CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

nerve and of vision on the part of the people running it. It was a fine

strategic concept, with a major screw-up in the execution.”

“If you ask me,” Gordon West, the White House Chief of Staff, said,

“this whole thing has been one colossal screw-up. I know the President

isn’t going to want to get into any major military operation until we

know just what went wrong in there. This, this could have an

incalculable impact on his image.”

Scott snorted loudly. “We’re not talking about public opinion polls

here, Mr. West.”

“We are talking,” West said with a quiet, deadly earnestness, “about the

President of the United States, and his perceived effectiveness as a

world leader. I’d say that is at least as important as the safety of

your precious aircraft carrier.”

“Perhaps, gentlemen,” Waring said, glancing back and forth nervously

between the two men as though he feared they were about to come to

blows, “and Madam Secretary, ah, perhaps it’s too soon yet to make any

decision at all. I mean, a rash decision now could have unfortunate

effects on all concerned, on the President, and on the Jefferson and her

escorts. If we wait, the situation may resolve itself.”

“I might remind you all,” Admiral Scott added, “of the service motto of

the British Special Air Service, the SAS. “Who dares, wins.” This isn’t

a time for halfhearted measures, fixing the blame, or mealymouthed

political shenanigans.”

Reed shook her head. “Mr. Waring, I cannot in good conscience recommend

any act that will deepen our military involvement in that region.” She

looked pointedly at Scott. “We will not send in the Marines and risk

this, this incident escalating into a major war.”

Admiral Magruder looked up. “Madam Secretary, excuse me, but you’re

suggesting we do nothing? What about our people?”

“There are times, Admiral, when political expediency must take

precedence. For the good of the country.”

“You’re suggesting that we abandon them? Let them just, just hang out to


“There are wounded personnel ashore,” Admiral Scott added, his voice

growing harder, angrier. “Including the commanding officer of that

battle group. So far, the Russians have not even been willing to discuss

allowing us to extract them. That’s a problem quite separate from the

larger one of our battle group being trapped inside the Black Sea.

Madam, we can’t simply turn our backs on them!”

She drummed her fingers briefly on the tabletop. “I will remind you,

both of you, once again, Admiral Magruder, Admiral Scott, that I will

happily accept your resignations if either or both of you cannot see

things my way. I need team players here, not dissent. Not squabbling. My

recommendation will be that we engage the Russians in a meaningful

dialogue. Perhaps something can be negotiated. We should tell Dmitriev

no right up front, but keep the door open for further bargaining. I

think we can work something out, given time.

“We should also, Mr. Heideman, continue our talks with Ankara. If we can

secure rights to berth our ships in one of their Black Sea ports, in

Sinop, possibly, the entire problem goes away. Don’t you agree?”

“Oh, absolutely, Madam Secretary.”

“In any case,” Waring added, “we can extend those negotiations as long

as is necessary. Long enough to see what the Russians do. Long enough

for the President to garner support for military intervention, if


“That raises an interesting possibility,” Gordon West said.

But Magruder leaned back in his chair and closed eyes and ears alike. He

recognized the signs. This discussion was going to continue throughout

the rest of the morning, possibly into the afternoon as well, but

nothing would be decided, nothing accomplished. A wholehearted advocate

of the necessity of separating military from government and keeping them

separate, he nonetheless resented it, resented it deeply, when the

civilian bureaucrats in charge regarded military men and women as

expendable pawns. The same sort of thing had happened time after time in

the past. The U.S. government had known there were still POWS in

captivity in North Vietnam and Laos when the Paris peace accords had

been signed, but in the name of political expediency and a crumbling

presidency. ..

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