Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Guest Post: Gore Acts on Terrorist Threats

This article first appeared on Today in Alternate History based on Robbie Taylor's AH scenario terrorist attacks with input from Allen W. McDonnell.

July 19, 2001

Heads of the Transportation Department, national security agencies, and CEOs of major airlines gathered at the White House for a crisis meeting called by President Al Gore and his Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke.

The consensus was agreement upon emergency upgrades to airline security including the banning of knives and boxcutters and the reinforcement of cockpit doors. Of course, all of these infrastructure changes would take several months to roll out; so, in the short-term, Gore was entirely dependent upon his intelligence apparatus to prevent terrorist threats.

The top leaders of the al-Qaeda terrorist group had been sending a message of global threat from the USS Cole to the bombings at the embassies in Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Spain, and Turkey. Caught out by Gore's initiative, they were forced to bring forward their dastardly plans to crash airline jets into several buildings in New York City and Washington. Not fully prepared, several Saudi Arabians were taken into custody prior to boarding intracontinental flights in Boston, Newark, and Washington, D.C. The F.B.I. had been closely tracking them since Gore had received a briefing entitled "Bin Laden Determined To Strike In U.S."

The nation never knew how close to tragedy it came, and this had a serious downside. Covert success created a "chicken-and-egg-style" problem because Gore lacked the political capital required to go into Afghanistan and capture Bin Laden and his cohorts. For justification purposes, he only had the recorded confessions of the terrorists, and Americans were confused by his complicated explanation of the link between Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. However, on the positive side, Fore was armed with the necessary Special Forces capability that had been developed as a result of the Operation Eagleclaw fiasco in 1979. As a result, the Battle of Tora Bora would not be a repeat of the ill-fated Tehran mission.

With the isolated exception of strong backing from the belligerent Prime Minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon, the United States' unilateral action in Afghanistan provoked widespread anger across the Middle East. Even Holbrooke's conciliatory efforts to negotiate a two-state solution to the continuing Israeli-Palestinian standoff came to naught. Fury in the Arab streets over this diplomatic failure ripped open many wounds that President Bush had carefully avoided during the Gulf War by persuading the Israelis to stand aside despite SCUD missile attacks from Iraq. Domestic pressure upon Gore would build as he faced a backlash of public opinion for "his" "days of chaos" as airports slowly adjusted to heightened security. This was an aggravation as the NASDAQ began an epic crash with unemployment rising and the overall economy stalled. The truth was Gore had inherited unresolved problems from Clinton's Boom years.

The leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, Ahmad Shah Massoud, provided much-needed operational assistance prior to his assassination by al-Qaeda operatives. News of his bloody murder was relayed to a surprised-looking Gore while he was televised reading a book, The Pet Goat, to students at a Sarasota school. After the inevitable political satire in the tabloids, the subsequent capture of Bin Laden on foreign soil would provoke bitter controversy around the world with the American hyperpower standing accused of imperial overreach. To assuage world opinion, the terrorist mastermind was handed over to the World Court to face justice in the Netherlands. This trial would dominate television channels throughout 2004 as Gore battled for re-election against the foreign policy hardman John McCain, Senator from Arizona.

Hawkish republicans labelled Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction as an unresolved threat to the safety of the country. Rumours spread that Vice President Joe Lieberman had been engaged in secret diplomacy with Saddam to slowly loosen up some of the restrictions on the Kurds and Shias and even bring them into the Iraqi government. To win in the fall, Gore had to defend himself against the harsh accusation that his decision-making as Commander-in-Chief was sound but he lacked the authority and presidential leadership necessary to forcibly direct a worldwide war on terror and defeat jihadism.

Author's Note:

In reality, Bush White House Officials argued that the Administrator did not mention a specific time or place and that the threat was similar to the variety of different terrorist threats U.S. intelligence monitors frequently.

Provine's Addendum:

Commentators in the 2004 election said that it was likely Gore's actions in fall of 2003 that tipped the vote against his reelection. Coming out of a bitter economic plunge with the popping of the Digital Bubble, Gore focused much of his attention on reviewing overly earnest investments. As subprime mortgages began to increase, Gore's policies worked to slow down their potentially skyrocketing. Business leaders howled at government red tape slowing an already struggling economy with potential jobs lost in construction, although some economists suggested it may have prevented over-investment in assets that would prove toxic, perhaps even sparking a Second Great Depression when the bills became due.

Friday, September 8, 2023

Guest Post: March 3, 1976 - Board Of Estimate Rejects Donald Trump's Plan to Rebuild the Commodore Hotel

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History with input from Allen W. McDonnell and Brian Hartman.


March 3, 1976 - Board Of Estimate rejects plan to rebuild the Commodore Hotel

Budding young real estate developer Donald J. Trump failed to convince New York City's Board of Estimate to approve his innovative plan to rebuild the 1919 Beaux Arts brick-and-stone-detailed Warren-and-Wetmore-designed Commodore Hotel.

Their key objection was primarily financial: Trump had made an audacious request for a forty-year tax abatement. Due to the projected creation of 1,500 construction jobs, the proposal was strongly backed by the head of the Economic Development Administration, Alfred E. Eisenpreis, who hailed it as "a very exciting hope for the City." However, the stumbling block was the near-bankrupt city forgoing $4 million a year in real estate taxes in exchange for a share in the profits plus payments beginning at $250,000 a year and rising, in stages, to 4.2 million after 50 years. The City Council President Paul O'Dwyer had ominously warned that the Board needed to "look very carefully" at what the city would get in exchange for its tax forgiveness. Trump had sensed an opportunity in the city's financial crisis, but his proposal was simply politically unacceptable to the voters in their current mood.

The city's appeals for a bail-out from the state legislature in Albany, and then personally to President Ford, had been flatly rejected. The bankrupt owners of the Commodore Hotel had unpaid back taxes going back to 1970. With occupancy rates of 49 percent, the hotel closed shortly after the decision was made. Alternative schemes to convert the building into apartments, or even demolish it, were then taken under serious consideration. Whatever the solution, the Trump Organization was out of the project due to the withdrawal of its principal partner, the Hyatt Hotel Group.

Trump had not lost hope in his dream of upscaling his father, Fred's, business success in Queens and Brooklyn to Manhattan. Not discouraged by this failure, he relocated to Camden and started an even bigger project. Still only 29 years old, he attempted to use his influence to cause a revitalization of the city by replacing the lost industrial wealth with a new world financial center. In this endeavor, he was greatly assisted by the entrepreneurial talents of his wife and business partner, Ivana. However, when the diminutive Abraham Beame left the mayoral office, his successor Ed Koch was far less receptive to his charms, and the bold plan was only partially successful.

The popular and affable Koch glowed in the celebration of the Statue of Liberty's 100th anniversary celebration , but his re-election year of 1989 was a very difficult one for New Yorkers. Unable to win a historic fourth-term, he was driven from office with the city beset by racial tension. He would be replaced by the Manhattan Borough President, former marine David Dinkins, who became the first African-American to become Mayor of New York. His progressive views would strongly clash with Trump's over the notorious Central Park Five case.

Now based in New Jersey, the Trump Organization enjoyed greater success with the barrel-chested Governor Chris Christie. After Christie won the Presidency in 2012, Trump would finally build an International Hotel in Washington D.C., which he would open with Ivana. As he approached his seventieth birthday, his daughter Ivanka prepared to take the reins of the Trump Organization.

Author's Note:

In reality, after the city government granted a tax abatement for the renovation, Trump and Hyatt completely remodelled the hotel from June 1978 to September 1980, spending $100 million and removing almost all of the Commodore's original decorations.

Provine's Addendum:

The Trump Organization found not just gold mine but a string of gold mines in America's Rust Belt. Improvements in technology such as fax machines made office work traditionally only seen in key centers available anywhere with a telephone line, so Trump built an empire through towns that had been traditionally industrial but now suffered high unemployment and low real estate values. After buying up entire blocks, often with huge local and state government incentives, the organization would use connections to set up clerical services, phone answering banks, and telemarketing.

This project initially grew famous in financial sectors, but Trump came to a status as a living legend through the burgeoning internet. Always eager to seize on a new opportunity, Trump was one of the first popular bloggers, first adapting parts of his book Art of the Deal and then writing on nearly every topic that became newsworthy. Some of his legion of followers loudly suggested he should run for president, but Trump joked, "Why would I take the pay cut?"

Saturday, September 2, 2023

Guest Post: President Agnew

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History with input from Eric Lipps, Brian Hartman, Allen W. McDonnell, and Jeff Provine.

August 23, 1972 - Spiro T. Agnew Accepts the Republican Nomination

Spiro T. Agnew of Maryland (known affectionately to his friends as "Ted") accepted the Republican nomination for the forthcoming 47th quadrennial presidential election. His running mate was Congressman Pete McCloskey of California, who had recently run in the Republican primaries on an anti-Vietnam War platform despite (or because of ) being a former US Marine serving in Korea and awarded the Navy Cross and the Silver Star.

The following morning's headlines read "Let us Continue," although these scornful words did not form part of Agnew's acceptance speech. Far from being the makings of an urban myth, it was a sarcastic reference to Lyndon Baines Johnson, whose ascent to the Oval Office had enabled him to avoid prosecution for his shady business dealings. Likewise, Agnew would strenuously deny alleged bribery and kickbacks dating from his time as governor of Maryland. Agnew's speech went further by giving a rambling defense, leading to the most memorable assurance that, "I am not a crook. The President of the United States is not a crook."

Agnew's ascent differed greatly from the 36th President and was potentially was even murkier. Events behind this political cataclysm traced back to the immediate exposure of the break-in to the Democrat Headquarters in the Watergate Hotel Complex by members of CREEP, the notorious "Campaign to Re-elect the President" para-political body. In the face of extensive evidence of presidential misconduct, there was a bitter power struggle in the White House led by Chief of Staff General Alexander Haig who infamously declared, "I am in charge." Amidst this government crisis, Richard M. Nixon died from an aortic aneurysm before the end of the primary season, bequeathing Agnew both the presidency and the nomination. 'Ted' selected McCloskey for his running mate but chose not to appoint him Vice President for the remainder of his later predecessor's term. This would prove a weak choice. Rather than stirring the "pity vote," Agnew's predecessor's death in effect left Agnew holding the bag for Nixon's misdeeds. Later, some would argue Nixon had been the luckier one.

Agnew would disastrously lose the general election to the equally hopeless but fundamentally honest George McGovern and then face justice with no prospect of a pardon. Agnew of course contested criminal charges of extortion, tax fraud, bribery and conspiracy; on the same day, he was formally charged with accepting bribes totaling more than $100,000 whilst holding office since 1962 as Baltimore County Executive, Governor of Maryland, and Vice President. Although the prison sentence was suspended, ex-President Agnew would be fined $10,000 and would live out the remainder of his life as a political pariah, shunned even by Republican conservatives who had once looked to him to speak for them.

Author's Note:

In reality, several major revelations and egregious presidential actions obstructing the investigation later in 1973 prompted the House to commence an impeachment process against Nixon. He resigned from office under Section 1 of the 25th Amendment on August 9, 1974.

Provine's Addendum:

The McGovern presidency would work to realign federal programs with LBJ's earlier Great Society policy, a similar switch of opinion that occurs with the changeover of the White House and, indeed, had been seen in the more conservative direction when Nixon was elected in 1968. Many felt that the federal welfare programs and government-supported healthcare came at the right time as stagflation and a recession hit hard in 1973-1975. McGovern ran in 1976 on how he helped heal the economy, but the financial turmoil and widespread patriotism for the nation's bicentennial drove a great deal of force behind the conservative Republican who had come to power during the GOP chaos: former California governor Ronal Reagan. Reagan blamed "welfare queens" for draining the nation's economy and argued to reinstate American world authority after the humbling Vietnam War, planks in a platform that won him the 1976 election.

Reagan would win again in 1980 after staring down the USSR's consideration of military involvement in Afghanistan. During his famed speech in 1979, Reagan warned the Soviet Union's General Secretary, "Mr. Brezhnev, don't cross this line." The double-meaning of a political border and Reagan's seeming willingness to step in delighted Americans, especially after the USSR decided to only support the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan by proxy. With expansion questioned, the USSR focused on strengthening its union and revitalizing its economy by reconnecting with China through huge trans-Asian transit construction. Meanwhile, another economic recession would doom the Republicans' 1984 bid, instead ushering Democrat Walter Mondale into the White House.

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