© Tom Frederick 2012
THE OVAL OFFICE OCTOBER 26 2016
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Nick Butler, waited patiently until the Admiral, the Commander of the United States’ Pacific Command, finished his briefing. Butler disliked Admiral Bird. A lean, supremely fit career aviator, Bird had been sat next to the left of the President on one of the three generously proportioned love seats. They were arranged around a large coffee table centred on the carpet with its woven eagle inside the famous USA presidential seal. Bird was known to be a democrat. Butler thought he fitted right in here, a highly intelligent sycophant who never made a decision without assessing which way the political wind was blowing. He was apparently also very vain with not a grey hair to be seen on his fifty four year old head. The Admiral had just been explaining the military facts of life about this India mess to the President. Both he and Butler had four stars, the most senior rank in the US Armed Forces but General Butler as Chairman outranked all and any other four star officers as the senior military officer in the USA. He also had the advantage of being the Military Advisor to the National Security Council whose members were all seated around the room. West Point trained, Butler had been an Armored Corps officer in his early career until he moved to flying attack helicopters. A gamekeeper turned poacher. A colonel commanding several highly successful squadrons during Desert Storm, he had progressed from Iraq to being the Pentagon’s top uniformed officer via several DC beltway warrior postings, including one in ‘W’s White House. He was now a consummate operator across the military-political divide between the District of Columbia and Virginia but he still found it strange how an Admiral based in Hawaii was expected to be the font of all knowledge about India.
After the Second World War the United States armed forces divided the world up into regions and gave each one to its most senior military commanders calling them Combatant Commanders. Butler thought that in many ways this set up resembled medieval Europe. The Combatant Commands were like independent Kingdoms with the Pentagon as the Holy Roman Emporer and the President as Pope, ready to excommunicate anyone who stepped out of line or sanctify successful Generals on retirement with jobs like Head of the National Security Agency. In the old Cold War days when the General had started as a young tank commander, EUCOM or European Command had been the centre of the military universe headquartered out of Stuttgart. Less than thirty years since the Berlin wall came down and now no one except the Europeans and the foreign bankers to whom they were indebted, cared less about that neck of the woods. Most of Europe’s gas and oil now came from Russia and since the Euro break up that meant most of Europe was permanently in debt to Moscow. Who said the Russkies lost the Cold War?
So far this century it had been all China, South East Asia and now, unexpectedly soon, India. All of those were in the region Admiral Bird was responsible for in Pacific Command. India was the furthest west of the thirty six countries Bird watched over for his Commander in Chief. The Admiral had been talking for about 15 minutes, explaining US naval options, the assessed risks and benefits associated with those options and now it was the General’s turn to sum up and represent the military’s, if not Bird’s preferred way ahead. He suspected it wouldn’t be a popular one. Butler knew he wasn’t a favourite with this new President who until Obama’s recent impeachment had been the Vice President and heading nowhere. He anticipated needing to look for employment in the very near future. The election being only a month away no one was rocking the boat with high level departures until then. After almost 40 years in uniform he might be glad of the opportunity to go play with his grandkids on the beach.
The General looked Hillary Rodham Clinton, the 45th President of the United States directly in the eye. Her body language didn’t offer him any encouragement. “Madam President. We are truly between a rock and a hard place with this issue. We know from intelligence that the Indians have sailed their carrier with its own task group as well as their Amphibious Task Group containing six thousand troops and marines. We know where they are going and why and we believe but cannot confirm they may have submarines in support along their route. We know we can intercept them with the Abraham Lincoln carrier battle group and two attack submarines before they reach their target. With those assets and our relative technologies there would be only one winner if, in the unlikely event hostilities occurred. You have heard from Admiral Bird that our losses would be minimal. However I and the Service chiefs believe we have a duty to stand by our allies and persuade the Indians by presence and diplomacy to turn around and go home before they reach Western Australia.”
The General paused at this point and looked at the Director of National Intelligence, a retired army general , seated across from him and next to his immediate political boss the Secretary of Defence. He didn’t like these cosy, comfortable seating arrangements in what passed for an informal setting even in the oval office. He much preferred meetings when they took place in the formality of the situation room. He nodded to the Director who took up his cause as they had previously arranged. It was hardly any surprise to the President as she turned to look at her Intelligence Director that two Army officers should think so similarly.
“Madam President, two years ago you advised President Obama that we should not support the British when the Argentinians parachuted into Port Stanley which led to their so called liberation of the Malvinas Islands. For strategic reasons the President decided to applaud the Argentinian’s initiative. I know that has reaped benefits throughout South America and the fallout in Europe cost us almost nothing. The Brits were already a spent force in defence terms and they were already isolated following the end of the Euro and the French withdrawal from the European Security and Defence Initiative”.
“I suggest this situation is completely different. Unlike Australia there was no formal alliance in place either with Britain or Argentina. Our oilmen and industry are already benefitting greatly from our neutrality in the South Atlantic but Australia is a very different kettle of fish. The fact that the Western Australian government has declared independence over federal taxes on mining profits is an internal matter and we shouldn’t let India gain unhindered preferential access for generations to come to the vast mineral deposits like the plutonium that exist there. Hell Ma’am, the next thing you know and Texas will want independence”. Several of those present chuckled knowing the intelligence chief was trying to lighten the tension and knowing as well as he did that his line of advice wasn’t something Hillary wanted to hear. “Madam President, it is the overall view of the intelligence community that we have too much invested in our relationship with Australia to risk losing their goodwill and of course real estate like the Pine Gap facility, especially so soon after the Brits threw us out of Menwith Hill with the associated loss of signals intelligence”.
“Hell hath no fury” had become the President’s unofficial nickname in Washington soon after she became President when she publicly indicated Bill would be no more than her consort, ex-President or not. Now she fixed her Director of National Intelligence with her most glacial expression. General Butler thought frigid was a good description for ‘that’ look but then he considered, when he thought about it at all, she had become more asexual the longer she had been in the Senate and government. She cleared her throat and Butler like all the others in the room, listened intently. Whatever her faults and although, like Gerald Ford’s, her Presidency was a constitutional accident, she was still the Commander in Chief of the world’s most powerful Armed Forces.
“Thank you Mister Director, I am glad you appreciate that supporting the Argentinians was the right thing to do”. The President smiled briefly and looked around the room. “Now, I know a lot of you sympathise with the Aussies. They were on the ball during 911 when they invoked the ANZAC treaty and fought with us in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. But their contributions were a tenth of what the Brits provided and let’s not forget that since 911 the political and defense rewards have been very, very advantageous to them. We gave them Aegis, the Joint Strike Fighter, special technical military advantages we weren’t even prepared to share with the Brits and my predecessor even stationed US Marines in Darwin. Thank God we decided not to accept their offer to permanently station ships in Western Australia and that they decided they didn’t want nuclear subs from us in the future”. She turned to her left and for an instant General Butler thought she was about to pat Admiral Bird on the thigh.
“Admiral, I am grateful for the advice you and your commanders have presented to me during the last few days it has been invaluable in helping us reach a decision.” General Butler cursed silently, stiffening perceptibly. His daughter in law was an Australian and if the President was following Bird’s private advice then God Help the Aussies. Admiral Bird had long been scathing about the reality of Australian military support in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The most powerful woman or man on earth continued. “The lessons of History are important. However in recent years we seem to have ignored many of them as inconvenient. As a result Americans have lost their lives when they should have been with their families reaping the benefits of winning the Cold War. Australia is simply one step too far for the American people”. Not to mention thought Butler that you have an election in less than two weeks and can’t risk a military screw up with the world’s largest democracy.The President continued. “This isn’t the Japanese, it is not Pearl Harbor and because of the Indian involvement, conveniently it is not likely to be the Chinese in the near future. Western Australia is an internal issue for the Australians. Last night I spoke to the Prime Ministers of both Australia and India and the Premier of Western Australia. He knew his history. Apparently WA had already voted to secede once before in 1933 and 68% were in favor but the British then refused to go along with it. I could do with those approval ratings! Well today they aren’t asking the Brits. Both sides are asking us for our support”. The Western Australian government have invited the Indian Navy to have a base in Fremantle in the knowledge that under President Obama we declined to do so. Their analysis of the positive economic advantages to be gained from a Free Trade Agreement with both India and ourselves is an accurate one, at least according to the Chairman of the Federal Reserve. Strategically, a new alliance with India will be a great advantage to us against Chinese expansion in South East Asia for the remainder of the century”.
“I intend to make a statement saying the USA will recognise Western Australia as an Independent nation with immediate effect and that we will continue to uphold our ANZAC treaty obligations to the remainder of Australia. Meantime I’ll try and keep a straight face when I repeat President Bush’s sentiment after 911 that ‘Australia has no closer friend than the United States of America’. She smiled at that point and Butler swore later she had winked at her Chief of Staff. “I think Dubbya also said the same about the Brits to Tony Blair too. Historically we have been two or three years late for the Aussies in two world wars and they still love us. It is my assessment that our support for Western Australia isn’t going to change that”.