Monday, August 28, 2023

Guest Post: February 27, 1993 - President Bush Visits Ground Zero

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History inspired by a This Day post with input from Allen W. McDonnell, Brian Hartman, Robbie Taylor, Thomas Wm. Hamilton and Charles K. Alexander II.

Leading Republican politicians George H.W. Bush and Rudy Giuliani met under tragic circumstances one day after a suicide bomber in a Ryder van exploded a deadly incendiary device in the parking garage under the North Tower of the World Trade Center (WTC).

The terrorists had worked under tight constraints, understanding that they could not employ the same techniques as the truck bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut ten years earlier. This target was far more massive, but frustration at Bush's victory in the 1992 election pushed the terrorists to strike with all ferocity available. Only a shipping container packed with high explosives and rammed into the building could bring down the two principle towers of the WTC complex. Instead, due to their precise timing, the detonation occurred at peak crowding when employees were just arriving for work. Consequently, the 1,336 lb (606 kg) urea nitrate-hydrogen gas-enhanced device killed hundreds of Americans and left thousands more injured. In a knee-jerk attempt to "close the stable door after the horse has bolted" military checkpoints were set up in New York City for the first time. This catastrophe occurred just 37 days short of the WTC's thirty-year anniversary.

The timing was also fateful for the two prominent men centre stage. Both Republicans had won narrow victories at the polls but were at the opposite ends of the electoral cycle. Bush had just started his second term (the fourth consecutive office of the Republican presidency), whereas Giuliani would seek re-election in the fall.

The present conversation became dominated by terrorist extremism and blundering intelligence failures. Only two days after the explosion, a rebuffed search warrant at the Branch Davidian ranch in Texas turned into a gun battle ending in the Waco massacre. Undaunted, Bush, a former CIA Director, and Giuliani, a feisty prosecutor who had put the Mafia behind bars, believed they were the men of the hour. Instead, it would be General Colin Powell who stepped up to the plate at this terrible moment in the history of the Republic. Meanwhile, hawks privately hoped that this was the day that America threw peace out the window and embraced its new role of sole imperialistic superpower.

A breakthrough occurred in early March when FBI investigators traced the yellow Ford Econoline used in the bombing to a Jersey City rental outlet. This was only possible because the feed from security cameras was stored at the Port Authority Police Department (PAPD) headquarters located miles away. Agents attempted to peacefully arrest Mohammad Salameh as he retrieved his $400 deposit, but the capture turned to disaster with a running gun battle that killed innocent bystanders. Citing this as a similar missed opportunity to seize David Koresh when he was jogging alone in Waco, libertarian elements of the public began to sharply criticize the Federal response.

The reaction to this criticism was predictable; Giuliani's decisions were certainly heavy-handed in law and order. His over-zealousness led to claims of police brutality and fuelling racial fears. He arrogantly considered himself a combination of "Untouchable" Eliot Ness and his own predecessor La Guardia. But one of his fiercest critics was ex-marine David Dinkins, a likely Democrat candidate in the forthcoming mayoral election given that Ed Koch had lost in 1989, accused of vote tampering. Pledging racial healing, and famously referred to New York City's demographic diversity as "not a melting pot, but a gorgeous mosaic," Dinkins was seeking to become the first African American to hold the office.

Surely without the Waco Massacre, American anger might well have been channelled towards massive retaliation overseas. Instead, it was vented at the incompetence of security agencies who were blamed for their uncoordinated handling of terrorist threats. Under pressure, President Bush hurriedly passed a Patriot Act and appointed the hugely popular and competent four-star General Colin Powell, outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to the new Cabinet position of Secretary of National Security. Vastly experienced, he was due to retire from the US Army in September after a thirty-five-year military career overseeing twenty-eight crises, including the invasion of Panama in 1989 and Operation Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf War against Iraq in 1990-1991. He had also served as Ronald Reagan's National Security Advisor from 1987-9. It would take almost eighteen months to integrate this vast security apparatus requiring the kind of tactical response that had long been his hallmark. His vast inter-agency oversight role would encompass both the CIA and the FBI giving him a degree of power unprecedented even under J. Edgar Hoover. In a masterful repetition of his famous Gulf War press conference, Powell pledged, "Our strategy in going after this terrorist threat is very simple. First, we are going to cut it off, and then we are going to kill it."

For his initiatives to "rally 'round the flag," Powell would enjoy a level of public trust that Giuliani could only dream about, but Powell had to get up to speed much more quickly than he did for Operation Desert Storm. In his first notable action in the early days of his tenure, he successfully prevented an assassination attempt upon Bush during a visit to Kuwait to honour his victory in the Persian Gulf War against Iraq. Powell would prove to be highly effective over the course of Bush's second term: terrorist organizations and training camps would be uncovered and shut down while numerous terrorists would be arrested, including Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the World Trade Center Bombing as well as the attacks on the Shiite shrine in Mashhad, Iran, and Philippine Airlines Flight 434. The latter led to Yousef's arrest in 1995, the same year a homegrown plot to attack the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was foiled by watchful security.

With the sense of America's invulnerability returning, the economy rebounded and then exploded with the introduction of the World Wide Web. The GOP triumphed in the mid-terms and America headed towards the 53rd quadrennial presidential election with a renewed sense of hope. By a huge margin in opinion polls, Secretary Powell would be the most popular Republican candidate, leading a historic attempt to secure a fifth consecutive term of office for the GOP. In his way would be a determined field of potential Democrat candidates including David Dinkins, Jerry Brown, Al Gore, and even the recently divorced Hillary Clinton. There also came a wild card on the ballot in a Ross Perot and Bernie Sanders independent ticket, endorsed by Jesse Jackson, to oppose Powell's national security state and the new world economic order.

Author's Note:

In reality, the Towers did not collapse because the truck bomb was underpowered for the terrorists' goals, which would be sadly realized eight years later with airplane attacks.

Provine's Addendum:

The Dot Com Bubble bursting in spring of 2000 was the death knell for the Republicans' long hold on the Executive Branch. President Powell's efforts to shore up the economy would not have the timeline to make major improvements, and the Gore-Dinkins ticket won handily in the election that fall. While many felt that it would be a new era rolling back many of the Bush and Powell security requirements, such as the mountain of paperwork to rent a truck, only a few minor changes actually took place. The bureaucracy was well entrenched, and not even cries from the National Rifle Association were able to end more than a handful of surveillance actions on gun-buyers. Courts would test whether gun owners were having their Second Amendment rights violated by "checkups" with local officials, but as the ownership itself wasn't in question so much as perceived mental clarity, most of the laws remained intact. Numerous groups would start as self-proclaimed militias for further protection, giving the FBI, ATF, and other agencies clear cells to watch as the average Americans continued with rigorous inspections through metal detectors, background checks, and loyalty oaths.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Guest Post: Reciprocity Treaty Expires

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

December 9, 1887 - 

On this fateful day, the defunct Reciprocity Treaty between the United States of America and the Hawaiian Kingdom expired.

The end of negotiations denied the U.S. government obtaining exclusive use of Pearl Harbor and the right to maintain a repair and coaling station for ships. In a larger sense, it marked a failure to establish de facto colonial overlordship over the archipelago of Pacific islands. In time, this set-back would refocus American policymakers on the Caribbean, especially the island of Cuba.

The ostensibly "free trade" agreement was a trojan horse that had been signed and ratified a dozen years earlier. Within a short space of time, Americans controlled the Hawaiian economy, even bringing Japanese migrants over to work in their sugarcane fields. Thanks to pro-annexationalist missionaries, Americans were soon to gain control of its government. With the growing influence of the Annexation Party, King David Kalākaua abandoned his dream of a Polynesian confederation (despite optimistic diplomacy with Sāmoa) and travelled to Tokyo to propose a union with the Japanese Empire in 1881. The deal was sealed by an arranged marriage between his five-year-old niece Princess Ka'iulani and 13-year-old Prince Yamashina Sadamaro.

The U.S. reaction to the marriage proposal was strangely muted due to the recent assassination of President James Garfield, which meant that America way too busy to do anything about it at the time. Moreover, the timing of the Tokyo visit was opportune because it was a troubling period for Japan also. The new government had just recently put down several peasant and samurai rebellions, and the economy was not in the best shape with extreme inflation. After hundreds of years of the Sakoku ("locked country") policy, Japanese ports were forced open by American Admiral Perry in his 1853 display of Western prowess and demands of a treaty. Although Mutsuhito, the Emperor Meiji, and his government were concerned about the reactions of the Americans and British (who wanted a coaling station with a deep water harbour between Australia and Vancouver), their goal was to transform Japan from an isolationist, feudal state to an industrialized world power. Seemingly for this reason of shared interest, although imperial ambition was a motivating force also, he accepted the offer that one of the Japanese Imperial princes marry a Hawaiian princess.

Mutsuhito passed away in 1910, and by then Japan had undergone an extensive political, economic, and social revolution and emerged as one of the great powers on the world stage. Their economic influence and military prestige would become obvious in their defeat of a western nation in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. Further 'alliance' marriages had occurred with Korea, the Philippines, and even Sāmoa, a dynastic practice reluctantly welcomed in Japan but long tested in Europe. By this point, there was an international debate as to whether the Empire of Japan actually was a protector of other security-threatened Asian nations or a more fearsome predator. Within four short years, this question would be unambiguously answered. His successor Yoshihito, Emperor Taishō, would be emboldened to take an even more fateful decision to contest Anglo-American control Pacific, joining forces with the Central Powers in the Great War.

Author's Note:

In reality, the Japanese government, politely declined the offer. Kalākaua was the penultimate monarch and last King of Hawaiian.

Provine's Addendum:

While the mainland American response to Japan's new treaty with Hawaii had been minimal, the Americans on the Hawaiian Islands were panicked as they had anticipated the treaty to be renewed. The Bayonet Revolution by the Honolulu Rifles, a militia made up of members of the Committee of Safety for the Annexation Club, had all but seized control in July of 1887, and young Prince Sadamaro journeyed to Hawaii along with a contingent from the Japanese military to reaffirm the superiority of King David Kalākaua. The resulting crackdowns chased leaders such as Samuel Castle and Sanford B. Dole from the island. Other businesses like C. Brewer & Co. and the British Theo H. Davies & Co. cooperated to maintain their supply of sugarcane for export.

Prince Sadamaro felt his clear duty was the defense of this new ally, which in his mind would soon become a vassal-state to Japan. Following his formal introduction to Ka'iulani, Sadamaro went to Europe to complete his education, focusing on naval warfare and construction, until his graduation from France's Ecole Navale in 1890. For the next three years until his wedding to Ka'iulani, he served aboard various Japanese ships. After the wedding, he continued a role in the Japanese navy, even seeing active combat in both the First Sino-Japanese War in 1894 and the Russo-Japanese War in 1905.

Upon the announcement of war with the Entente Powers, Sadamaro was "visibly pained" although other military leaders celebrated the early victories seizing British and French ports in mainland Asia. Sadamaro commanded the eastern branch of the naval forces, securing islands such as Tahiti and conducting raids in the Solomon Islands. The bulk of the fighting was conducted against U.S. troops in the Philippines, where Filipino efforts toward independence had dragged on event after the Philippine-American War (1899-1902) left some 25,000 dead. Within time, the Pacific fleets of the Americans and the British coordinated to push back. Sadamaro continued a desperate defense with near-guerilla tactics until his death during the American invasion of Oahu. The U.S. occupied the islands for the remainder of the war, using it as a pipeline for the support of re-establishing control over the Philippines. While the war in Europe ended in 1918, war in the Pacific dragged on into 1922 when Emperor Taisho at last capitulated after devastating naval barrages of Tokyo and other ports.

Following the war, Japan was stripped of many of its Pacific colonies, including Taiwan, which were made into independent republics with strong Western military presences. Hawaiian Queen Lili'uokalani had died during the occupation, leaving Princess Ka'iulani as the heir but refused a coronation. Ka'iulani, widowed and childless, died soon after her abdication of several ailments, which commentators at the time said all stemmed from a broken heart. To this day, the US maintains its naval base in Hilo Bay on the Big Island.

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Guest Post: Texas Congressman Johnson Lost in the Pacific

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

June 9, 1942

On this sad day for the Lone Star State, Lieutenant Commander Lyndon Baines Johnson, a serving Congressman from Texas's 10th district covering Austin and the surrounding hill country, was tragically killed on duty in the Pacific. His body was never recovered.

Johnson had been serving in the Navy Reserves but, tired of inspecting shipyards in his home state, had opted for a non-hazardous overseas mission to report on conditions of the Southwest Pacific. However, he had pushed his luck too far by volunteering to observe an airstrike over New Guinea; there, his aircraft had been tragically shot down. A brilliant man, he had his own feelings of inadequacy believing his peers in Washington considered him illiterate, rude, crude, laughing at him behind his back. On the Hill it was rumored that these reasons cost him his life aged thirty-three.

His death was also a great political loss for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had found Johnson to be a welcome ally and conduit for information, particularly about issues concerning internal politics in Texas and the machinations of Vice President John Nance Garner and Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn. About a month after Johnson's death, Roosevelt told all Congressmen who were on active duty to either stay in the service or Congress. It was too late to save Johnson, but Rayburn's political future was bright. He would end a fine career by serving as Vice President during the first year of John F. Kennedy's time in the Oval Office. Detractors argued that Kennedy had cynically chosen the ageing Texan only to win Southern votes in the disputed 1960 election.

Author's Note:

In reality, Johnson survived the attack, and General MacArthur recommended he get a Silver Star. Johnson reported that the conditions in the Southwest Pacific were deplorable and unacceptable. He recommended that the theater needed to be prioritized with more funding immediately. Johnson told Congress that morale there was low and that America's planes were inferior to Japan's. Congress responded by making Johnson the chairman of the Naval Affairs Congressional Committee. After Roosevelt's announcement to protect active political figures, Johnson was among the half that stayed in Congress. Before fully retiring from the Navy, Johnson was promoted to Lieutenant Commander in 1949.

Provine's Addendum:

The election of 1960 had been won by JFK by just over one hundred thousand votes. Kennedy had chosen wisely in making a long-serving Texan his running mate as the South was hotly contested as the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum. Though Kennedy/Rayburn collected most of the region's votes, Independent Harry F. Byrd had won 15 electoral votes in Alabama, Mississippi, and a faithless elector in Oklahoma. The conservatism in the South had alienated voters from Senator Stuart Symington, the candidate from Missouri who refused to speak to segregated crowds.

Times changed a great deal by 1964, and Democratic leaders tapped Symington to be the new VP for Kennedy's second term. The office had sat empty for three years, and though some political leaders called for an amendment to clarify the constitutional process to fill vacancies, the public saw no real need. There was concern that Symington wasn't "Southern enough," but leaders decided to focus on a more liberal agenda. Republicans reacted by chasing the conservative vote, securing the South for Barry Goldwater in 1964's election but ultimately losing overall to Kennedy and Symington, who focused on keeping Midwestern voters Democratic while encouraging the drive for African American votes. Symington, who had shown increased productivity in his integrated workforce of the Emerson Electric Company during World War II, brought new respect to the VP office and made headlines for fighting for the firing of FBI head J. Edgar Hoover over clear racial prejudices.

JFK's two terms would be the first of many Kennedy presidencies, including his younger brothers Robert and Ted in the '70s and '80s and son JFK, Jr., in the new millennium.

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