My country, 'tis of thee

"It should look impromptu," Bartlett called from across his office. Eight AM in Washington, seven hours ahead in Istanbul. Three PM, middle of the day there already. They should have paged him.

"What should be on the prompter?" His envoy apparently had difficulty hearing him over the speakerphone.

"Not prompter. There isn't going to be a prompter. Impromptu."

"Him propped who? What?"

"Christ, hold on a minute." Bartlett finished tucking in his shirt and waved his assistant out of the office as he crossed over to his desk. He sat down on its corner, knocking over the styrofoam coffee cup he'd used a thumbnail to carve a couple of rounds of tic-tac-toe into. Two cats games and a horizontal "X" victory he'd cheated against himself to win. That was yesterday.

He put a hand over the mouthpiece as he picked up the receiver and called to his assistant for a refill. "Can you hear me now? You're off speaker. It should look Im-Prompt-Too. When are they going to announce? OK. Who knows first? I mean, if he's at the thing. So it would be--right. It should be informal. No cameras in the room at the time, right? We don't need that again." The last time Bartlett's boss was caught unprepared on camera he did a seven-minute-long impersonation of Rodin's Thinker without the thinking. Thank God the networks cut the clip down to four seconds of apparent shock for broadcast. Would that there could be a prompter.

"Something simple. Simple. Do it in a meeting. When he's a in real meeting. It should be a note. Not a whisper. It always looks like someone's sticking a tongue in his ear when they whisper, and then he gets that smile. Right, no cameras. Still. These are NATO guys, so I don't want tongues. You can do tongues at the UN. Anyway if he says whatever we give him out loud it won't be on tape. Have her send him a note. Then he writes what we say on the note, then we show the note, with his thoughts on it. Can I get a fucking mug in here, or what?"

The assistant had returned with another styrofoam cup, which in squeezing Bartlett caused some of his extra-hot black four packets to overflow onto his fingers. The assistant shrugged.

"A mug. Christ, a--Andy's got one in his office, go steal it. It says 'White House' on the side."

Bartlett dug a thumbnail into his cup and returned to the phone. "What? Does what on the sly? I said side. SIDE. Of the mug. What have you got, a string on a dixie cup over there? Now then--seriously. What exactly do we want the president's thoughts to be?"

Bartlett drew an X into the freshly carved center square.

Sweet land of liberty

The Turks drink their coffee with the coffee grounds still in the cup. It is a difficult way to drink coffee if you're not from that part of the world, and at 3:30PM it was the prevailing sentiment around the makeshift office that that part of the world might do well to consider changing how it drank its coffee if it didn't want trouble. The head of that office and sentiment put down her fincan in disgust as her assistant came in.

"The Communications Director called," the assistant offered.


"He's glad we're going early, but he's pissed we waited to tell him."

"Two days trumps the protesters. He knows that."

"He thinks you should send a note while the president's in a meeting, so he can't talk."

"And if there isn't a meeting?"

"I think he thinks you should wait until there is one."

"Get Bremer on the phone. What time is it there?"

"One hour ahead."

"Four-thirty. Middle of the day already. We should have paged him. Why a note?"

"His assistant said something about there being no tongues."

This elicted a glare and the subtle thinning of lips.

"I have Mr. Bremer for you."

"Thank you. Mr. Bremer? It's Condoleezza Rice."

"I have what rights? Who is this? This is a secure line."

"Hold on, I'm taking you off speaker." She waved her assistant out of the office as she placed the receiver to her ear. "It's Condoleezza. Condoleezza Rice." An elegant finger absent-mindedly curled itself into the cord. "Condi." She wondered if he was wearing the red tie with the navy stripes or the blue one he wore for the first day of the invasion.

"Paul, when were you thinking of giving Iraq sovereignty?"

Four-thirty PM there, she thought. His five o'clock shadow was probably well visible. "Would it be OK if we did it around tennish, your time, instead? Dan wants to do this sort of note thingy with the president. Do you think anyone would mind?"

Condi smiled as her finger stretched out the phone cord, then let it spring back. It was strange to think that he was only an hour ahead. She felt as though he were on the other side of the world.

"Oh, that's really great. Thank you so much for being so cool about it. Could you just let me know exactly what time you hand the thingy over to the guy? Dan says I should put that in the note. Thanks. Now," she said, her voice dropping an octave, "is there anything else you want to tell me?"

When the assistant reentered the office at Ms. Rice's beckoning some ten or fifteen minutes later, the latter wore no particular expression on her face, giving the former no distinct impression that the plan was in fact coming together nicely and that the president would soon have to be informed as to exactly how the event was to proceed.

"Everything OK?" the assistant inquired, somewhat meekly.

"Absolutely," came the stern reply. "He'll do the handover at exactly 10:26. We can give the president the note and he can write down Dan's response at the meeting. Double-check the seating arrangements. I'll hand-write the note now. Double-check my spelling. Bremer has one 'm'? I want everything to be perfect."

When unchecked, Ms. Rice had a tendency to wax Mrs. Dalloway.

"Do you need to speak to the president?" the intern asked, picking up her boss's phone, which was suspiciously warm to the touch.

"Yes, but I'll go to see him myself. Stay here, wait for my call."

The assistant was immensely proud to work for such an important person, and always swelled that she should be attached to events of such global impact. Perhaps it was this sense of pride that, just at the critical moment, kept her from mentioning to her superior as she walked out the door that her skirt, previously a picture of almost militaristic perfection, now appeared to be slightly discolored in a most inopportune place.

Of thee I sing

"It's too hot in here," George said to himself. "Why'd we have to do it here? That guy's wearing a funny hat. Why are there coffee grounds in my coffee?"

An argument raged on in the room about the state of the world one hour ahead. For a fleeting second, and no doubt as a result of his overexposure to heat and caffeine, George wondered if because Baghdad was an hour ahead that meant that in an hour he'd suddenly be in Baghdad. He sagely suppressed a desire to nudge Tony Blair under the table to ask him. He'd nudged Dick Cheney like that lots of times and every time it made the veep chew his lower lip in that mean way, like he's so smart.

"Veep spelled backwards is peev," George thought.

The guy in the funny hat wouldn't stop talking. He shouldn't even be here, George thought, because this meeting is for NATO, and he knew that part of that meant North Atlantic, and that the funny hat countries aren't anywhere near the North Atlantic, because the North Atlantic is way over by where he lives, where the Titanic sank. Titanic was a good movie because some poor people prayed at the end and the captain went down with the ship but the real head of the boat company didn't because it wasn't his fault the British guys in the bucket didn't see the iceberg ahead. Kate Winslet has big boobs.

When undistracted by thoughts of big boobs, which phenomenon occurs with only slightly lesser frequency amongst presidents than regular people, George was keeping an eye on his watch. The big hand was on the four and the little hand was on the ten, which meant that in a few minutes he'd have to write down the words Bartlett had told him the day before. He would have thought of them himself if anyone had bothered to let him. But people were always telling him what to do.

"I probably would have written that anyway," George said into the speakerphone.

"Yes, Mr. President. Do you have a nice pen?"

"I have a magic marker in my desk."

"Is that what you want to use, Mr. President?"


"Is it a nice color, Mr. President?"

"It's black. That's good, right?"

"Yes, Mr. President. Do you want to go over the phrase again, not on speakerphone?"


"Are you sure? Because sometimes it's hard for people to hear on speakerphone."

"I can hear fine."

George had already memorized the words as he understood them when Condi walked in to confer with him. She had that scolding look on her face, but was probably just mad because she spilled something on her skirt.

"Here he comes," George whispered aloud to Tony Blair, nodding in the direction of a sharply-dressed aide. "He has a note."

Tony Blair, already uncomfortable in his position beside the American President, shifted even more uncomfortably in his chair. George took out his magic marker before he even got the note, which Dan told him not to do, but he forgot, because he was too busy singing the words in his head.

He unfolded the note, and began to read it.

Mr President,--

"That's me," George said to Tony Blair.

Iraq is sovereign. Letter was passed from Bremer at 10:26 AM Iraq time. --Condi."

"It's from Condi," George said to Tony Blair.

Tony Blair smiled awkwardly.

George uncapped his black magic marker and, humming the tune he'd hummed at odd intervals all his life, wrote down the words Bartlett said as he'd always understood them:

"Let freedom reign!"

He showed the note to Tony Blair, whose eyebrows furrowed, probably because he was jealous that he hadn't got a note, and handed it back to the aid, who disappeared with it, leaving George to pick at the coffee grit in his teeth and impatiently shake his head at all the angry dark men in the room who just wanted to hold everything up, and who probably would be much happier if they would just start wearing normal hats like everyone else.

My country, 'tis of thee

On Monday, June 28th, 2004, at 10:26AM, the U.S. government returned authority over Iraq to the new Iraqi Prime Minister, the newspapers said. Some of them showed a picture of the note sent by Condoleezza Rice with the president's response.

George thought he was very clever for spelling "reign" correctly by going by how Condi wrote it in "sovereign," and decided to take two extra days of vacation this year as a reward for getting Iraq done two whole days early.

Condoleezza Rice returned to Washington DC never knowing how Paul Bremer really felt about her. But the seating arrangement and handoff were perfect, so she decided, as a reward, to buy a new skirt.

Dan Bartlett thought that George might not have heard him quite correctly on speakerphone, but realized it probably didn't matter because no one would notice, and it still looked fairly impromptu. As a reward, he decided never to return the Chief of Staff's coffee mug.

The American public, thinking that what George wrote sounded somehow familiar but neither looked right nor made a great deal of sense, googled the lyrics of "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" and, verifying what its collective memory instinctively suspected but which its hope could not at first bring it to believe, was left staring through an open window into the lunatic minds of a bunch of shoddy, sloppy, incompetent con artists. They were forced to extrapolate what preceded the event.

They are saving their reward for November.

Thanks to:

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.