What if…China intervened in Gaza?

The People’s Republic of China task force departed the huge naval base in Djibouti just as the Chinese ambassador began to speak at the UN Security Council. The People’s Republic, he said, was no longer willing to tolerate the suffering of the people of Gaza. China was going to intervene directly in the conflict.

The global response was predictable.

Those states opposed to Israel, deftly sidestepped the novelty of China taking the high moral road and endorsed the audacious action.

The United States and some of its European allies condemned the announcement, and the US Navy put the Mediterranean fleet on standby.

In Tel Aviv, the Israeli cabinet met in crisis session. The far-right elements of the cabinet called on Israel’s defense forces to attack and destroy the Chinese task force before it entered the canal. The Chief of Staff (COS) of the Israeli military was less than enthusiastic about the proposal. He pointed out that satellite images provided by their American allies showed the Chinese task force was a very significant military force, centered around the People’s Republic’s newest aircraft carrier.

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What if….the United States left NATO?

(Posted Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine 2022)

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s a common trope of the political thriller was a devious plot by the KGB to break up the western alliance, normally through the dismantling of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). In Alfred Coppel’s “The Hastings Conspiracy”, for example, a plot involved the KGB revealing to the leftwing British government that there existed a secret US plan to invade the UK (landing at Hastings, in case you’re interested), Colin Forbes’ “The Stone Leopard” involved a group of French, British and German agents racing to stop Moscow putting a Soviet agent into the Elysee Palace and pulling French forces out of Germany ahead of a Soviet invasion through the Fulda Gap. Chris Mullin’s “A Very British Coup” hinged on a plot by the CIA to stop Jeremy Corbyn Harry Perkins pulling Britain out of NATO. Both “The Fourth Protocol” and, eh, “Octopussy” had key plot points hinging on something very similar.

There were some books that speculated at a US withdrawal back into isolation, but relatively few: it was taken as read that the US was the anchor of western defence both out of value belief and in its own naked self-interest.

Then Donald Trump was elected President, and the party of Ronald Reagan and Eisenhower became the party of Lindbergh. Under Trump it was mostly mouth, a man who was too chaotic to pursue a policy of withdrawal even if he really believed it, which probably depended as much as what day it was as any intellectual conviction. But Trump aside, isolationism, fueled by Fox News charlatans who see any sort of engagement with liberal elements abroad as grounds to whip up hysteria have seriously undermined American commitment to NATO, and the idea of the US withdrawal, whilst still unlikely, is no longer ludicrous. What if it happened…

The near future. The new administration had moved much faster than anyone had expected, given the relative closeness of the election result. This was primarily at the hands of a bevy of new National Security Council appointees who would never had seen the inside of the building under the Bush, Reagan or indeed any previous post-war administration. These were young men who had been born in the 80s and 90s and even later and were more familiar with The Turner Diaries and Ayn Rand and sarcastic put downs on cable news shows than strategic thinking. Withdrawal from NATO was more, to them, about sticking it to foreigners, effete socialist Europeans who had lived off the backs of hard working Joe Sixpack for decades. America didn’t need alliances. America was strong. And any way: China was the enemy that needed to be faced down and Europe was of little or any use in that regard.

In Europe, as ever, surprise was the first call of the day. Yes, the new president had been very clear about his intentions, but no one is capable of self-delusion as Europeans are. Even watching the president announce that, whilst Congress debated withdrawal, he was signing an executive order to pull out US forces over six months and disavow any US commitment to defend any NATO country. He signed the document live on air and held it up to the camera, his massive signature covering half the page. He liked signing pieces of paper on camera.

The news that the US was leaving NATO triggered the European response to everything: a summit in Brussels, attended by the remainder of NATO. To say it was chaotic was an understatement. The Canadians earnestly stated their commitment to NATO which was received with the grateful eyes of a mortgage defaulting parent being offered a child’s piggy-bank. The Turks glowered at everyone. The French and the Germans immediately flew to Moscow. The British looked pained and paralyzed and announced a defence pact with New Zealand. The Hungarians wrote down everything everybody said. In Russian.

The Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians had their own meeting, with the Finns and Swedes quietly sitting in. The Poles revealed a secret, to gasps.

The moment the last US plane lifted off, that very moment, Russian troops ploughed across the border and annexed another chunk of Ukraine. The Ukrainians, with limited support from the British, Poles and Baltic states, put up a noble, robust and doomed defence, surrendering after three weeks of vicious fighting. The EU made a very robust speech at the UN.

A new summit attempted to confront the reality: that for the first time in over 75 years, European nations were now solely responsible for their own defence. There was no Deus Ex America to save them from the Russians.

As with so many challenges facing Europe, the problem was not finding the right or even credible solution. A small group of nations proposed the creation of a Combined European Defence Force, putting into physical existence the reality that Europe was both big enough and wealthy enough to defend itself from almost any threat, if it had the will.

As ever, it was the will that was the problem for Europe. The new Le Pen government in France was only remaining in NATO, critics said, to wreck NATO from the inside, and was openly hostile to contributing to the defence of the Baltic states. Germany’s political system was dominated by Russian penetration and overly optimistic free traders concerned only really with German exports. The British were divided between a pro-Russian left and an anti-European right that couldn’t really believe the US had left, and openly discussed some sort of merger with the US and Canada to guffaws from even their ideological allies in the new administration in Washington.

Having said that, neither France nor Germany was dumb enough not to recognise that US withdrawal also presented a huge commercial opportunity. A European Army in whatever form it took would need to purchase fighters, drones, tanks and all the high tech infrastructure needed to operate them effectively. The problem was that those nations genuinely concerned for their safety, within striking distance of the Russian border, were out of patience. As they looked at the tent cities holding refugees from Ukraine dotted throughout their countries, they saw the threat for real, and decided that their foot-dragging neighbours, whilst free to join, would not be permitted to hold them back.

The Treaty of Warsaw, creating a European Defence Community, was signed by Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania, Norway, Finland and Sweden. A request by Hungary to join was humiliatingly rejected as long as FIDESZ remained in office, and a robust method to expel rogue members was put in place. Unlike previous aspirational political compacts, the treaty clearly outlined what forces from each nation would be transferred to a combined Continental European Defence Command (CEDC) under a Supreme Commander, European Forces (SCEUR). The treaty dealt with wavering nations by formally transferring command of the assigned units for a fixed two year period with a 12 month period required for a nation to regain command early. A respected Polish general was appointed on the same day, with a Finnish deputy. The treaty also committed CEDC to purchasing specific numbers of fighters, tanks and other equipment and to raising a volunteer force in addition to existing transferred national troops by specific dates. Members that failed to reach their targets would be suspended from voting and possibly expelled. Finally, CEDC agreed to raise a €100 billion bond to fund the new force, with the money earmarked to be spend primarily in the member nations unless the equipment was unavailable. This particular clause caused ructions in the United States, where the new administration discovered that, having stepped away from Europe, it had far less leverage on getting its share of European defence procurement. Anti-NATO Republicans were shocked to see the big defence firms suddenly develop an interest in Democratic congressional candidates.

The response in Berlin and Paris was different. Le Pen flew into a rage on discovering, a week later, that the wily Swedish prime minister had secured British membership of the organisation by agreeing to English being the official working language, a proposal that had few objectors. He also agreed that the next supreme commander of the CEDC would be British. In return, the British contributed both physically and financially.  The French president found herself being lambasted in the National Assembly for allowing France be outmanouvered, especially given that huge defence contracts were about to be issued and France, having refused to join, was not eligible to seek them. In the Bundestag, a different state of affairs reigned, where those in the German parliament who had always supported a European army were now demanding of the government why Germany was not joining it? Again, German arms manufacturers were asking the same questions their French counterparts were: why was Germany not in line for its share?

The French government had to settle for an association with the CEDC where France could bid for contracts in return for a financial contribution to the organisation, as the Baltic states vetoed France joining as long as Le Pen was president because “we believe her” about not defending them. It was humiliating, so much so that her two-term centrist predecessor returned from his honeymoon to announce that he had changed his mind and would seek a third term on the pledge of France committing to the CEDC fully from day one. Looking fit and tanned in a crisp white open-necked shirt as he strolled through Charles De Gaulle holding hands with his beautiful new wife, he told the gathered media that it was obscene that Le Pen had created a situation where “Les Rosbifs” were taking a greater role in Europe’s defence than the republic. “An attack on Finland, an attack on Estonia is an attack on France!” he declared.

The German government agreed to the terms quietly and it went through the Bundestag with only the extremes of left and right objecting. The German Constitution was amended to permit the transfer of command of a section of the Bundesweher and Luftwaffe to SCEUR. Belgium, Luxembourg, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands quickly joined. The Italian parliament erupted into a blazing row nominally over the European Defence Community treaty but in reality over a string of political corruption prosecutions. The Italian president and former ECB president rang the young Polish President to reassure her that despite the political drama, if Russia invades, “Italy will not be found wanting.” Ireland called for the United Nations to do something.

In Moscow, the aging Putin, seeing the lay of the land, decided to mobilize quickly, ordering a build up on the Estonian border before the CEDC could be organised. When his generals revealed that the actual ability of European forces was now that they could inflict serious damage on Russia’s forces, probably not enough to stop them but enough to turn the war into a long-running conflict that Russia could not afford, Putin let it be known that Russia would consider the use of tactical nuclear weapons if European forces did not capitulate quickly. He had never really believed in the concept of the NATO nuclear umbrella for one simple reason: the nations that needed it most had no nuclear weapons of their own, and Paris, London and Washington were simply not going to invite retaliation on their own soil despite all the bluster.

That night, the Polish president, accompanied by the Baltic and Finnish presidents put out an address in English. She announced that, on hearing the Russian threat to detonate tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, the five countries had been working on a Polish-led nuclear weapons programme, and that they had the ability to respond with short-range weapons in response to any Russian first use.

“We cannot destroy Russia,” she declared. “But we can respond in Kaliningrad, Belarus, and even in a city President Putin holds dear, so let the president understand us very clearly. We will never use nuclear weapons first. But we will respond in kind. We will, after this broadcast, communicate to you the size and yield of these weapons, and you will realise they can be carried by a single fighter, a drone, a fishing boat, a team of special forces with huskies over a border or even on the back of a truck sitting in St. Petersburg traffic. If we, the leaders of our respective countries die in a first strike, the protocol is in place to retaliate. Do not test us on this, Mr President.”

The Republican Party platform from 1952…

Lot Detail - 1952 Richard Nixon & Dwight Eisenhower Presidential Jugate ...

The Republican Party believes that regular and adequate income for the employee together with uninterrupted production of goods and services, through the medium of private enterprise, are essential to a sound national economy. This can only be obtained in an era of industrial peace.

With the above in mind, we favor the retention of the Taft-Hartley Act, which guarantees:

To the Working Man:

The right to quit his job at any time.

The right to take part in legal union activities.

The right to remain in his union so long as he pays his dues.

The right to protection against unfair practices by either employer or union officials.

The right to political activity of his own choice and freedom to contribute thereto.

The right to a job without first joining a union.

The right to a secret ballot in any election concerned with his livelihood.

The right to protection from personal financial responsibility in damage cases against his union.

To the Labor Unions:

The right to establish “union shop” contracts by agreement with management.

The right to strike.

The right to free collective bargaining.

The right to protection from rival unions during the life of union contracts.

The right to assurance from employers that they will bargain only with certified unions as a protection against unfair labor practices.

We urge the adoption of such amendments to the Taft-Hartley Act as time and experience show to be desirable, and which further protect the rights of labor, management and the public.

We condemn the President’s seizure of plants and industries to force the settlement of labor disputes by claims of inherent Constitutional powers.

Civil Rights

We condemn bigots who inject class, racial and religious prejudice into public and political matters. Bigotry is un-American and a danger to the Republic.

We deplore the duplicity and insincerity of the Party in power in racial and religious matters. Although they have been in office as a Majority Party for many years, they have not kept nor do they intend to keep their promises.

The Republican Party will not mislead, exploit or attempt to confuse minority groups for political purposes. All American citizens are entitled to full, impartial enforcement of Federal laws relating to their civil rights.

We believe that it is the primary responsibility of each State to order and control its own domestic institutions, and this power, reserved to the states, is essential to the maintenance of our Federal Republic. However, we believe that the Federal Government should take supplemental action within its constitutional jurisdiction to oppose discrimination against race, religion or national origin.

We will prove our good faith by:

Appointing qualified persons, without distinction of race, religion or national origin, to responsible positions in the Government.

Federal action toward the elimination of lynching.

Federal action toward the elimination of poll taxes as a prerequisite to voting.

Appropriate action to end segregation in the District of Columbia.

Enacting Federal legislation to further just and equitable treatment in the area of discriminatory employment practices. Federal action should not duplicate state efforts to end such practices; should not set up another huge bureaucracy.

Equal Rights

We recommend to Congress the submission of a Constitutional Amendment providing equal rights for men and women.

We favor legislation assuring equal pay for equal work regardless of sex.

What if…a nuclear attack on Israel?

nuke

Repost: originally written in 2015.

The weapon, later identified as a 10 mega-ton former Soviet warhead, detonated just as the new Knesset began proceedings. In a flash, Israel’s administrative capital, political leadership and just under three quarters of a million Israelis died, along with hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank.

The news was greeted in different ways. In the US, the president was rushed to the emergency national airborne command post, whilst the vice president and others were sent to the alternate national command centre in Mount Weather. US forces were ordered to def con 2.

In Cairo, Damascus, Tehran and Riyadh, spontaneous crowds gathered in grotesque displays of euphoria.

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What if…terrorists targeted the mega wealthy?

The assassination of The Richest Man In The World™ (TRM) was the biggest story in the world. The clip of a bullet passing through his skull, caught on a bystander’s phone as he exited a building in San Francisco, instantly became one of the defining images of the 21st century. He was dead before he hit the ground. Interestingly, it was not even to be the most startling event of the day.

That came exactly two hours later, when a handsome AI generated man in a video took credit for the murder. He informed the rapidly increasing number of viewers that an email containing information about the murder had been sent directly to the FBI and would confirm his claim to be the voice of the assassins.

He then introduced himself as George, after “another great revolutionary” and said that he spoke for The 99, an organization dedicated to addressing the wealth imbalance between the mega wealthy and everyone else. He stressed that he was neither on the far right or far left, and that this was not an ideological matter. This was a simple matter of wealth transfer. The murder of TRM, he said, was a statement of intent, a proof of concept as to their seriousness. But no one else need die.

He then published a list of the world’s 200 richest individuals, and offered a deal. If they transferred 10% of their wealth to a stated list of popular banks and micro finance charities across the world, and ordered that the money be distributed equally among every account holder with less than $1000 in their account, they would be safe for one year. As would their families.

George finished by saying that they would act again soon if the individuals did not respond within 72 hours.

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America through a cop show.

I have recently been watching the TV show “The Rookie” on Now TV. Now entering its sixth season, the show is about officer John Nolan (Nathan Fillion), a 45 year old construction contractor from Pennsylvania who becomes the oldest rookie in the history of the Los Angeles Police Department. 

It’s a very entertaining police procedural with a light sprinkling of humour, and also, as one binge watches, an interesting insight into how America sees itself on TV.

One of the constant themes of the show is the need for people to be “held accountable”, or the attribution of blame, a theme which the show is very self aware about.

Episode after episode is about working people who end up breaking laws which they simply do not have the financial capacity to obey. Whether it is affording motor tax, or leaving an elderly relative unattended so that you can attend the job interview that will help pay for her care, the show often focusses on how Americans set themselves levels of rigidity and personal responsibility that their social and economic model conspires to prevent them reaching.

Another constant theme which will strike an Irish viewer is the lack of pragmatic approaches by the police officers in the show to problems compared to say, how an Irish Garda would approach it.

One episode sees a single father who has recently lost his wife commit an opportunistic crime (he steals money from bank robbers) to help alleviate his son’s situation. The episode ends with the father being arrested, and the son handed over to social services, an outcome which satisfies no one and results in huge taxpayer cost and the breakup of a struggling family with the social costs that will entail. Yet the officers have no choice: everything is measured by arrest and conviction, with a sprinkling of puritan judgementalism.

I’m aware, in writing this, that I’m an advocate of more robust policing in Ireland. But I still support the need for police officers, as members of society, to be able to exercise judgement and pursue the path of least harm, a policy that the characters of “The Rookie” often yearn for in their daily policing.

The other striking aspect, and I’ve no idea how realistic this is, or whether it is just Hollywood hype, is how nearly every episode has a normalised gun battle on public streets involving the use of military grade fully automatic weapons, with civilians fleeing streets as thousands of rounds of ammunition are expended.  

Have a look: it’s a good show.  

 

 

Pressure Point: A Romney/Obama Adventure. (repost from 2012)

Obama, Romney battle over economic visionsRepost from 2012: The following post is an idea for a short story I had about Governor Romney and President Obama being locked in a room together. It’s a very long post. You have been warned!

The governor waved once more to the crowd in the Lynn University auditorium, and walked off the stage, Ann’s hand held firmly in his. In the wings, his campaign manager beamed his reaction to the governor’s performance in the final presidential debate with an enthusiastic two thumbs up.

“Governor, that was marvellous!” he said, with a wide grin. The governor raised an eyebrow. It had been the theme inside the campaign, his alleged 1950s style stiffness becoming a source of light ribbing from his campaign team. He actually found it  quite funny, especially as his sons were very much the ringleaders.

The debate had been the hardest of the three, with the president holding his own and the governor having to tread very carefully, especially on Iran. His pollsters had been very clear: Defend Israel Yes, lead America into another Republican war, a big fat No. He felt he had kept the balance.

His sons were giving him firm handshakes and slapping his back when he noticed the head of his Secret Service detail speaking to another man he didn’t recognise. The agent walked over.

“Governor, the president has asked that you join him. A traditional matter, I’m told.”

The governor stiffened. It was not commonly known, and he had certainly not known until he had been informed on winning his party’s nomination, that a communications line between the sitting president and his likely opponent was agreed early in the campaign. If the candidate was informed of the phrase “a traditional matter” it meant that there was a national security issue he needed to be briefed on, off the record and not for campaign exploitation. It was a matter of pride to all in the know that the system had never been abused since it was set up by President Ford in the 1970s. Continue reading

The US gun debate is missing a key point.

I recently finished “The second amendment: a biography” by Michael Waldman. It’s a very concise read and although it does come from a pro-gun control position, Waldman accepts that there is a considerable amount of ambiguity in both the US Constitution, Bill of Rights and indeed state legislation and precedent going back to the founding of the Republic. The truth is that one could argue both sides of the question: is there a right to bear arms for individuals in the United States?

A plain text reading of the second amendment taking into account the prevailing thought at the time probably leans against such a right existing. The reality is that the founding fathers were actually far more concerned with the possibility of a standing army existing, given their negative experiences of King George’s standing army, and therefore wished a militia made up of armed individuals to be willing and able to take the place of a standing army in the need of maintaining public order or the defence of the state.

It’s also worth noting that when Justice Antonin Scalia wrote his analysis in the 2008 Heller case which effectively created for the first time in US constitutional law a definitive right of an individual to own and bear arms, that Scalia was as engaged in the creative judicial activism which Conservatives so much complained about with regard to cases such as Roe Vs Wade.

The fact that the judge actually affectively ignored half the text of the amendment was as much an act of judicial adventurism as any act are carried out by a liberal judge seeking to find new rights in 200-year-old texts.

One thing that really comes out of the book, however, is the absolute danger of elevating a group of individual founding fathers a quarter of a millennium ago into holy men whose writings and thoughts are now treated as holy scripture.

It is a bizarre piece of American exceptionalism that the Constitution is held not just in reverence, as it should be,  but almost like a golden calf to be grovelled before.

It is, of course, easy from an Irish perspective when we have a relatively young constitution by American standards to talk about the need for a constitution to be a living document that reflects the reality of the times in which it has been applied.

Indeed many of the American right object entirely to the idea of the living document instead seeking Safe-haven in the concept of Originalism and the parsing of a specific text for answers and meaning, again like clergy attempting to interpret scripture.

For that is the problem. The founding fathers were not better than today’s Americans and almost certainly would not have wanted themselves to be regarded as being better than today’s Americans, or having some access to some higher level of wisdom that all the Americans living in today’s America don’t have access to.

The truth is that the United States badly needs to hold a revising constitutional convention where it’s elected representatives, whilst respecting the existing text and the service it has given to the American people, recognising that something as important as the Constitution should be revised on a regular basis to reflect the reality of the times in which a delivery.

Not, by the way, that I’m holding my breath as to something like that happening because we know full well how difficult it is to amend the US Constitution. But also that, given the sharp partisan divisions in the American Republic today, any sort of attempt to take a good-faith approach to revising the governing document of the Republic will be regarded with deep suspicion especially from the right but equally probably from the left as well.

It’s a pity because the constant referring back to a document written in an age radically different from the America that Americans live in today is one of the great injustices being inflicted upon the citizens of one of the greatest nations on Earth.

Thank God for the Americans.

“Americans! They’re all thick!” is a common remark in Irish circles after the latest eye-rolling piece of news that comes from stateside. It’s not unique to the Irish either: the rest of the world has no shortage of superior notions on hearing the latest from President Trump or the millions of gun-toting paranoiacs who voted for him. It’s very easy to feel smarter than the Average American.

And yet: here’s the thing. The United States is not just another country. It is a country so powerful that it can supply Ukraine with enough weapons to paralyse its former superpower rival whilst utilising a mere 5% of its defence budget. And not just any old weapons either. Advanced missile systems that allow a single infantryman to destroy a Russian tank worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. HIMARS missile systems which allow Ukraine to devastate Russian forces. US satellites that provide incredibly accurate information on enemy forces to Ukraine. Sure, the UK and France and Germany are contributing in their own ways, but the reality is this: Ukraine is not defeated because the United States stepped in and equipped a brave but shockingly underequipped Ukrainian army with the arsenal of democracy. The US saved Ukraine.

Not only that, but the US also maintains a vast nuclear arsenal and air force and 12 aircraft carriers where the nearest rival has two. Could it suddenly fight China if it had to? Probably. It would almost certainly require the US economy to shift from its current consumer footing to a military manufacturing mode, but it could do that, and what’s more, that’s when, the US really shines.

People forget what defeated both Nazism and the Empire of Japan. Yes, British and especially Russian blood sacrifice, but what did it was the incomprehensible heft of sheer American economic power. It was American steel and Studebaker trucks that kept the Soviets in the fight.

If a giant asteroid was detected to be on an impact course with Earth, who would we all turn to? Beijing? Brussels? London? No. Even if the EU got 20 year notice that a giant meteorite was going to destroy, say, Poland, we’d still not get our act together. Once again, we’d assume that only one country would have the mix of resources, know-how and sheer willpower to actually save humanity. And after they did it, we’d bitch about their arrogance and lack of consultation.

Can we rely on them forever? Probably not. The US feels like it is turning in on itself, and not just on its right. If there was, say, an Ocasio-Cortez led liberal landslide, there’d be a huge focus on building a massively expanded (and expensive) US welfare state with an American NHS at its core.

As if that is depressing enough, just remember that there is only one country with a sniff at matching US power, and it is a brutal one party dictatorship that uses tanks against its own people.

As for Europe: we can’t even agree on a single currency.

 

What if…President Trump was convicted and jailed?

President Donald J. Trump

It had been the selection of a jury that had taken so much time. Trying to find twelve jurors plus substitutes who did not have a strong opinion on the former President of the United States took months, because even those who claimed little interest in politics were found to have made some political comment on social media at one time or another. The Trump legal team, funded at huge expense by the Republican National Committee, had even objected to the idea of registered Democrats being on the jury, and the federal prosecutor was not enamored with registered Republicans serving either. The judge, on the point of desperation, proposed a compromise: Each side could submit 20 names, and he would pick, at random, 20 names from a hat. Both sides objected, but he ruled, and told them that if either side refused to submit their 20 names from the available jury pool he would pick names at random to fill that side’s quota. Both sides informed the judge that they would be appealing his decision, which he told them was their right, and set a date for the trial.

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