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In October 2002, twenty-four year old Michael Sullivan moves from a job in lobbying to one in the diplomatic corps at the UN, he getting the job despite he feeling the interview having gone badly. He comes from a family of diplomats with both his father and his older sister having served - the former who was killed in 1983 in the US Embassy bombing in Beirut - and thus feels it is in his blood, his hope to make some difference in the world. He is assigned to be the assistant to Costa Pasaris - Pasha - the Undersecretary to the Oil for Food program, the largest ever humanitarian program in the organization. The program is to have Iraqi oil sold at market value with no proceeds going to the regime of Saddam Hussein, in exchange for food and medicine to the Iraqi populace who have suffered under that regime in Hussein filling his own coffers instead. Pasha quickly begins to see Michael as a trusted and valuable aide for the program, particularly against naysayers, especially internal ones such as the Field Director in Iraq, Christina Dupre, who believes the program is rampant with corruption. Michael does sees signs of corruption within the program while in Baghdad, such as the hospitals and medical clinics in Iraq being provided expired and thus useless medications. But it isn't until he begins to trust his Iraqi interpreter, Nashim Hussani, that he begins to believe that there are bigger issues at play, including the fate of his predecessor, who he knows was killed in a car accident, but who Nashim implies was murdered for information he possessed about the program. Michael has to decide who to trust with conflicting information from Nashim and Pasha. When Michael finally comes to the realization of what is happening, he has to decide how best to exact justice and change regardless of the repercussions on his diplomatic career.