WASHINGTON, DC—Chad Halpern, U.S. Ambassador to Bulungi since 1996, has been asked to return to Washington to face allegations that the West African nation does not exist.
"While nothing has been substantiated as of yet," President Clinton told reporters at a press conference Monday, "it appears Ambassador Halpern may have made the country up."
According to Clinton, suspicions first arose last month when Côte d'Ivoire president Henri Konan Bédié attended a formal state dinner at the White House. When Secretary of State Madeleine Albright asked Bédié for an update on the fighting between Côte d'Ivoire's army and Bulungi's Mukka-Lukka rebels, Bédié replied, "I am sorry, I do not understand of what you speak."
Albright then explained to Bédié that Ambassador Halpern had recently informed her that the fighting between Côte d'Ivoire and Bulungi had reached a breaking point, with Côte d'Ivoire's army advancing all the way to the Bulungian capital of Yabba-Dabba.
"After dinner that night," Clinton said, "Secretary Albright and I made the decision to look up Bulungi in an atlas. Unfortunately, we were unable to locate it. We also looked for it in a large dictionary, under several different spellings, but again, we were without success."
Ambassador Halpern, 24, of Laguna Beach, CA, was appointed to his post by President Clinton after a chance meeting at the Laguna Beach McDonald's where Halpern worked at the time. After discussing Bulungian politics with Halpern for more than two hours, Clinton was impressed enough to name him ambassador.
"Mr. Halpern is a charismatic and persuasive young man," Clinton said two years ago at a ceremony marking the appointment. "I am confident that with his great expertise, the U.S. can reestablish strong relations with Bulungi and help the nation move beyond all the problems that has plagued it in the past, such as last year's tribal war between the Dodos and the Mukka-Lukkas, and the Great Bongo Drought of 1994."
Pending further investigation, Halpern's $11,500 monthly salary—which has been sent to his girlfriend in Tahiti for the past two years due to Bulungi's lack of banks—has been suspended. For the past two years, Halpern's girlfriend's phone line in Tahiti has also been serving as a switchboard for routing calls between Halpern and Washington, a situation the ambassador explained was necessary because "the phones here in Bulungi are just all fucked up."
Despite the suspicions surrounding Halpern, Albright praised the ambassador, saying he has done "an excellent job monitoring a period in Bulungian history marked by often intense sectional surfing competitions." Albright did not, however, deny that a number of the phone calls between them were characterized by giggling.
According to Albright, while Halpern said that getting a ticket for a flight to Washington would be "a bitch," the ambassador assured her he would be on the next available D.C.-bound flight departing from Bulungi's Primo-Ganja Airport.