The president at the novel's center possesses a personality whose high-speed alternations between charm and petulance, resoluteness and self-pity, continually energize and mystify the panoply of characters around him. They include his acerbic, crafty mother, former First Lady Barbara Bush; his desperately correct and eager-to-please secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice; the gnomic and manipulative Donald Rumsfeld; foreign leaders from Tony Blair to Vladimir Putin; and the caustic one-woman chorus of Ann Richards, Bush's predecessor as governor of Texas. A gallery of political and media figures, from the widowed Nancy Reagan to the philandering John Edwards to the brilliantly contrarian Christopher Hitchens, bring the novel and the era to life.
The story is deepened and driven by a love affair between two West Texans, Ross Weatherall and Allison O'Connor, whose destinies have been affixed to Bush's since they were teenagers in the 1970s. The true believer and the skeptic who end up exchanging ideological places in a romantic and political drama that unfolds in locations from New Orleans to Baghdad and during the parties, press conferences, and state funerals of Washington, D.C.
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|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.80(h) x 1.20(d)|
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FEBRUARY 23, 2005
U.S. Ambassador’s Residence; Brussels, Belgium
“No, sir, you go ahead,” said Condi Rice. “I insist.”
The basement exercise room contained only one elliptical, the preferred machine of both the president and his secretary of state. “I’ll take this,” Condi said, getting on the stationary bike.
Bush gave her a wink and a suit-yourself shrug. Where he’d really like to be was out in the Maryland woods on his own mountain bike, leaving the Secret Service in the dust. But the elliptical would do. He was feeling pretty good, almost back to his precampaign weight; for the last couple of weeks Laura had been telling him to dial back the workouts, which had started seeming a little fanatical to her, like his devotion to being on time.
Maybe she was right, but if truth be told, however un-Christian it might be, he couldn’t stand being around the unfit. Unless they were lost in political conversation, Rove repelled him, and he couldn’t say he’d been surprised when Gerson, that doughy version of Dilton Doiley from the Archie comics, had had his heart attack a week before Christmas. He wished Mike the best, but wouldn’t mind having him, silver tongue and all, stepping back a bit. For a ghostwriter he was awfully, what would you call it, corporeal: never missed a chance to talk to the press about what a deep and tortured wordsmith he was.
“You think we’re overstaying our welcome here?” the president asked Condi. “Three nights seems like a lot.”
“Not at all,” she assured him, while noticing that his arm and leg movements on the elliptical appeared to cancel each other out—as if drawing X’s on the air. “You’re saving the taxpayers a big hotel bill!”
Bush cocked his head into the nod-smirk combination that said “I suppose.” Tom Korologos, the ambassador upstairs, was a fine guy who went way back with Dad; a blunt, no-b.s. fixer and smoother who’d made a fortune lobbying but had gotten off his seventy-year-old ass to spend four months working under Bremer in Iraq at the start of the occupation. That’s what had earned him his perch here, not all the years shuffling between K Street and the White House and the Hill.
“Okay,” he said at last, agreeing with Condi on the matter of hospitality. “But some of our staff guys are eating Mormon the Greek out of house and home.” Korologos, improbably enough, had started life in Utah.
Condi put the pedals of her bike through another ten rotations before asking, “So now that three days have passed, how do you think ‘Old Europe’ is treating you?”
This was a crack against Rumsfeld, who was never afraid to point out that within the “coalition of the willing,” the newer NATO countries, the ones from Eastern Europe, had been a lot more willing than the slack, half-socialist originators of the Western alliance. Blair had had to drag the Brits to Baghdad kicking and screaming. And the rest, of course, were even worse. But Rumsfeld’s comments made things harder; Bush had had to sit there yesterday and smile at the EU representative Don had pronounced irrelevant.
“Well, I enjoyed my breakfast with Tony,” the president told Condi, and it was true. Unlikely as it might be, he was sure Blair preferred him to Clinton, even if those two had all that “third way” stuff in common.
“You know, sir,” explained Condi, going into her schoolmarm mode, “there’s one way in which the U.K. can be considered new Europe instead of old. They didn’t join the EU with the first ‘Inner Six’ members; some years passed before they came in.”
He tried to look appreciative above the crablike grindings of the elliptical. “Well, it was a lot more fun having breakfast with Tony than having dinner with Pepé Le Pew.” He’d had to host Chirac right here, upstairs, on Monday night, a nauseating couple of hours. They’d pretended to be friends, behaving as if the Axis of Weasel days were actually behind them. He’d found himself wishing he were across a table from Berlusconi, that crude and crazy Italian version of Claytie Williams. “Still, I did my best to behave. I hope you noticed I called the potatoes ‘French fries’ and not ‘freedom’ ones. Even though they looked like hash browns to me.”
Condi smiled, gratefully, over this bit of conciliation. “Frites,” she said. “Or aiguillettes.”
“What the French call French fries.”
“Well, let ’em eat aiguillettes. It was pretty damned diplomatic of me, I thought.”
Over on the bike, Condi was finally breathing through her mouth instead of her nose. “I am glad you told Chirac no,” she said, puffing just a little, “when he proposed that Israeli-Palestinian conference.”
“Hell no is more like it. That’s one mess I leave to you. I once told Clinton, ‘You taught yourself the name of every damned street in Jerusalem. Fat lot of good it did you—or anybody over there.’ ”
He took the elliptical up two notches, and Condi added another full mph to the stationary bike.
“The worst is yet to come,” he told her, getting back to the present trip.
“You mean Schröder?”
“Gerhard the Godawful.” The German chancellor had gotten himself elected to a second term more or less by running against him. The two of them had a meeting and, even worse, a presser scheduled for this afternoon, all of it down in Mainz, where Dad and Kohl had wowed the locals back in ’89. “I’d rather spend an hour with Qadaffi. Or thirty minutes with Gore.”
As always, he was pleased when he got a laugh—a matter of the deepest satisfaction to him ever since he’d taken it upon himself, at the age of seven, to cheer up Mother, despairing over the death of his little sister in that hotbox of a house in Midland.
“As it is,” he now added, “my time with Gerhard will break Dick’s speed record in Afghanistan.” Back in December, having gone to Kabul for Karzai’s inauguration, Cheney had remained on the ground for less than seven hours.
After a few more scuttlings on the elliptical, he noticed that Condi wasn’t saying anything. When it came to Dick, she tended to tread even more cautiously than she did with Rumsfeld.
“What Schröder will hit you hardest on is Vienna,” she finally said. The Germans and most of the rest of the Europeans wanted the U.S. to join their talks with the Iranians, as if that were all it would take to get the mullahs to stop a nuclear-weapons program whose existence they didn’t even admit.
“Yeah, well, I’ll tell Gerhard I’ll pencil Vienna in for right after that Israeli-Palestinian conference. Which should be about the twelfth of never.” He shot Condi a smile. “You old enough to remember that one?”
“Oh, we listened to a lot of Johnny Mathis in Birmingham, sir. I guarantee you it came over the radio when I was strapped in my car seat.”
The two of them went at a fast, even pace for a while, until he signaled he was ready for a cool-down. He loved the way this machine was saving his knees.
“I’ll get through today, but I wish we were flying back to Fargo instead of Frankfurt.” He’d been enjoying all the day trips for the Social Security proposal, the town halls and pep rallies from Omaha to Tampa. For half a day at a time he could trick himself into thinking he was having the sort of domestic-focused presidency he once expected to have.
“How’s that going?” asked Condi.
He shrugged. So far there’d been mostly bad news. He explained to her how he’d pissed off Max Baucus, who’d been crucial to tax reform, by barging into Montana without letting the senator know he was descending on his home state. It had been a staff fuckup, but so far there’d been no sign of forgiveness. He could hear a faraway sound creeping into his voice as he talked about it all to Condi. “You know, I’ve been pushing Social Security reform since I ran against Hance.”
She nodded supportively, and he told himself this was no time to get into some all-Kraut funk over Mad Max and Grim Gerhard. He stopped the elliptical and mopped his face with the hand towel. All the white noise vanished from the basement when Condi stopped the stationary bike.
“You’re the one that got me into this trip,” he teased. They both remembered the memo she’d sent, just after agreeing to take State, telling him that he needed to get serious about making up with the Europeans, no matter how childish they’d been.
“Yes, I was,” replied Condi, trying to imitate one of Laura’s it’s-good-for-you-and-you’ll-thank-me smiles.
“What’s that phrase you’ve been using?”
“ ‘Transformational diplomacy.’ But I’ve also been saying ‘freedom’ to the Europeans every chance I get.”
He had to resist saying “good girl,” though it wouldn’t be a catastrophe if the words slipped out. He liked being with Condi because she didn’t make him walk any feminist or racial minefield. He was sorry to be seeing less of her these days than when she’d been his NSA, but that was the price to pay for being rid of Powell, who had spent most of the first term looking annoyed, even pained, trying to convince everybody he was doing them a favor just by being there.
“Tell me what you used to say back at the start?” he asked her. There was no need to explain that “the start” meant the beginning of Iraq, in ’03. “About the best way to handle the Euros?”
Condi lowered her eyes with a sort of faux bashfulness, as if embarrassed instead of delighted to be repeating a bit of mischief that had pleased him: “ ‘Punish France; ignore Germany; forgive Russia.’ ”
“Love it!” he replied, wiping his face again. “And look forward to China.”
There was no need to explain this, either. He mentioned the 2008 Olympics in Beijing as often as a high school teacher motivatingly invoked the coming senior class trip. As the administration’s top sports fans, he and Condi would revel in that farewell junket more than anyone else. In fact, he was almost alarmed by the intensity of his yearning for it. He’d enjoyed his new sense of legitimacy for about two weeks after last fall’s clear-cut reelection, before realizing how much he already wanted the whole thing to be over.
Table of Contents
CAST OF CHARACTERS
(Persons with names in quotation marks are entirely fictional.)
Buzz Aldrin:American astronaut; landed on the moon with Apollo 11
Mohammed Yusef Asefi: Afghan physician and painter
“Kevin Barden”: U.S. embassy staffer in Baghdad
Cherie Blair: prominent barrister; wife of the British prime minister
Tony Blair: prime minister of the United Kingdom
Kathleen Blanco: governor of Louisiana
Lindy Boggs: former member of the House of Representatives (D-LA) and former ambassador to the Holy See
Josh Bolten: director of Office of Management and Budget; White House chief of staff (April 2006–January 2009)
John Bolton: U.S. ambassador to the United Nations
“Emile Bourreau”: assistant concierge at the Hotel Monteleone, New Orleans
Stephen Breyer: associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
“Bill Bright”: builder and political operative from Slaton, Texas
Tom Brokaw: author and former network anchorman
Sherrod Brown: Democratic senator-elect from Ohio
Barbara Bush: former First Lady of the United States
George H. W. Bush: forty-first president of the United States
George W. Bush: forty-third president of the United States
Laura Bush: First Lady of the United States
Neil M. Bush: younger brother of the president of the United States
“Mrs. Randolph Caine”: New Orleans realtor and preservationist
Steve Cambone: undersecretary of defense for intelligence
Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall: wife of the Prince of Wales
Andrew Card: White House chief of staff (January 2001–April 2006)
James Carville: Democratic political consultant and commentator
“The Chairman”: head of the “National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities”
Charles, Prince of Wales: heir to the British throne
Dick Cheney: vice president of the United States
Liz Cheney: daughter of the vice president; principal deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs
Lynne Cheney: wife of the vice president
Jacques Chirac: president of France
Bill Clinton: forty-second president of the United States
Hillary Rodham Clinton: Democratic senator from New York; former First Lady of the United States
Stephen Colbert: comedian; host of The Colbert Report
Howard Dean: former governor of Vermont; chairman of the Democratic National Committee
Tom DeLay: member of the House of Representatives (R-TX) and majority leader
John Dingell: member of the House of Representatives (D-MI)
Christopher Dodd: Democratic senator from Connecticut
Bob Dole: former Republican senator from Kansas and defeated presidential candidate
Elizabeth Dole: Republican senator from North Carolina; wife of Bob Dole
David Herbert Donald: retired Harvard professor and Lincoln biographer
Matt Drudge: Internet news aggregator; editor of the Drudge Report
John Edwards: former Democratic senator from North Carolina and defeated vice-presidential nominee
Betty Ford: former First Lady of the United States
“Gary Fowler”: community activist in Holy Cross neighborhood of New Orleans
Bill Frist: U.S. senator from Tennessee; Republican majority leader
Michael Gerson: chief speechwriter to the president
Gabrielle Giffords: U.S. representative-elect (D-AZ)
“Tim Gleeson”: Australian contract security officer in Baghdad
Jim Granberry: mayor of Lubbock, Texas (1970–1972)
Merv Griffin: television host and show-business entrepreneur
Stephen J. Hadley: national security advisor
Joe Hagin: deputy White House chief of staff
Kent Hance: member of the House of Representatives (D-TX), 1979–1985
“Fadhil Hasani”: interpreter for Allison O’Connor in Baghdad
“Pirnaz Hasani”: infant daughter of Fadhil and Rukia Hasani
“Rukia Hasani”: wife and widow of Fadhil Hasani
Dennis Hastert: Republican speaker of the House of Representatives
Mary Hatfield: Democratic party activist Lubbock, Texas
Carol Blue Hitchens: journalist; wife of Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens: journalist
Karen Hughes: former counselor to the president; undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs
Rielle Hunter: videographer and mistress of former senator John Edwards
John Irving: American novelist
Bobby Jindal: member of the House of Representatives (R-LA), 2005–2008
Frederick W. Kagan: resident scholar, American Enterprise Institute
Hamid Karzai: president of Afghanistan
Brett Kavanaugh: White House staff secretary
Karen Keller: personal secretary to the president
John Kerry: Democratic senator from Massachusetts; defeated 2004 candidate for president
Zalmay Khalilzad: U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan (November 2003–June 2005) and U.S. ambassador to Iraq (June 2005–March 2007)
Larry King: host of CNN’s Larry King Live
Michael Kinsley: journalist and editor
Henry Kissinger: former secretary of state
Junichiro Koizumi: prime minister of Japan
“Matthew Lang”: archivist, George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum
Trent Lott: Republican senator from Mississippi
John McCain: Republican senator from Arizona
Scott McClellan: White House press secretary (July 2003–May 2006)
Sean McCormack: assistant secretary of state for public affairs
Peter MacKay: Canadian foreign minister
“Anne Macmurray”: babysitter and nanny for Holley Weatherall O’Connor
Mary Matalin: book editor; advisor to Vice President Cheney
Harriet Miers: White House legal counsel
“Charles Montoya”: Army private wounded in Iraq
“Lucinda Montoya”: Private Montoya’s aunt and caregiver
“Father Anthony Montrose”: New Orleans parish priest
“Mrs. Morris”: U.S. embassy staffer in Kabul, Afghanistan
Ray Nagin: mayor of New Orleans
Gordon Novel: New Orleans resident with ties to assassination conspiracy theories
“Allison O’Connor”: staff member of the National Security Council
“Holley Weatherall O’Connor”: daughter of Ross Weatherall and Allison O’Connor
“Patricia O’Connor”: mother of Allison O’Connor
Sandra Day O’Connor: associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
Peter Pace: chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Dina Powell: deputy undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs
Vladimir Putin: president of Russia
Lyudmila Putina: wife of Vladimir Putin
Nancy Reagan: former First Lady; widow of President Ronald Reagan
William Rehnquist: sixteenth chief justice of the United States
Condoleezza Rice: U.S. secretary of state
Ann Richards: former governor of Texas
John Roberts: seventeenth chief justice of the United States
Karl Rove: White House deputy chief of staff for policy
Donald Rumsfeld: U.S. secretary of defense
Salman Rushdie: Indian novelist
Terri Schiavo: (1963–2005), central figure in protracted right-to-die legal battle
“Rolf Schmidt”: German constitutional lawyer working in Baghdad’s Green Zone
Brent Scowcroft: national security advisor to President George H. W. Bush
Cindy Sheehan: war protester; mother of soldier killed in Iraq
Mina Sherzoy: founder of the Afghan Women’s Business Federation
Tony Snow: White House press secretary (May 2006–September 2007)
Jack Straw: British MP and foreign secretary (June 2001–May 2006)
Andrew Sullivan: political journalist and blogger
Margaret Thatcher: former prime minister of the United Kingdom
Greta Van Susteren: television journalist, Fox News; host of On the Record
Donatella Versace: Italian fashion designer
Michael G. Vickers: analyst, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments
John Warner: Republican senator from Virginia
Gene Washington: former professional football player for the San Francisco 49ers
“Carlotta Watson”: resident of New Orleans’ Holy Cross neighborhood
“Archer Weatherall”: son of Ross Weatherall
“Caitlyn Weatherall”: daughter of Ross Weatherall
“Darryl Weatherall”: attorney in Lubbock, Texas; brother of Ross Weatherall
“Deborah Weatherall”: university librarian; wife of Ross Weatherall
“Donna Weatherall”: mother of Ross Weatherall
“Ross Weatherall”: director, Homeland Heritage Division, National Endowment of the Arts and Humanities
Allen Weinstein: archivist of the United States
Jim Wilkinson: senior advisor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
Tom Wolfe: American novelist and essayist
Paul Wolfowitz: deputy secretary of defense and president of the World Bank