The Crises - Part Two. Stunned by what had happened we wondered what an ominous future held in store for us. We hoped, prayed, things would improve; but they didn't: In fact they lurched downward once more.
Despite the best efforts of the Federal Reserve to postpone it, the financial disaster occurred during the US presidential election year. But for the backdrop of such a crisis it would have been impossible for a candidate such as Lloyd 'Mad Dog' Farrell to win the Republican nomination; yet he did. Political observers wrote him and the Republican challenge off: Surely no-one in their right mind would vote for this ultra-conservative senator from Arkansas? Farrell was a fervent believer in his own particular style of fundamentalist Christianity; a good ol' boy redneck of little education, but well-endowed with the reptilian cunning required for national politics, even though he was perhaps just a little too far to the right for the mainstream; and not to mention the fact of his borderline mental illness... Yet his campaign struck a chord with enough people to propel the Farrell/Hernandez ticket into the Republican convention with an assailable lead.
The Mad Dog was so reactionary he considered George W Bush to have wimped-out by not launching nuclear strikes on Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong-Il, and Osama Bin Laden's cave. And as for Obama pulling back from launching a drone strike through President Assad's bathroom window when he had ample opportunities to do so; well there were no words that could adequately express his contempt.
The talking heads concluded Farrell's nomination was proof, were any needed, of how far shifting demographics and social attitudes had rendered the Republicans out of touch and destined for permanent minorities in both the House and Senate, with no hope of regaining the White House.
But those commentators underestimated the degree to which people seek security in extremes in troubled times. Farrell's ultra-neocon message that a world dominated once more by America would be a better place chimed with an uneasy electorate. No matter how the more educated sections of the intelligentsia cringed, the fact remained his simplistic views resonated with a newly impoverished, frightened, and angry people who chose to express their insecurity by lashing out at the disadvantaged groups in their own midst and the outside world in general.
Nor did those political spectators fully understand the ingenuity behind Farrell's choice of Victor Hernandez as his running mate. Hernandez, the son of formerly illegal Mexican immigrants who had gone through the process of being legally naturalised, was able to appeal to both the minority communities and conservatives as someone who had by his own efforts pulled himself out of poverty to attain the American dream. His would be the example that minorities could aspire to and emulate if they rallied to his banner. The determined campaign he ran to register Latino voters, ready to be delivered en bloc to the right candidate is regarded by many pundits to have been the deciding factor in Farrell's choice of running mate. Hernandez's rumoured past connections via his family to a drugs cartel were effectively swept under the carpet, and anyway nothing could be proved. Farrell may have been a throwback to a past age, but he was certainly no racist. His courting of the conservative vote in whatever community it was to be found would eventually prove decisive.
It was a hard fought campaign, and in the end Farrell could only win 46% of the popular vote; but he gained enough votes in the right places to carry the Electoral College and enter the White House. As the world and many cultured Americans looked on aghast the newly elected President Farrell took the oath of office.
His first actions were - of course - to announce tax cuts for the wealthy and entitlement cuts for the poor. But soon as every newly-elected president does he felt the need to 'blood' himself; to prove his resolve and America's military prowess to the world by creating and winning a war. There were many simmering conflicts which Farrell could have intervened in, but he chose to pick on Iran.
Iran had been a self-inflicted thorn in the side of the United States since the late 1970s. An undeclared war of economic sanctions had been waged for decades, with Iran retaliating by providing practical support to any enemies of the USA who sought assistance. From time to time there had been brief thaws in relations between Iran and the US-led international community, but these rapprochements were inevitably undermined by America and the reactive hardening of attitudes in response by the Iranians.
Iran was never going to allow her sovereignty to be dictated by powers implacably hostile to her; and the US was never going to allow Iran to develop the nuclear weapons technology which many other nations already possessed and regarded as a right. Iran had always argued as Israel had been aided and abetted by the United States in acquiring the Bomb, why shouldn't she have a countervailing deterrent?
The impasse continued with the best that could be hoped for a continuing uneasy stalemate. A deadlock which would one day be broken either by Iran becoming a de-facto nuclear power, or the United States destroying Iran. President Farrell decided on the latter option.
To Farrell, Iran was a literal tool of Satan upon the face of the earth; and he believed he had been personally chosen by God to destroy it. He began to beat the drums of war; and this time it would be more than diplomatic posturing. Such was his bellicose rhetoric on the issue that the UTO, the Gulf States and even Israel were on the verge of publicly disassociating themselves from his crusade. But then miscalculations by both the US and Iran started a series of events which rapidly got out of control.
Feeling increasingly under threat Iran rapidly advanced her ongoing nuclear weapons programme to the point of testing and deployment. Who will ever forget the day when the Iranians triumphantly announced during a debate on their nuclear activities in the United Nations General Assembly that they had just joined the ranks of the nuclear powers with not one, but three incrementally successful underground tests with yields of five, twenty, and fifty kilotons? And who would have thought even President Farrell would have responded in the way he did?
When the Iranian tests were confirmed by seismological data it is said - though any recollections from those nearest to the president should be treated with suspicion - Farrell flew into a table thumping rage and considered what Iran had done a personal slight against him. He ordered the standby plans for pre-emptive nuclear strikes against all known Iranian nuclear sites to be enacted.
As the world waited with trepidation for the unilaterally announced deadline for Iran to submit to all the conditions set by the United States or face massive nuclear destruction to arrive, frantic efforts were made by Russia, China and the EU to try to de-escalate the situation. All their attempts to broker a settlement were rebuffed by Farrell who was hell-bent on punitive strikes, regardless of what Iran chose to do.
The deadline expired. The air and missile strikes which had been launched in advance to strike as the deadline passed mostly hit their targets without being intercepted; but instead of the overwhelming victory they expected, the Americans learned the hard way the Iranians weren't bluffing when they claimed that their tests were reliability trials of operationally deployed weapons.
The resulting conflict was over quickly but disastrous for the Gulf. Tehran was hit with multiple low-yield strikes; as were any areas thought to be potential sites for nuclear weapons. But though the US attacks were successful in wiping-out the Iranian military and political leadership, they failed to destroy all of the Iranian retaliatory forces hidden and dispersed in anticipation of such a war. The Iranian counter strike, despite so many of their weapons being destroyed, was more than destructive enough.
The Saudi oil terminal at Kharg Island was destroyed first; quickly followed by the capital of Riyahd. Suddenly the data links with many of the ships of the Fifth Fleet stationed in the Gulf region were lost all at once; the few vessels that were still able to communicate reporting a massive explosion - most likely nuclear in origin - emanating from the approximate position of the battle group's aircraft carrier. The Omani capital of Doha was the next target; the newly created affluence of the Gulf's financial centre ruined in an instant, its impressive towers toppled or reduced to skeletal frameworks. Many of its residents, some of the wealthiest people in the world, were incenerated along with their fortunes. Those last apocalyptic blurts taken by petrified news correspondents of the nuclear flash silhouetting the doomed skyscrapers can still be found on Viddit; and judging by the number of times they have been viewed they still hold a morbid fascination for some people.
Then came Israel's turn to suffer the Iranian revenge. Four out of the six missiles launched against her were intercepted, but she could do nothing to stop the other two, or the stealthy low-level drones from overflying and dispersing their contaminent payloads.
The Palestinians, seeing their mortal enemy weakened under attack and sensing now was the hour to right the wrongs of generations past, swarmed over the minefields and the 'security barrier' of the Israeli border in a human wave. If not now; then when would their hour of deliverance come? This was their chance to wrest back what was rightfully theirs; they would never have a better opportunity to end the occupation of their land.
Many of the fighters were cut down, but still they kept coming. Soon their sheer weight of numbers told, and they broke through the border strong points. Armed with little more than light weapons and a seething resentment fuelled by decades of oppression they set out to settle the old scores with a final, bloody certainty.
The following day dawned on a hecatomb. Hundreds of thousands of people had died; many thousands more were yet to follow. The oil installations of the Persian Gulf were aflame and the skies above them darkened by apocalyptic clouds of smoke. Oil prices leapt to a record high, and the markets - which had thought that the worst of the economic shocks were over - were back on the slide again.
Meanwhile, in the US and Europe the hostilities prompted sleeper cells of Iranian agents to perform preplanned acts of sabotage. Many of the groups were known to the intelligence agencies and prevented from carrying out their missions; but not all. The TGV that was derailed at full speed north of Marseille; the poisoning of the Rutland reservoir; as well as the bombs on the San Francisco BART, and the nerve gas attacks in the New York subway all reminded the world that wars are no longer confined to the battlefield.
China and Russia, both outraged by the flagrant disregard of international law shown by the US, announced that pre-empting any UN debate and resolution which was bound to be vetoed by America they were sending their armed forces to Iran on a joint 'Aid and Protection' mission: They defied anyone to stop them. As anti-American riots swept the world, and emergency resolutions against President Farrell were brought before the International War Crimes Tribunal, it seemed that he had grossly miscalculated. There were many senior people in the Washington establishment and the military who shared that view.
Due to the severe penalties of breaching the unrepealed emergency legislation we will never know exactly what happened as the situation began to escalate. That sort of omerta is permanently inviolable. Even if some posthumous accounts are eventually released, they will have to be read with extreme scepticism as attempts by the various protagonists to cast themselves in the best historical light. What is undeniable is the 'men in grey suits' as well as the men in uniform had serious misgivings about the strategy and the mental health of their Commander-in-Chief. So much so there was active discussion of a military coup.
Farrell's reaction when he was made aware of the conspiracy was swift and ruthless. Using his executive powers he ordered the arrest of the ringleaders, and their immediate drumhead court martial for treason by a specially convened secret military tribunal. Within hours the ringleaders faced the firing squad, while the lesser plotters were sentenced to life without parole in one of the many secret prisons which had mushroomed across the nation in recent years. Soon the new inmates were to be joined by those congressmen and senators calling for Farrell's impeachment. With a signature of a presidential directive the constitution was suspended and federal martial law introduced.
But no matter how hard Farrell cracked down on dissent and tried to censor the truth, the fact was he'd got it badly wrong; and though the state of Iran as we knew it had perished in the process, it had given the United States a bloody nose.
In nullifying the 'threat' of a nuclear Iran, the US had lost the major part of a carrier battle group, several thousand personnel, and many high-value weapons. Not to mention her international reputation and influence. With Russo-Chinese peacekeeping forces entrenching themselves in the Gulf; the holy land of their Israeli ally permanently ruined by contaminants and her people fighting last-ditch battles in the urban areas for their very lives it was clear that American influence in the Middle East had effectively ended.
For a frightening few hours it seemed as if Farrell was going to use what remaining forces were left at his disposal to try and prevent the Russians and Chinese from occupying Iran; fortunately for the world the military-industrial-surveillance complex pulled on his choke chain. With the emergency measures in force and the nation on a war footing for the foreseeable future they had what they wanted for now; forcing the issue further would be catastrophic for business. Privately even Farrell was forced to accept he had made a monumental blunder; not that he seemed too contrite about the death and destruction he was responsible for.
In an address to a reduced in numbers joint session of Congress and the Senate, the members being warned in advance exactly what would happen to them if they showed any sign of dissent, President Farrell declared that though the cost of doing so had been high, the danger posed to the world by Iran had been eliminated once and for all. He promised to honour the memory of those who had fallen for their nation by replacing the carrier group which had been destroyed; and ensuring any Iranian terrorist cells which were laying low, waiting for the opportunity to strike, were held in check and then hunted down by the 'temporary' security measures that he had introduced.
Nothing was said about the spontaneous foundation of secessionist movements in several states; or the detention camps hurriedly constructed in out-of-the-way areas filling with thousands of new inmates every day. Or the long lines of US citizens at airports taking the first flight out they could get; while others were packing as many of their worldly goods as possible into their cars and taking a one-way drive to Canada or Mexico.
As for the Arabian Gulf, well; their oil production had been falling for a while in any case, so little had been lost. The Russians and the Chinese were welcome to the wasteland; the USA would become even more energy independent thanks to its shale gas, access to the Canadian tar sands, and the recently announced oil supply contract with its Australian ally.
The United States had shown it meant what it said, and was prepared to back up its promises with force. Having made the world safer at a great cost to itself it was time to look inward; to rebuild the economy and cleanse the nation's morals. The trials we had just been through were just a stage in the transition process which would toughen America by adversity into a greater, more robust country with a stronger people.
The world winced, but expected that Farrell would do as he said and become an isolationist dictator. In any case, no matter what emergency powers he had at his disposal he'd have his hands full trying to contain the social unrest he'd prompted. Internationally the Chinese and Russians should be able to keep him in check. So surely we had survived the worst he could do? The international community could wait for the pendulum of change to swing back to some sort of normality.
But the world had yet to see the worst Lloyd Farrell was capable of. And it didn't know the next conflict would start in a totally unexpected place. We, living in the UK as we knew it then, were the most shocked when war erupted on our door step.
I got the call I had been expecting and dreading: Chris Hammond died early this morning. He was stubborn enough to hold on for longer than anyone expected, but it was clear he was never going to recover. He left detailed instructions for his cremation arrangements: All I have to do as his advocate is give them to the funeral director.