President George Bush returned home Sunday to learn that, in his absence, Secretary of State Colin Powell had promised $350 million of aid to victims of the December 26 tsunami in Southeast Asia.
"Frankly, I was shocked," the president said. "We could have paid for a couple of days in Iraq for that kind of money."
The tsunami began with an earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richtor scale. Sixty-foot waves traveling 500 miles an hour slammed into countries across the region, reaching up to 10 miles inland. The death toll thus far is estimated at 155,000 people.
"I heard about the tsunami, of course, as I was beginning my vacation last Sunday," Bush said. "I thought it was the beginning of the Apocalypse. When Colonboy called, I told him 'Whatever.' It didn't really matter what he did after I ascended."
"Ordinarily," the president continued, "I'd have directed Colonboy to Big Dick, but the vice president was rushing to a secret underground base in Virginia."
"I still don't understand how he expected to ascend through a mile of solid rock."
On Wednesday, with no angels in sight, the president held a news conference from his ranch to announce that he has formed an international coalition to respond to the disaster. Joining the United States will be India, Japan and Australia.
"And Poland. Don't forget Poland," said the president that day.
"It's important," the president continued, "For the world to know that our government is focused and will continue to respond to help those who suffer."
Bush then continued clearing brush. Later that day, he went bicycling.
Several days later, Bush had licked the brush problem on his ranch. He returned to the White House -- tanned, rested and ready.
Secretary of State Colin Powell was also shocked, according to aides.
"The president had never listened to me before," Powell said to one aide, not realizing a reporter stood nearby. "He ignored my warning not to rush into the Iraqi quagmire. Frankly, sometimes I thought he just kept me around to look respectable."
"I told him it was the right thing to do," Powell continued. "But besides that, it was the public relations opportunity of a lifetime. I asked him to picture U.S. flags on relief supplies delivered to the most populous Islamic region in the world -- one of the primary recruiting centers for al Qaeda."
"The president said he was truly not that concerned about al Qaeda."
Confronted with the conversation later, Powell told reporters that he trusts the president, as the president trusted him.
"The president conveyed, in one word, his trust in me to orchestrate our nation's aid to the victims of this disaster," Powell said. "I suggested $15 million, half the expected cost of the upcoming inauguration. The president did not feel it was enough. I upped it to $35 million. The president was still not satisfied. He suggested the final figure."
Powell is leaving the administration in Bush's second term. He has been considered both a competent voice of reason and a loyal soldier in Bush's cabinet. He'll be replaced by National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, who is also considered loyal.
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