Before boarding my plane I was called to the office of the press secretary. His name was Scott but the President, who was now good with nicknames, called him Fuckface. There was a television in his office too. A journalist was interviewing another rugged and dusty general on the difficulties of a winning strategy. Scott pointed to the screen, that’s the war that matters, he said, the one we’re fighting. The war on the ground will take care of itself. 

He was short on detail and admitted that sometimes things change, a little. He made no apology for machines that rust in the desert, for compounds that poison the sea. He made no apology for the winning team. 

The President is finding it hard to respect a man he calls Fuckface. The press secretary’s job is to deliver public opinion with an accomplished lack of interest. In his back pocket is an army of academics behind an army of words. They won’t talk to each other but a brain cell will consult with its neighbour for a second opinion. What do you think … that depends, what do you think. 

The enemy, I heard Scott say, will be severely wanting in democracy and sanctions for oil. A healthy child death rate will be maintained by the purposeful contamination of water, without favouritism. Vaccines are weapons-grade biological agents and will not be distributed. Tried and proper instruments of state we will later deny. 

The President spoke plainly the day I left. Make history, he said, but first make your quotas. The problem, it seems, was in my translation. My initial orders were to cancel local elections, make a list of those who would testify against the language, look for anthrax in the kitchen, submarines in the desert and missiles inside paper lanterns. At least that’s what I heard.

Upon submitting my report, I was further instructed to record the coordinates of factories still standing and their capacity to get in the way of the money, or what the contractors here called the real money. I was given discretion to meet with spokespeople of every description, relay promises and threats. Clean the streets and distribute food for the camera, nothing in the millions, things among things.