Outgoing national security affairs adviser Robert McFarlane walked into a book party at the Palm last night just hours after his announced resignation, and boy, did he look like a man who had seen better days. The cameras clicked and the piranhas descended.
Why did he resign?
Does he know what he'll be doing after this?
Would he like a drink?
"A vodka martini. And soon."
McFarlane was more or less the guest of honor (or at least the star guest) at this publication party for "Fighting Back: Winning the War Against Terrorism." He wrote the foreword to the book, which is a compilation of essays by experts in the field, many of whom are conservative Republicans working for the government.
Still, it was rather surprising to see a man who had just resigned amid reports of ugly White House infighting subject himself to two hours of sympathy as only Washington can dish it out. He was the topic of conversation as he worked the room, sometimes looking rather uncomfortable when he was left alone.
"You've certainly taken your lumps today," the head of the State Department's Counterterrorism Office, Robert Oakley, told him.
"I'll be back," McFarlane said somberly.
When he addressed the guests -- about 200 squished into the Palm's front room -- McFarlane made a little speech about terrorism, and then deadpanned his best line of the night. It broke the tension like a needle exploding a baby's balloon.
"I think that at the time I wrote the foreword, the authors thought I would lend something to the work," he said, "but I'm not sure that having a has-been associated with it is going to do much good."
Everyone laughed all too knowingly.
Meanwhile, the principal coauthors, Neil C. Livingstone, a national security consultant, and Terrell Arnold, a former State Department official, happily greeted the overflow.
The two said the book came about because of what they consider a dearth of information on an ever-increasing global problem. But wait. There's more.
It seems that about one year ago some so-called national security experts gathered in Rhode Island for a government-sponsored program, nicknamed "War Games."
Yes, it was exactly what it sounds like. A group of adults sat around for a day and simulated declarations of war and acts of terrorism and invented solutions. No one will say exactly where they met or which agency sponsored it. ("Oh I can't," explained Livingstone. "I signed something saying I wouldn't.") But it was there that Livingstone and Arnold got their idea.
"We saw the problem at the meeting," said Livingstone. "That really put an inspiration in our minds. It gave everyone a chance in a secluded environment to get a lot off our chests and to understand a lot of the frustrations. We felt the media and public statements made on the subject were not enough."
"There simply hadn't been any discussion on terrorism," said Victoria Toensing, a deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department and a contributor. "Everyone thought a lot needed to be said."
At least two former hostages seem to think it's said well in "Fighting Back." Both Jeremy Levin, the Cable News Network Beirut bureau chief who escaped after 11 months of captivity by terrorists, and Bruce Laingen, a former Iranian hostage, sang the book's praises last night.
"Having gone through the ordeal, I have a much deeper interest in the subject matter," said Levin. Levin is back at CNN now, but working in administration instead of news because terrorism is one subject he is not neutral about. "CNN has realized that I have a personal commitment to my fellow hostages and so they are trying to accommodate me," he said. "I am not on the editorial firing line now, but we look forward to the time when I can put all this behind me and go back to doing what I do best."
"I have a deeper sense of appreciation for the American cost of terrorism," said Laingen. "The more we know about it the better."
By the end, when all the Palm fries were gone, as was the breathlessness about McFarlane, he quietly slipped out the door into his waiting car.
"Could we schedule you for an interview for CBS?" a producer stopped him to ask.
"No," said McFarlane. "You don't want to interview a has-been."
His car sped away into the chilled darkness.