Given the recent Mattis resignation, conventional wisdom holds that the last adult — or, at least, the last senior official willing to question their president’s wisdom — has left the building. Ominously, there are reports that Mattis had a system where he would be notified if the president attempted to use his gravest power of all to initiate a nuclear attack, a protective system that is now presumably defunct. So where does that actually leave us? Is there any way he would ever actually go down that road?
Now on the one hand, it’s not like he makes nuclear threats nearly as often as Putin. Happily, it’s just not one of his obsessions the way his wall is. I can’t recall any nuclear threats since he threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea long before the current best-buds relationship with dictator Kim Jong-Un. And on that note, whom would he even target, since he loves America’s enemies so much? It’s not like even he would try to nuke CNN’s headquarters, no matter what Ann Coulter tweets, right? Nuclear fears are just more fake news from biased liberals trying to whip up panic. That’s just gotta be the case.
Let’s hope it stays that way. On the other hand:
Let’s say Iran shoots down a U.S. airliner that strayed into its airspace, nine months from the date of this post, leaving no survivors. Official Iranian denials of responsibility are quickly put to lie by videos of Iranian troops celebrating among the wreckage, waving their AK’s in the air and yelling “Allah akbar!” Furthermore, and this is key, let’s imagine this happened during a renewed push by Trump to negotiate with the Iranian regime, similar to how he did with North Korea — say, after having publicly boasted on Twitter how he would succeed where Obama had failed.
Let’s also hypothesize that this comes amid a bad week for Trump overall. His poll numbers are down and his most likely Democratic opponent’s numbers are up. Yet another one of his confederates had their office raided by the FBI. The day before, he messed up and turned on FoxNews during Shep Smith’s hour. His mood is as black as it’s ever been before the incident. And now this.
Not only would the downed airline be a heinous act of terrorism on his watch; more importantly for subsequent world history, Trump would view an act like this as a personal slight and humiliation directed against himself. A few hundred dead Americans are one thing in his mind, easily ignored; but, the ayatollahs’ laughing at him and giving him the finger while he was trying to reach out to them? Oh no. That is something completely different.
At that point, the president would be more furious — and hurt — than he ever has been in his tenure. Furthermore, there would be nobody he could even talk to about it. He now views all his aides and subordinates as disloyal idiots, despite being surrounded only by sycophants and bootlicks as of December 2018. He believes they’re all leaking to the press, all are standing in the way of his own genius, and all are out to get him.
All he can think about is one of his personal maxims that he has stuck to all his life, through thick and thin, that he has repeated with relish many times, including on Twitter: when someone hits him, he has to hit back 10 or even 100 times harder. The president rarely speaks truthfully, but whenever he repeats that particular threat, he is deadly honest.
Within an hour of seeing the Iranian troops celebrating on Fox & Friends, with Steve Doocey shaking his head about the grave, personal insult they just delivered to Donald Trump… stewing in the West Wing, with nobody he can trust to call first, and also not trusting himself to simply allow himself one of his Twitter tirades… let’s imagine the president abruptly summoning the nuclear football.
The Iranians would not be laughing at him for long, he says to nobody in particular.
There are plenty of explainers online about the procedure once a president opens the doomsday briefcase. Let me summarize: there is absolutely no veto from within or without the White House when any president decides to exercise his ultimate power, and very little time for anyone to even voice a disagreement.
So perhaps at this point, Jared Kushner voices a timid objection, as nameless aides hurriedly fetch the suitcase from a surprised military guard. He offers that maybe, possibly, his dad-in-law should just take a breather and think about it. This, of course, only enrages the president further, who then orders the Secret Service to escort Mr. Kushner from the room. He is now surrounded by aides either too low-level, or too obsequious like Pence, to offer even the weakest of arguments.
The president is patched through to the War Room. The startled official on duty, let’s say a one-star Air Force general in our case, makes the president confirm the desire to launch twice, once more than by procedure, perhaps blaming a weak signal or not hearing the president correctly. After the attack order is unmistakably confirmed, the general then offers his commander-in-chief some options. He points out that he could scramble a stealth B-2 bomber, loaded with thermonuclear bombs or cruise missiles, from Whitman AFB in Missouri within minutes, destination Tehran. He advises the president that this delivery system would maximize surprise and minimize the potential to throw other nuclear powers into a panic from a launch.
However, the B-2 would take many hours to reach the other side of the globe, as Trump correctly observes to his anxious military subordinate. He wants a demonstration *now*, before the airline story fades from the news cycle and before the ayatollahs can go to bed. Furthermore, as Trump points out, he knows the general is only pressing the bomber option to give the president some time to reconsider. Missiles, after all, unlike planes, can’t be called back.
The president gives his final official order. The defeated general responds with the challenge code. Trump, having forgotten this part, takes a minute to fumble the stiff, heavy card out of his wallet before giving the correct response. The general asks for verification from another senior official (either elected or senate-confirmed), and Pence happily confirms. The order is now completed.
The launch order propagates rapidly through the system. There is no longer any check, any countermeasure. Not even mutiny could realistically stop the process. The order is as fatally serious as it could have been during the height of the Cold War.
A few minutes later and roughly 10,000 miles away, an encoded message delivered via ELF transmission is pressed into an Ohio-class submarine captain’s hands by a panicked young lieutenant. The captain looks at the message, looks at his radio officer, looks at the message again. He tells his executive officer to come take a look. The XO confirms the order appears valid. Two keys are produced; a lockbox that neither man ever wanted to see opened, clangs open. There is some agitated fumbling with the plastic cards inside; the XO is white as a ghost. But he and the captain perform their duties as professionally as can be expected.
A launch officer quietly reprograms one of the boat’s missiles for its intended target. The captain calls out for the boat to ascend to launch depth. The enlisted crew goes about with no cause for concern; this is a drill they do repeatedly on every run. When the helmsman confirms the proper depth is reached, two different keys are inserted into consoles by the captain and his XO, some distance apart from one another so that no one person could simultaneously turn both. On the captain’s mark, the keys are turned.
A single Trident II-D5 SLBM shakes the boat as it thunders into life, splashing out of the Indian Ocean, as some of the crewmen now turn toward each other in mute horror. The bird is loaded with eight W76 Multiple Independent Reentry Vehicles, each with a payload of roughly 100kT, or about seven Hiroshimas each. Earlier, the War Room general was able to steer the president to this option as he remained blissfully ignorant of the W88 warheads carried by some other “boomer” subs, each almost five times the power of the W76. That was the only extent the War Room general could dull the consequences of the president’s bloodlust, and although this would wind up saving thousands of lives, the ultimate effect on world history would turn out to be rather negligible. For whatever reason, let’s say Trump also preferred the sub-launched MIRVs over the silo-based Minutemen and their single, massive warheads; the general would later confide that he believed the president enjoyed the *idea* of MIRVs.
As the Trident missile ascends into the atmosphere, alarms go off in Russia and China, their early-warning satellites confirming a ballistic missile launch. White House officials had rushed to send word to their counterparts in Moscow and Beijing that a launch was going off and that they were *not* the targets; however, given the rapidity of events, the message had not even started to disseminate. Keep in mind that only fifteen minutes have passed since President Trump originally barked the order for the nuclear football.
Russian and PLA militaries swing to maximum alert. Vladimir Putin, who at that moment is at a televised public conference with some of his flunkies discussing the downed airline, is unceremoniously hauled out of the room by security services towards his helicopter, destination a bunker in the Urals. His Russian Strategic Rocket Troops are buffeted by criss-crossing orders and communications that all boil down to the same thing: “This is not a drill.” The same is true of Chinese forces, who are now scrambling jets and awakening their troops to maximum alert.
By now, the Trident-II missile is approaching the apogee of its flight. Soon, it will release all eight MIRV devices, which will then free-fall the rest of their way towards Tehran. A harried official advises Putin on his helicopter that preliminary reports suggest Russia is not the target, but the Americans have confirmed a nuclear missile is indeed on its way to… somewhere. Putin puts his head in his hands. For all his bluster, there has been nobody on earth more adverse to a two-way nuclear exchange — he had always wanted to rule a latter-day Soviet empire, not a radioactive pile of rubble.
As for President Trump, he is already on Marine One, headed to a secret bunker in West Virginia. Neither Melania nor his children are with him. Nobody thought of them in time, partly due to the barely-controlled panic now gripping much of the upper echelon; in any event, the president does not once think about them either until an aide tentatively brings them up mid-flight. He belatedly orders Ivanka and Jared to seek cover, paying no heed to the fact that he had had Jared bounced from the Oval Office less than a half-hour ago. He does not spare a thought for any of his other children, ex-wives, or mistresses.
Rumor that something is up now begins to circulate among the media. The White House is tight-lipped as ever, but John Roberts is tipped-off by a trusted source, on deep background, that a nuclear reprisal may be on its way to Iran. Roberts does not feel comfortable just tweeting out something that white-hot, but he does group-chat his colleagues both within and without FoxNews. Olivia Nuzzi sends back: “Just heard the same thing.” Vague, anonymous quotes about “possible” military reprisals start getting retweeted. There are also strange yet unconfirmed reports surfacing about Vladimir Putin being rushed out of a meeting in a hurry.
The time is approaching one-half hour since the president opened the briefcase, or almost 11:00am local Washington time. The district, as with the rest of America, is still going about its day. The airline horror still dominates the news and social media, but the average American is more concerned about their work day, or their kids, or how they’re going to afford rent. Soldiers and airmen in California, in Germany, in Iraq continue their normal duties. Television anchors are going over read-outs for their noon broadcasts, almost all totally ignorant that none of what they are reading at that moment will make their eventual show.
By now, the MIRV warheads are screaming out of space at velocities many times the speed of sound. As luck would have it, one of them has malfunctioned, soon to crash into a hillside almost harmlessly. It is about 7:30pm in Tehran. The calls to sunset prayers have finished. Families are sharing dinner, discussing what they know about the airline situation from their censored media. Nobody believes the regime’s denials of responsibility; most are appalled by the situation, although some are convinced the “airliner” was actually full of spies. Young couples furtively meet in parks and alleyways. Children are called in by their mothers.
The Iranian Supreme Leader sets down the phone and sits down, staring out the window. He was just advised categorically by his own ambassador in Moscow that the Russians believe an American nuclear missile is on its way to Iran at that moment. He looks out into the fading sunlight. There is nothing to be done now, even if there could have been something to do earlier. (Whether or not he had personally ordered the downing of the U.S. airliner, I leave up to the reader. In my imagination, it was the act of an overzealous local military commander. Or perhaps the Iranian leader did order it in a moment of pure malicious sadism? Either way, it no longer really matters at this point.)
He briefly considers calling his defense minister. But to what end? Then, there is nothing. There is no time to even register pain, let alone shock. The Supreme Leader’s life is finished in less time than it takes for a signal from his eyeballs to register in his brain’s occipital lobe. Later, as the cliche goes, they will say he was one of the lucky ones.
Within seconds of each other, seven detonations of almost incomprehensible power and light explode in and around Tehran. Tens of thousands of people die as instantly as the Iranian President; many times more than that, unfortunately for them, would survive but a few minutes longer. Incredible booms rip across the sky. Buildings collapse in front of the shockwaves like they were built of wet cardboard; many who were not instantly vaporized are pummeled to death by falling debris. Electrical devices and stations in a wide area short out. Seven firestorms then begin to engulf the remains of Tehran, gashing furiously through ancient and modern districts alike, merging and disrupting with each other. Most of those that had survived the initial blast are now simply incinerated. Some of them, instantly. The majority, not so much. Those fortunate(?) enough to be some distance from all of the sites had just enough time to attempt to find some kind of cover. Many thousands more soon perish from secondary fires and building collapses. In the coming days, more would succumb to disease, thirst, and radiation sickness.
Within two minutes of the explosions, an aide on the helicopter patches Putin through to a senior watch commander. He confirms multiple thermonuclear detonations around the Tehran area, and confirms that there are no other known missiles in flight. There are no signs of aircraft headed towards Russia. However, the commander cautions, the Americans have stealth aircraft, and no longer have any qualms about using the ultimate weapon. He urges only the highest level of alert for the near future. Putin does not need any urging to agree.
He then orders the Russian embassy in Washington to immediately take to Trump’s favorite medium and tweet: “Russia condemns in the strongest terms the nuclear strike against Iran and the American criminals responsible.” The message goes out approximately seven minutes after the detonations.
With communications networks in Iran completely down, world media could do nothing but speculate what was going on, with deep-background rumors only muddying the waters. But the Russian tweet immediately explodes all media, social and otherwise, like a… well, perhaps the analogy is a bit obvious.
The effects on the ground in America move fast. All channels break through their programming with the news; one newscaster is unable to contain her tears in an image that would become forever synonymous with that day. Within minutes, the American stock market indexes all drop around 20% of their opening values. People, especially parents, stampede from their places of work. All major cities are ensnarled by massive traffic jams heading outwards as pandemonium begins to reign. Mass cash withdrawals leave ATM machines empty. Supermarkets are almost instantly jammed within the hour, with ridiculous lines causing customers to simply shoplift instead so that they may join the exodus as soon as possible.
Elsewhere, Middle Eastern powers, one by one, prodded by social media and their own panicked officials, quickly signal a new rapproach with Iran. The diplomatic order of Israel and Saudi Arabia, so carefully and delicately cultivated over decades by prior American administrations, disintegrates almost as rapidly as Tehran before it. The Iraqi president orders an immediate withdrawal of all American forces; Afghanistan soon does the same. Pakistan pledges unreserved support against the Americans.
Bedlam grips Europe, and although their markets are closed at the time of the detonations, everyone knows their indexes will go the same way as the Dow; sell orders flood City of London firms. NATO officials in Brussels hurriedly begin preliminary plans for an official response, which centers on distancing themselves from Trump’s strikes. European capitals are soon mobbed by protestors, as are cities in Canada and America itself.
Twenty-four hours after President Trump summoned the nuclear football, NATO meetings have become dominated on how to expel the United States from the alliance. The most vocal proponent is Canada. Russia and China are mobilizing their militaries as rapidly as possible, and have begun reaching out to each other about forming a united front against the barbaric Americans — an unthinkable diplomatic feat just one day prior. An informal Iranian military government based in Qom has declared war on both the United States and Israel, quickly joined by Syria, Lebanon, Qatar and, soon, Pakistan. Even Saudi Arabia, longtime enemy of Iran and ally of America, has retreated into a cool neutrality, choosing to let things play themselves out. Initial air- and missile-strikes against American naval forces in the Persian gulf and Israeli ground targets — the latter nation quite nonplussed at being roped into a tragedy they had nothing to do with — fail, but in the coming days only intensify as the members of what would soon be called the Persian Alliance better coordinate their efforts.
American conservatives and their outlets such as FoxNews are busily praising the courage and intrepidness of Donald Trump calling for nuclear strikes; as contributors like Mark Levin and Mollie Hemingway emphasize, prior presidents simply lacked the manhood to nuke Tehran before, and it’s just typical how the fake-news liberal media are unfairly tearing into the greatest president of all time once again. They waste no time lambasting again and again those crazy liberals “taking terrorist Iran’s side.” But these honeyed words are doing little to assuage American citizens, especially as the news of formal war declarations against America by multiple nations ripple across non-state-coordinated media outlets. A full-on bank run starts to build momentum as the cash supply of ATMs across the country are milked dry; as one CNBC contributor laconically observes, “In the midst of a bank run, the only rational recourse is to join in.”
Cities in America and Europe, already wracked by exodus, are further shut down by increasing frenzied demonstrations by liberal and leftist protestors. That the protestors and rioters, not to mention the riot police they confront, know they could be plasma-ified by a thermonuclear detonation at any moment only fuels the breakdown of order in New York, Washington, San Francisco, Paris, Berlin. Many who would never have joined with anarchist vandalism and looting a day before, quickly reasoned they no longer had a reason not to.
Deep within a Cold War-era bunker in West Virginia, the president dismisses military advisors with their increasingly distressing briefings with curses and insults, telling them how they are failing him. He stays in his bedroom, fixated on recent recordings of FoxNews. Lou Dobbs’ show from the prior evening, during which that host spent the entire hour inviting on guests to praise the president’s wisdom and strength and bemoaning the shackles of Congress and the media that this genius should be free of, he watches twice. American military advisors present at the time will eventually confirm to various international tribunals that this president did not even really understand, or refused to understand, that an international alliance had declared war against his nation until at least 48 hours later. He only felt personally attacked and betrayed with every piece of bad news, refusing to even hear it. During this critical period, the nation’s military, especially its vulnerable Iraq and Persian Gulf presence, was left without its commander-in-chief.
Absent orders from his chief, the new Secretary of Defense, headquarted as he still was in the Pentagon and not the President’s rural bunker, had on his own ordered a worldwide elevation to DefCon 2. (Many local commands had already taken the initiative, rolling out DefCon 3- or 2-level procedures without calling it such.) Communications with their Russian and Chinese counterparts were now zero, so armed escalaction at any moment with them could not be ruled out; more pressing was the steadily escalating assaults on a Persian Gulf carrier group and the beginnings of mass rocket strikes and border intrusions on Israel. Intensifying requests to the president for orders for him and CENTCOM continue to be met with silence.
The problem was, their CinC had not been exempt from seeing the horrifying videos that were now starting to stream out of what was once Tehran, from moonsuit-clad rescue crews sifting through the radioactive ruins for survivors. To be sure, FoxNews only displayed these images in the background while the hosts delivered a steady stream of commentary on how the Iranians had it coming and how only this president, singular among all heroes in American history, had the steely nerve to do what had to be done, betrayed as he was as always by hateful liberal Americans; but by this point, the president had the TV on mute half the time anyway. The full gravity of his actions began to press on him. And in response, the familiar reflex kicks in: to assign blame to those who made him have to do it.
To the Democrats who made this happen. To the Europeans who betrayed him. To the incompetent American military officers who had let him down. To his new White House staff and SecDef. To the Clinton-loving investment bankers who had tanked the stock market at this point to -40% down from its initial point before the nuclear strike, which he believes they did just to make him look bad. To the fake news media who kept at him, whom he believes has been the biggest victim of unfair attacks in the history of the United States. To the unfair Chinese and their trade policies.
It is at this point that Trump, for the first time since his initial Tehran strike, takes to Twitter.
Whether the nation then survives the ensuing week is, of course, open to your own imagination and political biases.
End of scenario. Have a good evening.