The new president had always been calm under pressure; a preternatural, even supernatural calm. They had said he would be tested in his first few months of office and, as I looked around that Cabinet table, I knew we were in the presence of the mother of all crises.
Iran was intransigent, tuning Hezbollah for further incursions into Israel. North Korea was reneging on all the half-deals we had winkled out of them. The Pakistanis were arming the Taliban to the north, as well as hawking their nuclear technology to half the bad guys on the planet. Gaza was exploding, the Russians were restive while the Chinese were playing their long game of no-good with trademark poker faces.
What would America do? As Official Historian, I knew the words I was about to write would be the stuff of textbooks for the next hundred years.
As the PowerPoint flashed and the crises were summarised, the president seemed, if anything, even more relaxed. I believe that no-one in that room could see any way out: the world had boxed America in. All eyes turned to the president.
He slowly swept his gaze around the room, caught everyone’s eye, and in that mellifluous voice which had captivated millions he murmured a list.
“Tehran, Pyongyang, Islamabad, Damascus, Gaza City, ....”
He gestured forward the uniformed officer who always stood beside him – a man invisible to us through his very ubiquity.
He held out his hand: “The GO codes” he said.