Dan was back from Beirut’s southern suburb, where he was taking care of routine business.
A little war always lifts his spirits, but he looked a bit preoccupied. “I don’t know how to break the news to you, he said. I knew immediately what was coming. Only two weeks ago, he told me that his superiors at the Pentagon were planning an aerial strike against me. He said I’d go up in flames of glory, with the smartest laser bomb even known to man. I almost believed him. But you cannot trust people these days, not with your life, and certainly not with your death. “The deal is off, Dan said. “You mean a lot more to us alive than dead.
“But you promised. You said my death was crucial to U.S. foreign policy.
“That’s exactly the point. For now, we don’t really have foreign policy, Dan said.
“Of course you do. You have a wonderful foreign policy. People would kill for your foreign policy.
“Not anymore. Nellie is nowhere to be found. The news hit me like a guided missile.
Nellie is one of the world’s best keep secrets. For two decades now, she’s been in charge of U.S. foreign policy. The thirty-something, half-Armenian college dropout who sold hotdogs in the Mall was, until her disappearance, the most influential person on this planet. White House officials used to stop regularly by her stand for lunch and a bit of foreign policy advice. It was Nellie who engineered the demise of Russia. It was Nellie who advised NATO to expand to the Adriatic. And it was Nellie who ordered every single aerial strike from Basra to Kabul.
Nellie is gone? And who’s in charge now?
“We improvise as we go along. Thankfully, Nellie got us on a roll before she disappeared. She taught Bolton how to push the UN around. She showed the top brass how to use an Ouija board to select targets for precision bombing. We’re putting a brave face on it for now, but things are getting rough. Without Nellie at the helm, the Europeans are getting upset, the Arabs keep grumbling, and even the Latin Americans are on our case.
“Omygod, what if she falls in foreign hands? What if she’s already selling shawerma in Tehran?
“Or walking the streets of Damascus as we speak. With her dark skin and auburn hair, she’ll blend easily into the local population. It’s a disaster man. You’ve got to help us. Without Nellie, there is no foreign policy. There is no new Middle East. And you can kiss Tunisia goodbye.
I’d been promised a free hand in Tunisia if I delivered the new Middle East from its birth pangs. But only Nellie could make that happen. So I started working the phone. Within minutes, drug barons and arms dealers the world over were on the lookout for the world’s top strategist. But two weeks passed by and no news of Nellie. Then Ahmad rang me up. You may remember him. Ahmad is the man who tells journalists not to badmouth good people. Not a particularly popular job, but he’s always been there for me. Apparently, Nellie has been in Cairo for a few months, living in a cheap hotel downtown. “She’s been taking acting classes. She says she needs to get out of her head and in touch with her emotions, Ahmad briefed me as we drove up to her hotel.
Nellie didn’t even move when Ahmad opened the door with his own key. “Nellie, everyone is worried sick about you. You can t do this to us, I said. Nellie kept leafing through a month old magazine. I didn’t know she could read Arabic. Or perhaps she couldn’t. If it were not for the familiar eagle tattooed on her back, I might have thought she was a different person.
“She’s applied for a license to run a hotdog stand by the river, not far from the Arab League, Ahmad told me. Suddenly, things became clear to me. Nellie was no longer happy running the world from afar. She was no longer interested in changing the Middle East from a distance. She wanted to change the region from within. I should’ve seen that coming.
“Are you going to give her the license?
“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about it. What do you think? If it worked for America, perhaps it’ll work for us, don’t you think? It’s time we had a foreign policy of our own. I hear she’s good.
“I don’t know Ahmad. There is so much at stake. I looked again at Nellie and the only thought that came to my mind was that she needed a manicure, among other things. This is not America. If this woman is going to survive here, she’ll need some help. With the right guidance, from people like Ahmad and me, things might work out. She might just hand us the kind of foreign policy we need to become a superpower. Think of that. One license, one hotdog stand and the world is ours. And why was I fixated on Tunisia? What was I thinking? Forget Tunisia. This time, if I play my cards right, I might get Argentina.