The hardest part about playing chicken is knowing when to flinch. - Scott Glenn as Captain Bart Mancuso - The Hunt For Red October
The #1206 “fiction” series continues …
In a well-lit, expansive boardroom, a group of agitated men and women argued around the boardroom table in the JFK Conference Room. The meeting facilitator standing at the head of the table pleaded for order. This was not an uncommon sight in this room these days, a room better known to the outside world as the White House Situation Room.
“Can we have one conversation here?”, the facilitator yelled above the din.
He waited patiently for about a minute as people gradually returned to their seats before clearing his throat and beginning to speak.
“Thank you”, he said.
Turning towards the large screen behind him, he pointed to the presentation displayed before them. “Now as you can see”, he continued, “In our effort to distract the people from the reality that we are unable to solve our education, healthcare, law enforcement, military and infrastructure needs, we have pretty much exhausted the list of deflections.”
He paused and then continued.
“The Black Lives Matter movement was useful but turned more violent than we anticipated”, he said, “The promotion of gender equality was useful but we allowed it to get too complicated to be useful. I mean, who in the hell thought of 31 allowable genders for a driver’s licence in New York City? Our leverage of folks in Hollywood has produced a backlash claiming hypocrisy since many of the people we have tapped to step up for us have become mired in their own personal shit about their own demons and indefensible positions.”
He advanced to the next slide in his presentation. It showed lyrics from a Beyoncé song and photos of Miley Cyrus.
“Can you lick my skittles, that's the sweetest in the middle, pink that's the flavor, solve the riddle”, he read. “These are lyrics by someone the First Lady is calling a role model for young women?”, he asked.
“And this picture of Cyrus at a concert riding a giant ….”, he paused again and shook his head.
He advanced to the next slide.
“And this stuff about Trump”, he said, “It seemed effective at first but his band of dedicated idiots seem unswayable. Even leveraging storms and telling people that this one is the one that will kill all their families and make parts of the country uninhabitable didn’t frighten too many people. Running political commercials on the weather channels as people were trying to get updates probably didn’t help us either.”
“Anyway”, he said, “This stuff with Putin had better be working. We need something to take people’s mind off of our lack of effectiveness. Putin’s a hot head and it shouldn’t be that difficult to get him riled up and rattling the war sabres. The key that I must stress to you is that while we publicly threaten to bomb places like Iran and Aleppo, we must constantly keep in contract with the Kremlin to assure them there is no real threat. That way the people fear a war is imminent while it really isn’t. Fear and anger, my friends, is the way to manipulate people the best.”
A voice from the back of the room spoke up.
“And where does this take us?”, she asked.
“Excellent question”, replied the facilitator, “It provides us with two useful options. Either we get Hillary elected to the White House as planned or things go off the rails with Trump and we use Putin’s war cries to justify the invocation of Executive Directive 51 and we retain power. For those of you not familiar with the directive, here is the brief summary.”
He advanced the presentation to the next slide and waited for the participants to read it. It read:
The Presidential Directive defines the power to execute procedures for continuity of the federal government in the event of a catastrophic emergency. Such an emergency is construed as any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions.
The Directive gives full executive, judicial and legislative power to the President of the United States, with full control over food, water, energy distribution, transportation and communication mechanisms in the country, including the Internet. It also provides for the dissolution of Congress and the Senate if required as well as the waiving of any elections until such time as the President believes the nation to be safe.
After waiting for a minute or so, the facilitator broke the silence.
“Fully legal as defined under the law”, he said, smiling, “We just need our puppet in the Kremlin to play along.”
“But aren’t tensions between us and the Russians getting extraordinarily high?”, the same voice asked from the back of the room.
“Absolutely”, the facilitator replied, “But we need to take Russia to the very edge to make ED 51 look like the only legitimate option. We’ve played chicken many times in the past and it always works.”
He started to speak again when the phone in the middle of the conference room table rang, interrupting him.
The facilitator nodded to someone sitting closer to the phone and the person pressed the speakerphone button.
The entire room listened quietly as the voice on the other end of the phone, in a quick, breathless, nervous voice, explained how an accident had occurred and the Volgodonsk, a Russian warship deployed off the coast of Yemen, had just been sunk by a nuclear-tipped Tomahawk missile.
“How did this happen?”, asked the facilitator as the color drained away from his face.
“We don’t know”, replied the voice on the phone, “Some idiot over there made a mistake on our side and let it fly. There’s almost too much chatter to keep up with what’s happening.”
The voice paused for a moment. “I gotta go”, it said, “There’s too much going on here. Someone will call you when we have more information.”
The phone line was cut and the person next to the phone turned it off. The room buzzed with nervous tension as multiple conversations exploded simultaneously.
“People, people”, the facilitator yelled once more, “Please, may we have one meeting at a time here? This is probably a minor incident. Cooler heads will prevail.”
He was still trying to get control of the meeting when one of the Presidential aides burst into the room.
He bent over and put his hands on his knees to catch his breath.
“The President …….. taken to PEOC”, he said in broken sentences, “Bogies approaching over the pole ….. more on Atlantic and Pacific coasts ……”
A thousand questions for the aide came from all directions.
He didn’t have much time to answer.
It didn’t matter anyway.
To be continued.
© 2016 – Harry Tucker – All Rights Reserved
The PEOC, or Presidential Emergency Operations Center, is one of many bunkers where the President can go in times of emergency. While it is not the ideal location, it is the best one if you have less than two minutes before a catastrophic event.
Executive Directive 51 is real and perfectly legal. It would be politically unpopular but desperate times call for desperate measures from desperate people.
People who say that there are too many checks and balances in place that would prevent an accidental launch of a missile should recall what happened with the USS Vincenees when it shot down an Iranian commercial jet liner.
The other stuff is conjecture. As a long-time Wall Street strategy guy, I and people I work with know that anger and fear are the most powerful tools available. Feel-good moments can inspire others but if you want someone to act quickly without thinking, it is best to make them feel afraid or angry. Both emotions cloud logical thinking and people will do things against their better judgement and character as long as others don’t give them time to stop and think rationally.
As for distractions and deflections used by politicians, ask almost any politician any difficult question, even repeatedly and notice how the question is answered …. and is not. The intention is that you will eventually give up and walk away. “Mission accomplished”, thinks the politician when this happens.
By the way, there is an interesting treatment of this subject in the 1984 movie “Countdown to Looking Glass” where things go from routine to out of control very quickly. Thirty two years later, it is still an interesting, relevant and disturbing movie.
I’m not a pessimist. I’m an optimistic realist, who believes that a better world is within our grasp only when we acknowledge the difficulties and imperfections around us. We must neutralize difficulty in order to realize a better world that we are capable of creating.
As a strategy guy, it is my role to identify all plausible scenarios, including the unlikely, the unpopular, the unsavory and the unpalatable.
Risk mitigation requires people to understand all the risks, otherwise it is often the risk ignored, played down or hidden that proves to be the problematic one in the end.
We need to call out the people who put us at risk and hold them accountable for if such risk becomes reality, we die and they live.
I don’t think that’s a fair exchange.
What do you think?
You may now return to worrying about what color your next iPhone or Android phone will be or what the latest memes are on Facebook.
That is all that matters, after all.
This series, a departure from my usual musings, is inspired as a result of conversations with former senior advisors to multiple Presidents of the United States, senior officers in the US Military and other interesting folks as well as my own professional background as a Wall St. / Fortune 25 strategy advisor and large-scale technology architect.
While this musing is just “fiction” (note the quotes) and a departure from my musings on technology, strategy, politics and society, as a strategy guy, I do everything for a reason and with a measurable outcome in mind. :-)
This “fictional” musing is a continuation of the #1206 series noted here.