The Way We Were and Will Be

The two men stood together at the railing looking vacantly at the sea.  Their lank black hair tousled by the breeze. They were father and son.  Osman Mahsood Craddock and Ustad Helegu Craddock.  The father half Tajik, the son half Kazakh, quarter Tajik and quarter true-blue. They spoke in a creole compounded of Dari and Pashto with a strong infusion of Uzbek and Urdu words.

This was the first voyage for both to the ancestral country.  They were heirs to five generations of imperial service in the American Empire in Asia.  The Craddocks were descendants of General John ‘The Unforgiving’ Craddock, a member of the founding generation that had laid the empire’s foundations.  The first Craddock’s service at Guantanamo, Mons and Tampa had helped launch the historic enterprise.  For more than a century, his descendants had been soldiers, administrators and court advisors – the ruling class in AEA.  By now they were of Asia, not just in Asia.  This was the fulfillment of the grand strategy conceived by Petraeus II, hereditary viceroy for the Oriental Realm – Operation Iskandrani.

Ustad Helegu had had a caravan upbringing.  Moving with his parents from one posting to another, he had studied at Imperial schools in Baghdad, Lahore, Isfahan and Alma Ata.  He was a son of AEA – multilingual, and faithful.  The first chords of the Imperial Anthem, “Steppes of Central Asia” in the Kalilezad transcription, never ceased to send a shiver through him.  The younger Craddock had always been too immersed in his studies, and indulging his passion for playing the electric sitar, to ponder his roots.  Now, as he and his father sailed eastward across the north Pacific, he felt a keen need to know where he came from..  He turned to his father for answers.  Osman Mahsood studied history at Herat before yielding to tradition to follow the path laid out by his family 128 years earlier.  He knew the whole tale.

The crucial dates were 2016 and 2017 – the 4 months that changed the world.  It was the presidential election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump that was the watershed.  On election night, HRC seemed to have won a clear victory in the Electoral College, even though it was a dead-heat in the popular vote.  Trump refused to concede, however.  Egged on by his wife Marianna and daughter Ivanka, he pulled out all stops to contest the outcome in the courts.  His legal team, headed by Ted Cruz, filed a formidable brief presenting 2 grounds for reversing the results.  The first claimed that Latinos had unjustifiably been allowed to vote en masse without proper vetting for citizenship in crucial states line Illinois, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico which Trump had lost. The second claimed that voting rolls nation-wide were unconstitutional since Negro voters’ ballots counted as much as Caucasians‘ when in fact a close reading of the Constitution made it clear that the former’s votes should be given a weight only three-fifths that of the

latter’s.  To support this last contention, the Trump team compiled a dossier of evidence as to the intent of the founders, as well as the intent of those who drafted subsequent amendments.  Particularly telling, as subsequent accounts revealed, was the testimony of Daniel Townsend Rutledge, the sole and last surviving descendant of a signer of the Constitution, John Rutledge from South Carolina.  Tracked down in a flop house in San Francisco’s tenderloin district, he testified to a family oral tradition that preserved John Rutledge’s account of the Philadelphia proceedings.   D.T.’s credibility was not in doubt since the record indicated that he volunteered this crucial information with no more inducement than a full bottle of gin and an autographed picture of Mariana in her glory days as a model.

These claims were rejected by a Federal District Court whose decision, though, was overturned by the Federal Appeals Court in the District of Columbia on a 2-1 vote. Clinton sought redress from the Supreme Court which refused to hear the case in a deadlocked 4-4 vote.  They, thereby, overturned Obama’s seeming victory. Later investigation revealed that all of the justices who upheld Trump’s position lived in zero-scape town houses.  Justice Samuel Alito in declaring Latino voters suspect also applied the Constitutional test to them – arguing that a conclusive judgment should await the results of DNA testing. HRC’s legal team was handicapped when lead attorney Bill Clinton failed to finish his opening statement until 2 days after the verdict was rendered.

The rioting was horrific.  Black and Latino America rose up as one.  For a week the insurrection had the upper hand.   Army and National Guard units were paralyzed.  The situation was saved for the Republicans by the mobilization of its base.  Militias were raised from the ranks of the ‘right-to-life’ movement.  Armed by the NRA, they fought pitched battles in 50 American cities.  Pentecostals formed para-military units, desperate to bring forward Armageddon before the banks foreclosed on their trailer homes.  The militias were quickly whipped into shape by Blackwater trainers hastily recalled from Yemen and Somalia.   These avenging angels did the Lord’s work with spirit despite suffering a tactical setback when Generals Clapper and Walsh at the NSA accidentally gave them encrypted data on prime pizza delivery routes in the 20 largest cities instead of the coordinates for rebel movements.

Especially effective around New York were ‘flying squads’ of hedge fund trainees.   The blood-curdling battle cry “DERIVATIVES or DIE’ of these bashi-bazouks struck terror in the most valiant of enemies.  They were vindictive and brutal – although there is no firm evidence to support reports that they ritually sacrificed seven underinvested virgins on the steps of the NY Stock Exchange at high noon on December 21.  The tide finally turned when divisions of crack Iraqi commandos (the Silver Wolves) and loyal Afghan troops (Uzbek and Tajik) from Kunduz were thrown into the battle.  Officially, 100,000 were killed but nobody knows for sure.  Urban America was wasted.  President Trump’s first act upon entering the White House was to launch a massive reconstruction project code-named Mesopotamia in America.

A chastened Barack Obama gave a moving speech to the nation on the eve of the Inauguration.  He called on all Americans to set aside their partisan differences at this moment of national crisis and to work together with civility to heal the country’s wounds – going forward.  He pledged his full support to Trump whom he recognized as the legitimate President of the United States.  No citizen had a right to dispute by extra-legal means a decision of the highest court in the land.  He called on his black supporters in particular to remain faithful to the cause of Change.  “With faith and courage, we yet will win,” he proclaimed.  He led the assembled audience in a raucous round of “Yes we can” chants.

Then, fate knocked again.  Before Trump Inc could grab its first no-bid contracts,  the President-elect suffered an acute toxic shock provoked by an innovative new hair dye not yet tested by the FDA. It had been brought back by Ivanka from Mazatlan where she had attended a beach volley ball clinic sponsored by Vincente Fox.   He quickly fell into a coma. Prognoses were highly pessimistic. Marianna and Ivanka insisted, though, that he would recover – and they managed to block implementation of Amendment Twenty- Five to the Constitution that called for an infirmed President to declare his incapacity (or have his Cabinet do so if he is unable) and thereby permit the Vice-President to assume the office on an interim basis.* Instead, Mariana and Ivanka assumed the position of dual Regents in the manner of  Woodrow Wilson’s wife Edith after his disabling stroke in September 1919.  The ensuing power struggle between the two women quickly ended when Ivanka elicited an advisory opinion from Chief Justice Roberts to the effect that a native born citizen should serve as acting President.

She quickly showed doubters that she had the right stuff.  Within hours of being sworn in, and acting under instruction from the Heavenly Father, plucky Ivanka assembled an unbelievable team of appointees from among alumni of George Bush Junior’s administration – vaunting their sterling record of unbelievable service to the Republic. John Brennan became White House Chief of Staff, Stanley McCrystal Secretary of Defense, Condi Rice Secretary of State, Michael Chertoff  Attorney General and David Petraeus Head of the Joint Chiefs in the Pentagon. Their unanimous advice was blunt: ‘get your ass in gear.”   Regent Ivanka liked that. It played to her strength.  The country was in peril; The Great Danger was still out there.  Survival depended on slaying it.  That meant American seizure of Eur-Asia.  So grave was the Threat that the very identity of The Great Danger had to be kept a secret.  Only inducted members of the Inner Sanctum were privy to this ultra-classified information.  Thus began the Long March toward building the American Empire in Asia.

Usted Helegu was riveted by the tale.  Osman Massoud paused briefly.  He then resumed with a summary of the Great Conquest.  American firepower, American strategic genius, and the steely dedication born of knowing that they had God on their side produced a string of brilliant victories.  An American expeditionary force of 700,000, supported by auxiliary brigades from Georgia and Honduras, swept Iran and Syria of ISIL, Assad, the Russians, and the less “moderate” elements of al-Nusra. From there, they pivoted eastwards to crush Iran and the Mullahs’ regime fell.  Armed units raced across the Afghan border to encircle the Taliban in cauldrons of destruction.  Loyal Kurd units filled in behind to organize the rear areas.  The African Union brigades from Ethiopia and Kenya too played a key role in the lightening campaigns.  The Prester John Legions as they were known.  Emboldened by their signal success in having crushingly defeated al-Shabab for the 11th straight time, these hardened warriors served as shock troops.  They won laurels from Kemes to Khandahar to Quetta.  Soon, the Hindu Kush – the last redoubts of the bad guys – were in sight.

Regent Ivanka had conceived, yet again, an ingenious plan to send 4 armed columns through the Khyber Pass to outflank the enemy in the Northwest Frontier Province and the Tribal Areas of Pakistan.  It may have worked, even though the road through the pass is one lane.  But it was not necessary.  Matching audacity with guile, Regent Ivanka came up with a Machiavellian scheme to subvert the Pakistani government.  She activated a long dormant CIA sleeper agent, the fabled Raymond Davis, who planted an explosive charge in General Rahul Sharif’s swagger stick. Resistance from a demoralized Pakistani Army crumbled.  It was amazing.

Some Islamist elements fought on.  But they were forced to retreat to upper Kashmir. When routed there, they took the high pass through Gilgit and Hunza into the wild no-man’s land on the Chinese border.  In the rugged terrain around Hotan, they linked up with Uighur guerrillas.  From this remote base, they launched a series of daring raids against American forces.  Regent Ivanka warned that terrorist acts by these dead-enders were clear evidence that The Great Danger still loomed over America.  Avanti!

A series of arduous campaigns led to the incorporation of the Pamirs, the trans-Oxian territories, and – via a dynastic marriage between Ivanka’s teen-age daughter Marigold and the son of Kazakhstan’s president , a much loved gay Sufi poet – the grasslands of Central Asia, too.  The contours of the AEA we all know so well were in place.” It was beautiful.

A quizzical look came to Usted Helegu’s face: “dad, there’s one thing I never understood, who paid for all of this?  I remember reading that the Treasury was empty due to the Bush/Obama billionaire building program and the Wall Street follies about that time.”

“You’re right, of course.  Remember, though, austerity is in the eye of the beholder. The Chinese paid for most of it; a few others like Japan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulfies chipped in.  Gates and Zuck, too,  forked over large chunks of cash on the sole condition that each be given authority to appropriate 5% of the national budget. The money crunch came after Washington agreed to pay the salaries of the auxiliary armies in hard currency rather than dollars.  The US already had borrowed huge sums from China in exchange for IOUs backed by sub-prime mortgage securities and Wells Fargo credit card accounts.  This time, the Beijing leaders said they wanted solid collateral.   In exchange for a credit line of $4.5 trillion, they demanded a 97 year lease on Manhattan Island – or whatever was left of it after the riots 17 years earlier.  Ivanka wasn’t sure it was a good deal, so she consulted with Chris Christie and John Strumpf.  They were of little help, their hand calculators had crashed simultaneously.

Trusting her gut as always, Regent Ivanka placed a call to Alan Greenspan.  She caught the still sprightly 104 year old between matches of cut-throat shuffleboard at the Ayn Rand Geriatric Invitational at the Fountainhead Hotel on the boardwalk in Miami Beach.  He advised her to go ahead with the deal.  All great countries depend on credit for vital investments, when the economic fundamentals are sound, he explained.  So it went through, with Ivanka bargaining shrewdly to get as a sweetener 24 packets of China’s choicest Ginseng tea.’

“The rest of the story you pretty much know”

At that moment, a shout went up that land had been sighted.  San Francisco lay ahead.  The ocean liner Shantung out of Shanghai eased its way into the Bay.  It moved slowly to avoid the jagged wreckage of the Golden Gate Bridge, sticking to the narrow channel.  It had been widened just enough to accommodate the steady flow of outbound cargo vessels with grain, timber and ores in their holds.

The passengers disembarked at the main port in Alameda.  Passport controls were minimal.  None of the retina scans that still were the norm at border crossings back in the Heartland.   That did mean a spike in undetected glaucoma.  No one gave a damn.  Passengers took pedicabs across the derelict Bay Bridge to San Francisco.  They were a mixed bunch – merchants, honorable officials come to administer the vast territory officially called Celestium Occidental, and a host of tourists on package tours to see the fabled Lost Cities of California.  San Francisco was a sad shadow of its former self.  It had deteriorated badly during the decades of War Capitalism when the American economy gradually collapsed under its mountain of debt.  It then was neglected under the new regime. Abandonment was a way of breaking with the indulgent, corrupt past, like the Arabs who by-passed the great cities of the lands they conquered to plant Islam’s banner in virgin spiritual territory.  SF was home to 80,000 abject souls.

Decadence had given way to dilapidation.  The famed cable cars ran no more, their tracks poking through the crumpled asphalt.  Splinters of decayed high risers studded the hills.  Only Coit Tower remained intact.  It was meticulously maintained by the Trump family trust and renamed Trump Tower West as a  symbol of the founding dynasty.  Its marble sheathing shimmered in the bright sunlight reflecting off the Bay.  The tower stood in stark contrast to its grubby surroundings and the weed grown ruins of the city’s other former glories.

Osman and Usted set out from their lodgings at the Sampan Inn, in the old Ghiradelli chocolate complex, to tour the tragic city.  In a section of town called the Barbary Coast, they spied an ancient book store on whose time stained façade they could barely make out the letters: ity L gh ‘s.  It was an Alladin’s cave of memorabilia.  They filled their knapsacks with a fascinating collection of items: a faded menu from the Olympic Club Grill room, a striking psychedelic poster promoting a Grateful Dead concert at the Fillmore Auditorium, a tattered copy of an odd volume titled “Leaning In” by someone named Sheryl Sandberg dedicated: “To Ivanka – With Admiration!,” a set of brochures touting ARM loans from Countrywide and Washington Mutual banks, and a red KAEPERNICK 7  jersey.  The real find was a first edition of the “The Decline and Fall of the American Empire” by the renown scholar at Singapore National University, Rabindra Chen.

The title confused no one.  The American Empire Asia existed in name only.  It was the residue of the once mighty Imperium ruled from Washington that had stretched from Chesapeake Bay to Samarkand.  China had sagely decided to retain the name when they took sovereign control.  The name America still resonated strongly.  So like the Byzantines at Constantinople who called their dominion Rome, so did Beijing see practical value in exploiting so long established a brand-name.

America proper had succumbed to Chinese overlords gradually over a period of two decades in the mid 21-t century.  Starting with the Manhattan Island deal, they steadily had acquired ownership of the commanding heights of the economy along with a few choice lowland sites – starting with the Treasury and Fort Knox whose contents they owned entirely by 2057.  The Protectorate was officially established in 2072.  Beijing had taken advantage of a diplomatic gaffe to turn the actual into the legal.  The cassis belli occurred in the White House at the weekly meeting between the American Regent and the Chinese Vice-Regal High Representative.  The ill-starred Regent was Ivana, great granddaughter to Donald.  In a fit of temper sparked by China’s annexation of the Barrenlands (formerly Alaska), she had carelessly flipped her open lipstick onto his impeccable silk gown.  That was excuse enough for the Chinese to move.

It was a bloodless conquest.  With sly Oriental cunning, the Chinese chose their moment skillfully.  It was Super Bowl Sunday.  With Americans crowded around their Great Wall TVs, the coup went forward stealthily.  Most people were not even aware of it for weeks.  They stayed glued to their blank screens assuming themselves victims of yet another of the recurring blackouts that added to the misery of life in post-imperial America.  Years later, diehard patriots could still be sighted straggling out of their grottoes to haunt the deserted premises of sports bars convinced that the game would resume once the interminable commercial break was over.

Osman and Usted’s vague recollections of the Happy Events period they studied in school were revived by a perusal of the Chen history.  It had cost them next to nothing.  The natives, long accustomed to a hand-to-mouth existence, were glad to accept whatever little income dealing in antiquities provided them.  Haggling with shopkeepers was more a matter of custom than a serious commercial exchange.  Besides, the Yuan made all tourists feel rich.  The pair climbed to the crest of Nob Hill.  There, amazingly intact, was the imposing building of the Pacific Union Club.  A discreet bronze sign stated that it now was the Sun Yat Sen Institute of High Confucian Studies.  Usted Helegu briefly entertained the thought that this might be a pleasant place to spend a year of post-doc studies.

Father and son descended into the Columbus Avenue dip and then climbed Telegraph Hill.  They strolled the shabby quarter along upper Grant Street, passing the façade of a bleak coffee shop bearing the name TRIESTE.  Osman Massoud peered through the grimy window, listening to the faint sounds coming from a cheap American DVD player.  They went in.  Staring at a signboard menu that offered organic, fair traded, shade grown coffee with organic lactose-free cream – and Malabar cinnamon for 50 cents extra, they prompted the doomsday laugh of the bearded owner: “You guys must be from the Orient; we haven’t got any straight Arabica for more than 50 years.”  The musty room filled with the words of an old American ballad: …’when you come to San Francisco, be sure to wear flowers in your hair.  There’ll be a love-in there.’  Morose patrons listened in silence with only an occasional flicker of recognition.  The glum mood made the ballad feel like a dirge.  Words of yearning with undertones of wistfulness.   The next cut gave voice to the unspoken thoughts of the café’s habitués:   repeating and repeating itself:  “…where have all the flowers gone? Long time learning…. where have all the flowers gone,…. where have all the flowers gone?  Long time learning.…”

The refrain accompanied the pair down the north slope of Telegraph Hill to a fog swept Embarcadero.  No, Ustad Helegu thought, I’ll spend my post-doc year somewhere else – anywhere else!


*Section 3 provides that when the President transmits a written declaration to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, stating that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of the Presidency

Section 4 is the only part of the amendment that has never been invoked.[23] It allows the Vice President, together with a majority of either “the principal officers of the executive departments” (i.e., the Cabinet) or of “such other body as Congress may by law provide”, to declare the President disabled by submitting a written declaration to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. As with Section 3, the Vice President would become Acting President.

Michael Brenner is a Professor of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.