Novelist Brad Meltzer’s latest thriller, Inner Circle, casts a light upon a tradition that has been somewhat of a mystery until now. The ceremonial passing of the torch from the outgoing president of the United States to the newly elected president has in recent years included a private letter left on the desk in the Oval Office, beginning with Ronald Reagan to George H.W. Bush; it is presumably the first thing the new president sees when taking office. The note to President Obama from President George W. Bush was concealed in a plain envelope with a Post-It note that simply read “44.” Pretty cool.
The premise behind Inner Circle is pretty cool as well. Meltzer became fascinated by a secret spy ring established by George Washington that served the president directly and apparently endured for several administrations. He imagined the continuance of this clandestine group and how knowledge of it would pass from POTUS to POTUS in the secret letter, hidden in plain sight.
The actual content of these letters remained private until President George H.W. Bush revealed to Meltzer what he had written to his successor, President Bill Clinton. The letter is cordial and benign, and ends with “I’m rooting for you,” which is more formal than one of the sentences in Reagan’s letter that reportedly read, “Don’t let the turkeys get you down.” In an interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep, Meltzer said it was a reminder that, while the position itself is powerful and extraordinary, “they are still human people doing very human things.”
Like I said, the whole thing is pretty cool. But I have a different theory about what’s in the letter to Obama. My guess is it reads something like this:
No time for pleasantries so I’ll get to it. Bin Laden’s in the basement. When the shit hits the fan, take him to the desert in Nevada, make a grainy tape of him calling us infidels— make sure he mentions something topical—then give him a shave and let him hit the tables in Vegas for a couple of days. Let him win big and take 72 “virgins” (i.e. hookers) to a suite at the Bellagio. Give tax breaks to the wealthy, subsidize oil companies, and keep the Central Bank (Goldman Sachs) on your side.
Dick Cheney. 43rd President of these United States.
P.S. – Hang on. George wants to write something.
Oh-BAMAlamadingdong! President! Not bad for a black fella from Kenya! My advice? Give everyone a funny nickname. Oh, and Area 51’s got neat shit there. Have Biden give you a tour! Make war not love! (Got that on a bumper sticker on my new truck!)
Dubya (That’s “W” phonetically. Or FUNetically as I like to say because the English language is fun!) Fox News rocks!
The point I’m making here is that I no longer believe in hobgoblins and bogeymen. Let me be clear. I do not think 9/11 was an “inside job” as many conspiracy theorists love to claim. The very real and tragic destruction on that fateful day was at the hands of well-financed and highly organized terrorists claiming allegiance to Osama Bin Laden. They were not, however, aided in any way by Saddam Hussein’s oil-rich administration in Iraq. Nor was there any credible threat of WMDs. And yet we waged an eight-year battle in Iraq to wrest control of their oil fields and infrastructure only to hand the Iraqis back a political and economic system in disrepair. All the while hanging fear in the human form of Bin Laden around our necks.
The real story is we had this guy beat on 9/12, and I’m betting we had his head on a platter on 9/13 because this is America and we rock. Our initial strategy in Afghanistan was enough to disrupt their terrorist network and drive the bastards to the hills. Our subsequent actions in Iraq and mishandling of the prolonged war in Afghanistan created a credibility gap in our foreign policy that made us look like imperialists instead of liberators.
This gap haunts us today as the protests in the Middle East and Northern Africa stun the world. The moment Libyan dictator Colonel Moammar Gadhafi ordered air strikes on protestors in Tripoli the United States could have, should have, convened the U.N. Security Council (impotent without our involvement) and led the charge to take over Libya and imprison Gadhafi. This is genocide and we have the power to stop it.
But our trillion-dollar blood-for-oil campaign over the past decade has made America war-weary, debt-ridden and lacking international credibility. And if tomorrow POTUS 44 decides that defending innocent Libyans is the right and righteous thing to do, the world will point to rising oil prices as the reason we went in, not humanitarianism. They will also be able to point to our silence with respect to genocide, most recently in Sudan and several other countries in past decades.
Oil has damned us if we do and damned us if we don’t. The Iraq War will forever expose the Bush administration as a fraud even if Osama Bin Laden magically appears on CNN hogtied to a bayonet and carried through the streets of lower Manhattan. Of course, no one is holding their breath for this to happen any time soon. Meltzer’s novel is fanciful and fun to contemplate but the real-life secrets locked in the White House are neither of those things. The 9/11 victims deserve better. As do the Sudanese, Afghanis, American soldiers, Libyans, Iraqis… Tragically, the list goes on.