World War IIIbyDinsmore©
"We need some help here, Jack---a strike package and an extraction team---now!"
"The fast movers are eight minutes out---the helos almost thirty, Hal, ah, Mr. President"
"They'll be dead or worse in five. We're going in; we're switching to Tac two."
The four star combatant commander knew that protest was futile. He'd known the POTUS since their first war together. He remembered fondly his first meeting with the then brand new lieutenant. He'd known then that he was different...special. He'd had no idea how special.
How had Hal Franks become President of the United States and leader of the free world? Reluctantly, for sure, even more so than a Gerry Ford or even a George Herbert Walker Bush who never really seemed to want to be President. With less than eighteen months remaining in the former president's second term, his vice president had had a massive heart attack and could no longer carry out his duties.
In a polarized and contentious environment the former POTUS had nominated a man who was a surprise all---Hal Franks. A decorated war hero, award winning writer, philanthropist, highly educated genius and billionaire many times over...with a diverse privately held business empire that scanned the globe. Hal didn't simply throw money at a problem, he jumped in head first. Curing pandemic diseases, perfecting new non-fossil fuel energy sources or attacking poverty and disadvantage with revolutionary techniques, Hal Franks rolled up his sleeves, gathered the resources and did what needed to be done.
The contentious opposition party had failed miserably in their attempt to thwart his confirmation. He ate their collective lunches in the confirmation hearings and they didn't even know it. He parried their relentless attacks with a delightfully wry wit, a gentle smile and a command of the issues that was unparalleled.
Even the opposition senators' strongest and typically most radical supporters didn't have the heart for the battle. Hal Franks was also a true humanitarian who had done more to advance the causes of minorities and women over his life time than possibly any person alive. Since both NOW and the NAACP had made Hal Franks there, 'man-of-the-year' on countless occasions, it would have been glaring hypocrisy to deny him their support.
America loved him before the hearings; afterwards, they adored him. When he raised his hand to be sworn in as Vice President of the United States he had an unprecedented 92% approval rating. Most assumed that the reluctant new VP lacked the stomach for politics and would not run for President in an election campaign that had already begun. He hadn't planned on it but the country just wasn't willing to let him get away.
Here was a man with nothing to prove and no one to whom he owed favors. He was on a first name basis with more world leaders than the last five presidents combined. He spoke a number of languages fluently---no one was exactly sure how many. As a private citizen he had been called upon by prior presidents of both parties to help deal with a number of potential crises around the world. He had always delivered, often with a result that the cynical press had already declared impossible. He was disarmingly candid and even playful with the press who thoroughly enjoyed his oft unannounced forays into the White House Press Room. He simply didn't have the ability to spin rhetoric in speeches; he simply looked the electorate in the eye and told them the truth---and told them what he was going to do next.
He had served his country for all of his adult life; he came to the conclusion as he contemplated becoming a candidate for president that his country wanted---needed---at least four more years of service from him. He accepted his party's nomination; his acceptance speech left the country and much of the world in awe. Here was an almost apolitical and caring leader who, 'didn't need the job' but was quite obviously the only man for the job in troubled times.
The former president had slipped out of the limelight to allow his new VP to become the face of government, desperately praying that this special man would, as he had always done, rise to the occasion out of a sense of duty and service and run. Hal traveled extensively in the first year; every place he visited---every leader with whom he met—was touched by his grace. At the end of that first year he would have been elected president of the world if there had been such an office. Even the partisan rancor in his own country cooled dramatically.
The other party chose their ticket; it was a dreadful one. Americans have been loath to put someone in the White House who they just can't find a way to like. The junior senator from one of the nation's most populous states often came across as shrill and mean spirited. She made factual errors---even lied---in campaign speeches. She never could shake her radical roots nor appeal to the voters as someone who could be trusted as a Commander in Chief.
Her running mate, a bright, well educated and articulate African American Senator who had once been viewed as a shooting star of the party did not hold up well under the rigors of a national campaign. While he had seemed glib and erudite in his often prepared addresses or in news conferences in which friendly questions had been planted, he fell apart like a cheap suit under serious scrutiny. Hal Frank's choice for Vice President hadn't helped his situation.
Hal chose Nancy Davis as his running mate, a forty eight year old former Marine Officer with an astounding resume. Incredibly bright and well educated, she had succeeded at everything she had ever done. She had made a brief foray into politics serving a term in the House of Representatives, then being appointed to fill out the remaining term of a deceased senator and subsequently winning election by a land slide. She could have stayed there for life, if she had chosen.
Instead she went to the private sector and turned around not one but two struggling airlines in less than four years. She then went on to fix one of the nation's most important but beleaguered charities. She was appointed and virtually unanimously confirmed to a federal judgeship in the former president's second term---after successfully resurrecting the Federal Emergency Management Agency in less than eighteen months.
She had been the first female Marine fighter jock, shooting down five enemy aircraft over three US interventions in the Middle East to become the country's first---and only--- woman ace. She stood barely shy of six feet in her bare feet, had a smile that could melt stone, possessed an astounding understanding of the issues and never seemed to need notes or a teleprompter. She was also unquestionable the most beautiful woman who had ever graced the national political stage. She bantered with the press, destroyed her opponent in the debate without ever losing her smile and in short order became America's new sweetheart, albeit one damned tough, smart and accomplished sweetheart.
She was a widow with two grown children. Hal Franks was a widower with two grown children; he was two years her senior. Both spouses had succumbed to cancer during the previous decade. Hal and Nancy became America's first couple even though there was nothing to suggest that there was anything remotely inappropriate between them. Many in the country wished there was, that somehow they could become the nation's first family in reality. They were obviously very good friends with a huge amount of respect and genuine affection for each other. They were both known to be of such unblemished character that even the cynical press and the grumblers on the far extremes of the political spectrum weren't willing to create a scandal where they knew in their hearts there just wasn't one.
The election was virtually over after the debates. The other presidential candidate just couldn't decide who she wanted to be and was someone different in each of the three debates. Without notes and handlers, her abysmal understanding of the modern world was exposed for all to see. She went from shrill and mean spirited in the first debate—her true colors---to sweet and demure with her notorious fake, plastic smile in the second debate, to a complete meltdown in the third debate that raised questions about her mental health. In the end, she couldn't even carry her adopted home state. Hal Franks and Nancy Davis won fifty states and a popular vote margin so massive it couldn't be questioned. Their party picked up enough seats to make the specter of future filibusters all but impossible.
In the weeks between the astounding landslide and the inaugural, Hal Franks disappeared from sight. Rumor started that he was sick; the nation became very concerned. The markets got jittery. A week later, the soon to be former POTUS announced, on very short notice, an address to the nation. It was the highest rated presidential address in history.
His words were very brief. He quickly deferred to a massive flat screen TV; the networks and cable outlets were already tied into the satellite feed. There was Hal Franks. To his left was the diminutive leader of one of the world last rogue nations---a nation that the US was still technically at war with after over half a century. The other seats on the dais were occupied by key leaders from other Asian nations, some friends and allies, several less so. In short order, Hal Franks introduced each of the participants---greeting them and introducing them flawlessly in their native languages as well as in English. It was a startlingly warm and friendly gathering.
The war that had never ended was now over. The rogue nation would no longer be so; at that very moment their borders to the South were being opened to allow free passage in both directions. All the nations in attendance had agreed to a mutual protection treaty---had literally become allies. Asia, to include the two most populous nations in the world, would become non-nuclear. All would unite in the on going battle against terrorism.
The television talking heads---and probably most private citizens---were speechless, almost in disbelief. One of the most obnoxious ones, a man noted for berating and rudely cutting off his guests started his usual babble.
"What does this mean? What did we have to give up? Is this just politics as usual?"
One of his guests for the evening gave him the answer that everyone in the world soon came to understand was reality.
"Shut up you blithering idiot! It means that the potential for World War III---a nuclear war---has just been taken off the table. It means that somehow, by the grace of God, our next President---Hal Franks---has just saved the world as we know it---again."
The new President took the oath of office a few weeks later and quickly filled his cabinet with a culturally diverse group of undisputed caliber. When he announced plans to reduce the size of the Federal Government by 10% a year though retirement, normal attrition and financial incentives, the expected objections of union leaders were drowned out by the cheers from everyone else.
Hal Franks 'ruled' the Congress with an iron hand and openly, but always good naturedly chided them when they bloviated or became partisan. He worked with both parties to get needed legislation enacted into law. He shamed them out of much of their hog trough, pork barrel nature and the people ate it up---even if it meant they wouldn't get that new bridge that they all knew they didn't really need.
He challenged the media openly to hire people who new something and had done something other than be hacks. On one occasion during one of his unscheduled visits to the White House daily briefing, a reporter asked him pointedly why he no longer called on the representative of one of the largest news outlets.
Looking directly at the offending reporter and addressing him by name the President cleared up the issue quickly.
"John, I've been listening to you ask uninformed and idiotic 'gotcha' questions for years---since long before I became President. You just don't know much---about anything---and your shallow self serving questions clearly demonstrate that fact. You're a good looking guy, and you seem like a pleasant fellow but as I made clear to you and your boss I will never entertain a question from you---nor will my press aide---even if hell freezes over. If you in the press want to seriously be viewed as the fourth branch of the government then grow up, get some smarts and act responsibly. You have an obligation to the citizens of this fantastic nation to inform and educate and many—most---of you aren't living up to your end of the bargain."
John was gone from the White House press corps the following day along with several of his comrades. Media outlets who were purely partisan and negative lost their following and their money. Some changed; some failed.
President Hal Franks did many things very differently than his predecessors. The White House staff shrunk measurably. The press corps was kicked next door to provide office space for the Vice President who became a true partner in governing, not simply a ceremonial ribbon cutter as had always been tradition.
Hal Franks brought his own people in to provide his close in security, all of whom were former Secret Service, military or FBI. He temporarily moth balled the 747 that was viewed as Air Force One in favor of an aircraft of his own radical design. The grumblers grumbled about him flying in a private aircraft. He had ended up leasing the craft to the Air Force for a dollar a year. Some pundit complained that there should have been a bidding process to allow minority vendors an opportunity to compete.
He had also activated several reserve Air Force pilots to fly the plane. He charged the Air Force another dollar a year for a maintenance contract and then a third dollar for all fuel. The grumbling partisans looked like the mean spirited fools they often were and the country opening booed their antics. Always beholding to political polls, the opposition leaders soon abandoned their efforts to 'get' Hal Franks as their own popularity ratings fell into the low double digits.
The Secret Service director grumbled on about the POTUS usurping his authority to any reporter or partisan member of Congress who would listen. When a known radical with a plastic but lethal blade eluded Secret Service screening and got to the front row of a line of people wishing to shake his hand and attempted to assassinate Hal, the American people were furious. The fact that the president himself actually disarmed his attacker only added to the legend who was Hal Franks. The country quickly had a new Secret Service director and the elite agency received a thorough house cleaning. Cleaning out do nothing, incompetent bureaucrats was a passion of Hal's.
Entire agencies that were unable to justify their existence began to wither on the vine. The vast public welfare system known as the Federal Government became lean and mean. Billions of dollars were saved. Market analysts and foreign lenders applauded. The third year budget was not only a balanced one but provided a surplus. Taxes were cut and the economy boomed. More and more government workers looked to better opportunities in the private sector. Fewer new workers wanted to work for the government. Private accounts for government pensioners, to include Social Security recipients, became law and became extremely popular.
Hal appointed a tough old cop and former prosecutor to the Attorney General's spot and directed him to go after the cheaters and thieves within government at every level with a vengeance. The people were tired of being fleeced; state and local prosecutors soon filed suit and the corruption declined dramatically. The government, possibly for the first time ever, began to work for the people---and the people loved it.
Hal Frank's special air plane resembled the old NASA lifting body and was in essence completely curvilinear. It was reputed to be very stealthy and very fast. It was in fact both---and far faster than most people could even imagine. Easily the size of a 747 it was in fact hyper-sonic and capable of flying at extreme high altitude on the very edge of space. Utilizing vectored thrust, it was also able to land and take off vertically.
It's use in combat---for Hal had actually built a dozen of the special planes---came to light when a militant Chinese general unhappy with the new world order stole the launch codes for China's few remaining nuclear tipped weapons---those that had not yet been dismantled---and mobilized an Army, Navy and Air Force of his followers in a bold and deadly plan to reclaim Taiwan, destroy Japan and dominate the Korean peninsula. It occurred early in Hal's second term as President. The other party had put up token resistance, another awful pair of candidates and got hammered even worse than they had four years earlier.
As the news unfolded, the doom sayers in the media egged on by the disloyal opposition attempted to portray the impending conflict and possible conflagration as Hal's fault. They painted an apocalyptic picture of hundred of thousands of dead American soldiers, devastation to the world economy and the complete failure of the President's Asia policy.
Some even predicted that America would lose with dire consequences. In any event, they predicted, it would be a true world war which would last for years or even decades. Some even claimed that the Chinese president was in on the plan and had lied to Hal and could not be trusted. In the first seventy-two hours of the conflict there was a virtual news blackout, further fueling dire speculation by the idiot talking heads and wacko editorialists. There were reports of nuclear detonations. On the night of the third day Hal Franks called for time for an address to the nation. The markets had been jittery but the declines had been almost minuscule.
As the American people waited to hear from their leader they knew they'd get the truth, good or bad. The spirit of optimism in the nation was almost surreal and only increased the consternation of the press and pundits. The POTUS spoke briefly---under five minutes---and took no questions.
"It's over. We're done. Our mission was a success. All remaining Chinese nuclear devices have been destroyed, many utilizing our airborne missile defense system which worked flawlessly. Those still in their silos which had nor yet been dismantled under the previous treaty were destroyed in place. Sadly it was also necessary to destroy most of China's modern Navy---at least in the Sea of Japan. One of their own nuclear devices, an air launched cruise missile bound for the South Korean Capital, veered off course before we could get a lock and destroy it, killing hundreds of thousands of Chinese military forces assembled for the invasion of Taiwan. From trajectory analysis and information received from the Chinese leadership, three missiles were intended for the West Coast of the US. Other targets included the Japanese mainland."
"We on the other hand used no nuclear devices of any type. We did, however, find it necessary to eliminate most of their anti-aircraft capability and all of their modern air force. Since the attempted attacks on Korea, Japan and Taiwan never got off the ground, there were no civilian casualties in those countries. The efforts of our allies were critical in the success of this operation and all have suffered military losses. As laid out in the treaty, all signatory parties responded to the attempted invasion of one of their allies---Taiwan---vigorously and in a coordinated manner. "
"China's President will be here in the White House tomorrow. I consider him to be my friend. It is my personal belief that he was not part of this action but was unable to stop it. It was in fact critical to the success of our endeavor that the Chinese leadership provided valuable intelligence and worked with and not against us over the last three days---and before."