The United States State Department, using Microsoft's new live teleconferencing software, set up a conference call over computers between Jacques Chirac of France, Vladimir Putin of Russia, Angela Merkel of Germany, George Bush of the United States, Tony Blair of Great Britain, Mahmoud Abbas of Palestine, Ehud Olmert of Israel, Fouad Siniora of Lebanon, and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. Though there were interpreters present online in the event of a software glitch, Microsoft's live teleconferencing software contained a language conversion program.
A Microsoft technician was on hand in each of the nine locations, all communicating by both satellite phone and via AOL Instant Messenging, the back-up to MSN Messenger which was currently down, to the embarrassment of the Microsoft executives, though the techs almost always used AOL's AIM program.
The United States State Department was enamored with the new technological realities and was hoping that these new technologies would bring the world closer together by fostering communication. This was a very important conference. The topic was the war being waged in Lebanon, and the conference was prompted by Jacques Chirac's call for an international force to be deployed in southern Lebanon, which was received well by Ehud Olmert of Israel, to the surprise of everyone. No one expected Israel to accept such a proposal. This internet conference was meant to flesh out the particulars.
"I am glad my proposal has been received well," said Chirac as he sat in front of a 27-inch plasma screen that had little video feeds of each head of state participating in the conference. Each feed had its own square of plasma-screen real estate with the name of the person and their country below. Chirac was drinking a soy-milk cappuccino.
"I think it may be time to explore this issue," said Olmert, who sat in front of a 17-inch Dell computer monitor wearing a tie and jacket.
"I think it is a good idea that Germany deploy forces as soon as possible," said Chirac.
"Excuse me?" said Merkel, who was struggling with a 21-inch Acer computer monitor that seemed to only work in black and white.
"That was my proposal. That Germany take the lead," said Chirac.
"I never heard you say a thing about any particular nation taking the lead," said Merkel.
"Well, if I understand it correctly, the United States has no interest in taking the lead, is that true?" asked Chirac.
"Nope. No interest," said Bush.
"Let's explore Germany taking the lead," said Putin who had just finished a three-mile jog and was wearing baby-blue Nike running pants and tank top with white New Balance shoes. Putin was sitting on an upholstered chair facing two 30-inch plasma screens, one containing the conference, and the other showing an old re-run of American Idol. Putin did not seem to care that he had come to a very important conference in his jogging outfit.
"No. Let's not approach the problem from that perspective. France proposed it, so let France take the lead," said Merkel.
"That would be impossible given our history in Lebanon," said Chirac.
"Hey, why can't Egypt take the lead. That OK with you Hosni," said Bush who was proud to be facing his 30-inch Apple monitor. There was a concern that the Microsoft teleconferencing software would not work on a Mac computer running Boot Camp, but the Mac was doing just fine.
"I do not think that would be a good idea. It would be viewed as Egypt taking the side of Israel in this confrontation," said Mubarak. Mubarak did not feel comfortable with all the technology. He felt it accelerated problems rather than accelerated solutions. Mubarak preferred face-to-face meetings to get to know someone and learn to trust them. The Sony VAIO laptop provided by the Microsoft executives was sitting in front of Mubarak on the teak table.
"And what is wrong with taking Israel’s side? We did not start this confrontation," said Olmert.
"It would not be wise for any nation to take the lead. It should be multi-national in nature," said Putin.
"Didn't you say, Vlad, that Russia would commit troops?" asked Bush.
"I said we may commit troops in the context of a multi-national force. It would be appear we do not have a consensus on this issue," said Putin.
"Where are the Chinese?" asked Bush.
"They have no interest in committing troops," said Blair who was typing an instant message to his wife using AIM and his private AIM screen name. Blair had a Dell laptop on his lap, of all places, but the large 27-inch Sharp LCD monitor on a rolling stand was the screen with the conference.
"Shucks. The Chinese have so many troops, it would be such an easy thing," said Bush.
"But getting them there, and keeping them there, the Chinese do not have the capacity for such a deployment," said Blair.
"So we are back to Germany," said Chirac.
"What's with you and Germany in this thing. Germany cannot commit troops by itself," said Merkel.
"Possibly we can get Syria to assist," said Abbas, who was in the Lucky Star computer store in Nazareth. Abbas was standing and looking at an LG computer monitor on a shelf with other monitors that were all for sale. The LG monitor that carried the conference had a price tag on it.
"That's ridiculous, Mahmoud. Syria prompted Hezbollah to start this," said Olmert.
"And maybe Syria can get Hezbollah to stop," said Chirac.
"I think getting Syria involved would be a good step," said Mubarak.
"Yes. I agree," said Abbas.
"Something to think about," said Putin.
'We do not have time for thinking. My nation is being destroyed," said Siniora. Fouad Siniora had had enough of this talk when he had just heard yet another bomb hit Beirut. Siniora was the Prime Minister of Lebanon, a country he loved but had little power to control. All he could do was nudge it one way and then another. But now, Siniora just wanted the bombing to stop. The two Microsoft technicians with Siniora were shipped in from Tel Aviv via a police boat and were tapping their feet with nervous energy.
"You for an international force, Foo-ad," asked Bush.
"Yes. Yes. If it would stop this insanity," said Siniora.
"The only one willing to take the lead appears to be Israel," said Bush.
"That is not acceptable," said Mubarak.
"But if not Israel, then who?" asked Bush.
"NATO?" said Olmert.
"NATO is over-extended," said Blair.
"I'm telling you Israel is the only one stepping up to the plate," said Bush.
"But that is not why we are having this conference. This conference is for the purpose of disengaging Israel from southern Lebanon and replacing it with a neutral party," said Chirac.
"Yes, but who?" asked Putin.
"We certainly can't. We're stuck in Iraq," said Blair.
"This brings me back to Germany," said Chirac.
"Are you trying to be funny?" asked Merkel.
"What about Egypt. I ask you again, Hosni. It would be a good thing," said Bush.
"Not without the cover of a multi-national force. And I would like Syria to be involved. It would make life easier for me," said Mubarak.
"Well then, why don't we just let Israel take the lead while we figure this all out," said Bush.
"No. No. No. We have no time. You must send in a force. Now. And the bombing must stop," said Siniora.
"Calm down, Foo-ad. Lebanon has been through worse," said Bush.
"Can Israel at least agree to keep its confrontation in the south and leave Beirut alone?" asked Siniora.
"We have military considerations that prohibit limiting our operation," said Olmert.
"Oh, this is ridiculous," said Siniora.
"OK. OK. I suggest Israel take the lead and try as soon as possible to restrict its operation to the southern part of Lebanon," said Bush.
"That is what we were and are doing, prior to this conference. That would change nothing," said Olmert.
"Good, then we have an agreement. Progress has been made," said Bush.
At this point, Fouad Siniora hung up his internet connection. He walked out of the room as the two Microsoft technicians quickly packed up their own laptop computers to depart for the Beirut port where the Israeli police boat was waiting for them.
"Hey, what happened to Foo-ad?" asked Bush.
"It sounded like a bomb. Was that a bomb Ehud?" asked Putin.
"I cannot disclose details of our military operation," said Olmert.
"We understand," said Bush.
"Which brings us back to Germany," said Chirac.
At that moment, all the computer screens froze, freezing the faces of each head of state on the respective computer monitors.
"Hey, what's wrong," asked Bush.
"I am not sure. Maybe the disconnection of the Lebanon computer has revealed a bug in the program," said one of the Microsoft technicians standing in the West Wing conference room with Bush and the 30-inch Apple monitor which sat on the long conference table.
"Well, it was fun while it lasted. Get Blair and Merkel on the telephone," said Bush as he got up, left the room and headed for the bathroom without announcing his destination.