgent rallying call for results are gormless, poe-faced stares, a discreet cough and a few anxious pairs of buttocks shifting on the expensive leather seats.
He swivels in his chair and looks at a man in his forties with a receding hairline, pock-marked complexion and pugnacious presence. There’s something of the brute in this man. Something that waiters should take note of when taking his order in upmarket restaurants.
“Mr. Navel, just what treats has your media empire got in store for our ungrateful friend Mr. Nassar?” the smooth, sinister septuagenarian asks.
“The works sir. Full hatchet job. My entire network will show pictures of bayoneted babies, crushed children, raped women and beheaded corpses filling the streets of Shom along with non-stop footage of Nassar’s army firing its rockets into the sky. It’ll get priority saturated coverage twenty-four seven.”
Silver Hair shows his approval of these steps by giving a dainty nod of the head and a smile.
“I’ll also run daily report segments on Sagrian refugees. Make it real sensational!”
Nicky Navel lets out a grunt of satisfaction to accompany his idea. He owns five cable television channels—two for pornography, two for news and one for shopping—two betting franchises and a budget airline specializing in African sex tourism. His estimated net worth is ten billion Euros. He was a winning contestant in a reality television show called The Big Eye in 2019 where viewers watched him sleep and masturbate for seven consecutive days. It set a new record for viewing figures. He made sure of the public’s winning vote by defecating on the breasts of a failed topless model while she was sleeping. Following this, producers and media shakers fell over themselves to sign this “larger than life personality” for a career in entertainment. The rest is history.
Silver Hair turns towards a serious looking man in spectacles named Harvey Zenner.
“Well Harv, you’re Chief of Staff. You’ve got the president’s ear. How’s the chemical weapons scenario being received in the Oval Office?”
“So far so good. If we could just get a little ‘accident’ going in Sagria with that anthrax stockpile we sold Nassar way back, we could be in business for the big one in no time.”
“Good. That’s progress.”
It’s like I’m watching a replay of the Munich Agreement in 1938, except none of these sleazy reptiles come close to possessing Adolf’s genius in duplicity and justifying pre-emptive attacks on sovereign countries.
I float out of the room, through the layers of bomb-proof, reinforced concrete and into the hazy, acrid smoke of the evening. I’ll be back soon to watch these spoiled, misguided, shoddy mortals wreak more careless catastrophes. They are the dogs of war the dapper Elizabethan dramatist I used to watch at work wrote of, and their hunger will never be sated.
Titus Green was born in Vancouver, Canada but grew up in the United Kingdom. Fundamentally an English language teacher, he has spent the last sixteen years living and working in countries as diverse as South Korea, Canada and Saudi Arabia. Like many novice writers, he writes when the elements of available time, self-discipline, focus and inspiration converge. His influences include Edgar Allen Poe, Jorge Louis Borges, Jonathan Swift, Ferdinand Louis Celine and Jean Genet. He also has hefty respect for Brett Easton Ellis and William S. Burroughs. Situation Room is his first piece of published fiction.