Monday, December 10, 2018

Guest Post: Two-Term President George H.W. Bush (#39)

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

"General [Richard Rohmer], nobody knows this, but by the end of 1941, just before December 7th that year, I was planning to come to Canada to join the Royal Canadian Air Force" ~ Rohmer's 2004 memoir Generally Speaking
November 30, 2018 - On this day George Herbert Walker Bush died aged ninety-four. A scion of a wealthy family of primarily English and German descent, his life was forever changed by his rash decision to join Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) on the eve of the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Empire of Japan.

Like many of his excitable contemporaries at the exclusive Andover Prep School, he dreamt of flying Mustangs over Normandy. Even though the conflict was then in its third year, the United States was still a non-belligerent power. In fact, the Neutrality Acts actually prevented Americans from the swearing the oath of loyalty to the King of England and this was a prerequisite for joining the RCAF. Potentially, the nine thousand Americans who did so risked the loss of their US citizenship.

Of course this was a relatively minor concern for the future given the current circumstances. This was because the inside of a Canadian aircraft was one of the most dangerous places to be in the present day; only 25 percent of crews would survive their tour of duty. Bush also had to falsify his age as he was still only seventeen. But the Canadians were training up crews within six months, and the temptation was far too great to deny. Events were to move now at a pace, and six months later by the time he reached eighteen, America had joined the Allies Powers , and he was old enough to use his active flight service to request a transfer into the US Navy (USN). At this desperate stage, Japan has just sunk two carriers at Coral Sea and Midway in May and June including loss of very many pilots in combat even from surviving carriers, and the USN was desperate for pilots. Bush was eagerly taken into service without too many questions being asked.

He resumed his university studies after the war, becoming a successful businessman in west Texas and a millionaire in the oil business before he age of forty. A third career, this time in politics, followed. He was elected to the House of Representatives from Texas's 7th district. During this period, he formed a close working relationship with fellow GOP Congressman Gerry Ford. After an unsuccessful Senate run, President Richard Nixon appointed him as Ambassador to the United Nations. Then in 1973, Bush became the Chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Positioned at such a nexus in the GOP during the immediate aftermath of Watergate, Bush was a natural choice for Vice President to his friend Gerry Ford. Fatefully, he convinced Ford not to pardon Nixon, and together they won election in 1976.

With the assassination of the Shah of Iran January 15, 1979, and the declaration of the Islamic Republic in April, the Kurdish region of northern Iran revolted with aid from the USSR.
The resulting turmoil in the Iran allowed Iraq to conduct a surprise invasion that was successful in grabbing hundreds of square miles of Iranian territory along their southern border. The suicidal fanatic Islamic Republic threw its military into the war on both fronts using human wave attacks to try to create pathways through minefields deployed by Iraq and the Kurdish forces aided by the USSR.

Iranian F-14 fighter/bombers attacked targets in Iraq leading to retaliatory strikes by the Iraqi air force, also supplied by the USSR, deep into Iran destroying petroleum refineries and pipelines used to transport their crude to the ports for export to the world market. As a result , world oil prices reached record highs, but with swift action by President Ford and VP Bush American drilling reached all new record levels and the Alaskan Pipeline, finished in 1977, rapidly increased its flow rates to help offset lost imports to the USA.

The boom in drilling across the nation off set the recession caused by the higher prices despite all predictions to the contrary by the Democratic party in the 1980 election cycle. Federal subsidies reversing the fuel tax on diesel for trucking and rail and replacing it with a $0.30/gallon federal grant artificially lowered transportation costs back down to where they had been in 1972 before the first OPEC crisis further stimulating the economy.

In addition, the US Government in 1980 made it a requirement that all future federal vehicle purchases after 1982 would be flex fuel Stirling engine vehicles. These engines were the ultimate in fuel flexibility. They could burn methanol, ethanol, propane, butane or any petrochemical liquid fuel that would flow at room temperature. With tank heaters installed, they would even burn grease, melted asphalt or old cooking oil. They also did not need leaded fuel to maintain a proper balance for an internal gasoline compression engines so they allowed for a great reduction in lead being released into the air of dense cities like Los Angeles and New York City. 

As a companion to the Stirling 'revolution' in vehicle engines encouraged by the government, there were also subsidies for pilot production of kerogen extracted from the Green River formation in Colorado and the bitumen sands in Utah much like the Canadian pilot project to do the same in Alberta with their Athabasca bitumen sands. Unlike internal combustion engines, the steam engines with suitable burners and fuel pumps installed could directly consume the recovered Kerogen and Bitumen after it was mixed with an emulsifier and distilled water without the need of it going through a petroleum refinery. This allowed the US Navy to quickly and easily modify all of its older heavy oil burning ships to burn abundant American fuel instead of imported oil and further reduced the world oil demand putting a cap on the world oil price despite the three way war taking place in Iran.

Due to term limits, Ford was ineligible to run for the White House again in the 1980 election having already served over six years. Ironically, the outcry about his compromised patriotism was muted only by his role in putting away the legacy of Nixon. The familiar face of Bush discouraged Ronald Reagan from running in the primaries, and Bush easily defeated Walter Mondale in the fall.
During his eight years as President George H.W. Bush constantly sought rapprochement and balance with the USSR. The President did not believe the Cold War could be won but felt it could easily be lost if a hot war were to result leading to an exchange of nuclear weapons between the USA and USSR. In the long run, this balance between appeasement and confrontation was a very difficult act, but the USSR was focused to a large extent on the Kurdish S.S.R. and defending it from the Iranian regime while encouraging oil exploitation which benefited the entire Warsaw Pact organization by holding their internal fuel prices at a manageable level.

As a result, by the time he left office in 1989, the 39th President left his successor, Democratic President Gary Hart, a world that was stable and relatively at peace. While the Cold War continued apace, the reforms of General Secretary Gorbachev had allowed back room deals to contain military spending by both the USSR/Warsaw Pact and USA/NATO alliances at sustainable levels.

The Iranian civil war concluded in 1988 more as a case of exhaustion by Iraq and Iran having spent the lives of their military aged populations profligately to move the border between them no more than a few miles either direction repeatedly. Historian regarded the Gulf War as much like World War I in that it destroyed an entire generation while accomplishing very little for the benefit of the nations themselves. The Kurdish S.S.R. remained secure as an ally of the USSR and its own version of the Iron Curtain had been built on its frontier with Islamic Republican Iran which considered the USSR the Great Satan of the modern world. Turkish and Iraqi Kurds were welcome to emigrate to the K.S.S.R. but few came, though they did receive some covert aid across the borders.

In March 1989 when Iraq invaded Kuwait and seized its oil fields, the USSR staunchly vetoed every attempt in the UN to place sanctions against them for the invasion. In return, Iraq agreed to send all of the oil extracted in its Kurdish regions to the USSR using the Kuwaiti reserves to maintain its world exports.

The USA and UK vigorously protested in the UN but neither nation was willing to start a war without the backing of the UN to evict Iraq. After a few months when world oil supplies resumed their normal patterns of flow from the Kuwaiti fields world prices dropped back into the $35/bbl-$45/bbl range where they had stabilized in 1984 as American import demand had been reduced by the increased flow from Alaska and decreased demand from the exploitation of the Colorado and Utah alternative fuels for the military. By 1985 the US Military and Warsaw Pact military combined were actually the worlds largest consumer of liquid fuels. The constant military aircraft patrols and naval ship deployments consumed far more fuel than the general public realized. If there had been a collapse of one or the other of the superpowers the resulting crash in oil demand would have put fuel prices at levels not seen in a generation.

Author's Note: in reality he joined the US Armed Forces after the December 7th attack on Pearl Harbour and the subsequent declaration of war against Germany and Japan.

Further note, in terms of economics most people associate higher oil prices with recessions but this is for the most part perception bias. A study of economic impacts of higher oil prices without the political rhetoric usually injected shows that higher prices harm some industries but this is mostly offset by the increased drilling and extraction which it encourages. IOW while a few manufacturing jobs are lost an equal or larger number of oil field jobs are created causing the economy to shift focus more than forcing it to go into recession. When a recession does take place whatever political forces are not in control at that time frequently point at the price of oil and the value of the stock market as indicators that the recession is being caused by the party then in power.

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