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The White House: Fishing for Chaos


President Obama and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter sit on a couch, playing the card game Go Fish on the coffee table.

OBAMA: You got any threes?

CARTER: Go fish.


Obama, Carter enjoy the game.

Obama draws a card from the “ocean” of cards spread on the table. He winces, not getting a card he wants.

The telephone on the coffee table BUZZES. Obama picks it up and clicks the lighted button.

OBAMA: Yeah.

SECRETARY: Mr. President, it’s Press Secretary Josh Earnest. He sounds rather rattled.

OBAMA: Okay, put him on. (The line clicks, and Obama turns on the speaker phone.) Joshie, baby. What’s going?

EARNEST: Mr. President. We’ve got a problem. I’m getting calls about this damn article in the Los Angeles Times. The Chicago Tribune also picked it up. Listen to this headline: “CIA-armed Militias Are Shooting at Pentagon-armed Ones in Syria”!

OBAMA: Yeah, yeah. Ash brought me a copy of that article. He and I are here now…planning military strategy…

ASH: You got any eights?

OBAMA: Go fish.

EARNEST: What!?!

OBAMA: Er… I said I WISH…I’m telling Ash I wish we could get China to take a shot at us in the South China Sea.

josh earnest

Earnest being earnest.

EARNEST: Mr. President, this Syria mess has turned insane! Did you read the lead to this damn article?

OBAMA: (wincing as Carter draws an eight and shows it to him) Uh, yeah, but read it to me again.

EARNEST: “Syrian militias armed by different parts of the U.S. war machine have begun to fight each other on the plains between the besieged city of Aleppo and the Turkish border, highlighting how little control U.S. intelligence officers and military planners have over the groups they have financed and trained in the bitter 5-year-old civil war

CARTER: You got any Jacks?

OBAMA: No Jacks.

EARNEST: What!?!

OBAMA: Er…I said that article really HACKS me off!

EARNEST: It says, “The fighting has intensified over the past two months, as CIA-armed units and Pentagon-armed ones have repeatedly shot at each other…”

OBAMA: Yeah, yeah. Look, don’t worry about that.

EARNEST: Don’t worry!?! I’m getting calls left and right…

CARTER: Tell the press to call Congressman Schiff. He’s the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

OBAMA: Yeah, Joshie. Tell ‘em to call Adam. He’ll know what to say.

EARNEST: They’ve already called Schiff. The LA Times quotes him in the article.

OBAMA: What’s he say?

EARNEST: I thought you read the article…

OBAMA: Yeah, yeah, but I got a lot going here. Remind me.

EARNEST: He says, “”It is part of the three-dimensional chess that is the Syrian battlefield.”

CARTER: That’s good.

OBAMA: Yeah, that’s a good image. Chess. Battlefield. That’s good.

EARNEST: Mr. President, they’re gonna kill me with this in this afternoon’s press briefing!

go fishOBAMA: (whispering to Carter) Any fours? (Carter tosses Obama two fours.) Ha!

EARNEST: Mr. President, are you laughing at me?

OBAMA: (making a book of fours and showing it to Carter) Joshie, no, no! Look, at the briefing, tell the press I’m consulting with the Pentagon on a new program for Syria.

EARNEST: Another one?

OBAMA: Yeah, another one.

EARNEST: They’re gonna ask me about the Pentagon creating that new military coalition, the Syrian Democratic Forces.

OBAMA: Tell ‘em they’re moving forward with all deliberate speed.

EARNEST: They’re gonna ask me about relaunching that failed program for training and arming Syrian rebel fighters.

OBAMA: Tell ‘em we’ve worked out the kinks, and we will prevail.

EARNEST: They’re gonna ask me about our growing troops on the ground in Iraq.

OBAMA: Yeaaah…shit…I wish they hadn’t found out about that. Tell ’em it’s just a rumor.

EARNEST: (silent, then) A rumor?

OBAMA: Yeah, tell ’em we don’t trust those news reports. Tell ’em we’re gonna arrest the reporter who broke that and charge him under the Espionage Act. That oughta shake ’em up.  (Carter laughs and points at Obama, loving the idea.)

EARNEST: They’re gonna ask me about Arab units joining Kurdish outfits so it doesn’t look like a Kurdish army invasion of Syria.

OBAMA: Remind ‘em that Saudi Arabia is an ally. (to Carter) You got any Kings?


OBAMA: Er…I was asking Ash if he’s contacted King Salman to make sure he’s controlling the inflow of Arab soldiers into Syria.

EARNEST: (silence…then) Mr. President…the Russians have warned us about that. They’ve said any troop invasions into Syria by the Arabs or Turks would lead to World War.

OBAMA: Oh…well…what the hell…

CARTER: Josh, this is Ash. The President and I have looked at all this. I’m sure the President has discussed our plan with you. (Obama quickly shakes his head No.)

EARNEST: (doubtful) I’m…not sure he has…

CARTER: Well, then, let’s make this clear to you: We’re trying to follow Jimmy Carter’s plan of controlling oil in Eurasia, and W.’s plan to do it by aggressive war and endless chaos.

EARNEST: (doubtful) We are?

OBAMA: (upbeat) Yeah, man! That way we keep an endless market of weapons for Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syrian rebels, anybody that wants to pay us in U.S. dollars. You know, Joshie, we lead the world in weapons sales. That, along with our huge defense budget keeps our military-industrial complex active and makes weapons manufacturers, Wall Street and the big banks very, very happy!

CARTER: And it keeps me being a world traveler! I’ve seen a lot of the ol’ globe as Defense Secretary!

Obama and Carter laugh and high five. Earnest is silent.

OBAMA: Joshie? You still there?

EARNEST: Mr. President (he pauses and sighs)…Mr. President, I gotta go. It’s time for the press briefing.

OBAMA: (upbeat) Go to it, Joshie! Sell those hacks on this War on Terror!

CARTER: Scare shit out of ’em! Throw in something evil about the Russians!

OBAMA: Yeah! Fill those nosy bastards with our best propaganda! Turn ’em into nationalists with a soliloquy on how great the economy’s doing! Tell ’em…

(The phone has clicked and is buzzing. Earnest has hung up.)

OBAMA:…oh…uh…well…(He turns to Carter) You got any Queens?




Roger Armbrust

Roger Armbrust's articles and columns have covered labor and management, Congressional legislation, and federal court cases, including appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court. He formerly served as national news editor of Back Stage in New York City, where he also taught a professional writing course at New York University. His recent book of sonnets -- oh, touch me there: Love Sonnets -- is available from Amazon and other book sites. He is an associate curator of The Clyde Fitch Report. He is also co-founder and co-curator of reality: a world of views.

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