Admiral Russ Corbett scrolled through the messages on his cell phone as he waited in one of the booths at the back of his favorite restaurant in Washington, D.C. He was off the clock, wearing a polo shirt and khaki pants. The JSOC commander was a busy man. He oversaw the military’s top priority Counter-Terrorism units as well as managed a number of highly classified special access projects nestled within his command.
At the moment, he was using Libya as a battlefield laboratory for JSOC’s new ground-level architecture. The CIA’s drone based targeted-killing program was falling out of favor with the administration due to political fallout in places like Yemen and Pakistan. Meanwhile, JSOC provided a working model of up-close and personal assassinations that slipped completely under the radar. The program was already spreading to Yemen and Jordan, but the bureaucrats were dragging their feet way too long with Syria. He needed to get his boys into the country so that they could start cutting the grass, otherwise Syria would become a straight-up terrorist stronghold.
Every study confirmed that the rebels would be defeated within another year by Assad’s Hezbollah-backed regime, so the President finally made a decision. They would begin backing the Free Syrian Army, first only covertly, but now they would overtly assist. Still, no authorization for JSOC to play, just support. Like Angola during the Cold War, America’s policy was not to win in Syria, but rather to deny the enemy an easy victory. If that sounded Machiavellian, that is because it was.
Corbett set his cell phone down as he saw his old friend approach.
“Jim,” Russ Corbett said as he got to his feet and shook his friend’s hand. “Thanks for coming.”
“Anything for you, Russ.”
As the two sat down the waiter came over to take their drink orders. Russ ordered a Blue Moon. Jim asked for a glass of water. The retired General was known to be a long-distance runner who kept an immaculate diet, even since separating from the military several years prior. The two Officers had first crossed paths way back when Jim McCoy had been the commander of 2nd Ranger Battalion. Then, later, they’d worked together in JSOC. McCoy had the honor of being JSOC commander for an unprecedented six years. Someone liked him in that position. Really liked him.
Then, it all came crashing down and Corbett got tapped for the job.
To his credit, McCoy had taken it all in stride and admirably fell on the sword as the administration demanded his resignation.
“So what are you up to these days, Jim?” Russ began.
McCoy waited until the server had set their drinks down and left before speaking.
“Staying busy with my leadership courses that we run through the McCoy Group. Some solid contracts in Yemen and a few other places. What’s up?”
“It is the other places that I’m interested in.”
“You know me Russ. First and foremost, I’m a patriot. If there is anything I can do to help, you just have to ask.”
“Well, this is the thing Jim, a number of people that my office has been looking at have been getting killed lately. It is too systematic to be random. I’ve talked to the Agency, talked to the Israelis, talked to all the players and they deny it. I’ve got private verification at this point as well. Whoever is behind taking down these targets is a pro.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that these are our people.”
The Naval officer lifted his glass of beer and took a drink. Jim McCoy’s expression was unreadable. Blank. He said nothing. That’s how Russ knew he was on the right track.
“I don’t know what tribe they came out of, but these have to be our people. Separated from the service, working for some off-shore military contractor,” Russ continued.
“I can see how you would arrive at that conclusion.”
“So we’re on the same page?”
“I’m afraid I don’t see how I can be of any help in this matter.”
The waiter interrupted their conversation as he came to take their food orders. Russ had his usual. McCoy ordered the Bison burger and asked the waiter to hold the fries. He would eat the burger with a fork and knife and leave the bun as he always did. Taking their menus, the waiter departed for the kitchen.
“The world is tearing itself apart,” the retired General began. “This administration is compromising national security. In another few years he will be gone to go write his memoirs and tour the country doing speaking engagements before picking up a job in some think tank. Then guys like you and me will be left holding the mess that he created. We will have inherited an unworkable situation in the Middle East.
“He forced Mubarak out; clearly the wrong move. We had a good deal going with Gaddafi and many worked very hard to get him into our camp, but we did flip him. Then the President helps the militias overthrow him without the slightest understanding of the region and the complicated east, west, and south tribal conflict overlaid on top of sectarian issues.”
Russ sighed. He dealt with it everyday and knew of the issues far too well.
“It isn’t even him, Jim. Look at who his advisers are. The dynamic duo of Cass Sunstein and Samantha Powers are crafting foreign policy. This administration is way out of their league and they’ve got a bunch of amateurs running the show. Meanwhile, the President is content to deal with petty domestic issues because the racial stuff is what he is comfortable with. And what his staff is comfortable having him deal with.”
“What do you expect from an inexperienced bureaucrat?” Jim said. “He had one term in the Senate and prior to that he was what? A community organizer? What the fuck does that even mean?”
“I fight this battle everyday, Jim. Trust me, I know. It has never been this bad. He has staffers on his National Security Council calling four star Generals in the Pentagon and reading them the riot act. It is unprecedented. The President has put out this bullshit message that he has a team of rivals working together but the reality is that he has a staff with zero national security experience calling the shots.
“I’m lucky that I have a good relationship with him, but others are not so fortunate. The Secretary of Defense can’t even talk to him, he has to go through his staff. It is even worse for the Director of Central Intelligence. I admit that it is bad, but things will change after the next election.”
“It isn’t enough,” Jim stated flatly. “Al Qaeda is not on the run, they are not backing down. We are. Meanwhile, the administration has been fomenting revolutions in the Middle East without knowing how to control or contain them. The way this is going, we’re going to end up like Robespierre in the French Revolution. In the end, everyone gets their head cut off.
“We can’t let some radical in the White House undo decades of work,” Jim finished.
Now, Russ was starting to put together what this was about. Jim McCoy saw himself as holding together America’s counter-terrorism strategy. After his unprecedented stint at JSOC commander, he was not willing to let it go, resignation or not.
“You have to let me fight this battle,” Russ said. “We can negotiate with him. Then we contain him and stall his people until the next election.”
“Do you know how much more damage he can do over the next couple years? We don’t have that kind of time here. With or without him, we’ve got business to take care of. There is a group of us that are not content to sit by and watch this happen. You box him in and slow him down. I understand your position better than most. Let us do our part.”
“This is going to blow up in our faces.”
“Just hold the high ground as long as you can. Once he is out, there is a group of people waiting in the wings. Once the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda, and all these other idiots are done destroying each other and their countries, then we will move in. The next Presidency is going to take charge of this mess and clean things up. I’m talking about completely redrawing the map of the Middle East, redrawing it in a manner favorable to our national interests. Then we deal with Iran. Then China.”
Russ found himself at a loss for words. Finally, he relented.
“That is acceptable.”
When their food arrived the retired General and the Admiral made small talk. Jim was thinking about teaching a few classes at Harvard or Yale. He was also thinking about political office himself one day, which had been obvious to Russ. Jim McCoy had been feeling out both parties to see which one would give him a better deal. But that would be further down the line, not the next election, maybe the one after that.
Russ talked about his family, his wife and their three kids. One was already in college, the other two in High School. They relived a few war stories from the Task Force days in Iraq back when McCoy was the JSOC commander and the Admiral worked under him. Finally, they caught up on the careers and gossip of various other Officers they knew.
When Russ asked for the bill, Jim told him he already took care of it.
They stood up to leave and made their way to the door.
“There is one other thing,” Russ said. He closed the distance and spoke in Jim’s ear. “The targets that I have getting killed. Their bodies are usually mutilated. In the same manner. Scalpings, top of the heads shot off, shit like that.”
“You know anything about that?”
While not widely known, Corbett had been a Dev Group commander back when the unit was first formed. He had been kicked out of the unit after receiving a vote of no confidence from his men. The reason for the no confidence vote was because he had refused to engage in mutually compromising behavior.
“Do I want to know anything about that?” McCoy restated the question as they walked out the door and onto the sidewalk. “Listen, Russ. Sometimes you need bad people to go after other bad people. You know that.”
“This is a little excessive.”
“The only way to get things done in this political climate. The type of people who do this type of work are not like you and me. That is just the reality of sending people on what they know is a suicide mission. But just like the Arabs, they will continue to fight each other and all die in the process. The hell with it.”
Jim patted his old friend on the back.
“It is what it is, Russ. Let me worry about these things, huh?”
“If you say so Jim.”
“I do,” the retired General said as he walked off. “And by the way, watch your ass around those journalists okay? They will be the death of you.”