"Power Without Knowledge...": President Haig and the Era of Bad Feelings

The Tiger and the Peacock: The Second Levant War
Under the umbrella of American protection Kurdistan had done pretty well for itself since gaining independence. Having built a new capital, the planned city of Uqbar, the Kurdish state had a representative democracy, a politically neutral civil service, and a well-trained, well-supplied military. Given its position it's fair to say that it was the latter that was most important. To put it simply, Kurdistan was surrounded by enemies that had either lost territory to the new state or who had their own restive Kurdish populations gazing longingly across the border. It didn't help that the Republic included in its constitution the ability to absorb neighboring Kurdish territory "if there was a mandate from the Kurdish peoples of said territory".

And that was where the trouble started. Although Syria had been able to preserve its territorial integrity against Iraq, it still smarted to see Syrian Kurdistan lost to the upstart new country. Something had to be done. And it involved turning to an old enemy for help. Rifaat al-Assad wanted his share of Kurdistan back, and in that goal he had a ready ally in Saddam Hussein. But they could hardly go in guns blazing. Kurdistan had become a crucial US ally in the region, and they were sure to go to war to defend it from an external attack.

But what about an internal one? American intervention in the Levant War had had the unintended side effect of introducing Regressive thought to the region, something which had quietly bloomed even as Regressives in the US snagged all the headlines, and as the center of American presence in the region the Republic of Kurdistan had a large underground Regressive movement in the form of a group called the Green Guard. The plan was simple: covert aid from the Ba'athist regimes could easily be smuggled in, and a little nudge could tip this apparently stable state into a dissolving civil war. A simply elegant solution. So much for best laid plans...

There wouldn't be a Kurdish civil war, with the Guard well aware that they were being used as pawns. The joke was on Hussein and Assad, because the Green Guard was far larger than they suspected, and they were more than happy to take the money and weapons for their own ends. And that meant bombings. Bombings in Kurdistan, yes, but also in Syria. And Iraq. And Iran. And Turkey. 2002 would see whatever peace Haig had hoped to create in the wake of the Levant War shattered as the Green Guard, under Iranian exile Seyyed Hossein Nasr, began consolidating its forces and Kurds in Turkey and Iran sought to seize the opportunity and secede.

President Powell had to act and he had to act quickly. Even leaving aside the fact that there were US troops under fire in Kurdistan, he saw stabilizing the region as vitally important, especially before Iran got its feet under it and started a war with its neighbors, and God forbid before Turkey tried to call in the Soviet Union. It didn't help that the Green Guard's success in the field inspired another wave of Regressive terrorism in the United States...

Even so his response would be incredibly controversial, even if it was initially muted by the wave of patriotic fervor at the sight of US troops in danger:
  • Powell began by sending troops to the region to shore up the Kurdish regime in mid 2002, without the explicit authorization of Congress.
  • Although he would eventually be able to secure an official declaration of war against Iraq and Syria, and even an international peacekeeping coalition, there are lingering questions about the evidence used to justify the attempted regime change in both nations.
  • Powell committed the US explicity to the prevention of "Regressive terrorism at home and abroad". Quite aside from commiting the US to an indefinite anti-insurgency campaign that would take on an ever-larger scope, this would also crystalize the Haig era security state officially, with all the previously murky domestic police powers officially sanctioned and consolidated through the formation of the new Department of Heartland Security.
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The Great Divide: DecoSec and RFA
In the wake of the tumultuous 20th century, the new millennium held immense promise in many circles. Futurists dreamed of a world transformed and made better by technology, and that desire would form the core of two movements that would otherwise be tagentially related at best and mutually opposed at worst. The first, and by far the most mainstream, was the DecoSec movement.

With a following primarily among tech industrialists, architects and artists, Deco Secundis was an aspirational sort of futurism, focused on using markets and technology to solve problems and make a better world, with a focus on an integration of technology into life and work, with a goal of creating spaces balanced between industrial productivity, aesthetically pleasing design and proximity to nature. One of the best examples of this ethic was Macondo Technologies, by this point only a respectably sized computer company just beginning it's proliferation into the software side of things through their Buendia search engine. It would be another decade before Macondo would be regarded as an unassailable giant.

A far different reaction to the promise of technology would begin to bubble up in the wake of the Second Levant War, particularly on Libertalia, a loosely-connected network of lightly moderated message boards. Conspiracy was rampant as people turned to Libertalia to complain about censorship, share links to stolen content, work chaos magic, insult one another and revel in the anonymity of the internet. Then something happened. In the wake of the official declaration of war in Syria and Iraq a board member going by the name "Saint Toad" began posting videos telling people to wake up and denounce spooks.

The audio was always dubbed by a computer, even though the subject would always move their head and hands as if they were speaking animatedly. The most recognizable thing was the mask. It was always the same, skin a teal shade, glasses, dark hair and sideburns. It wasn't long before viewers figured it out. It was a mask of Max Stirner. In the rough and tumble world of Libertalia it was no surprise that St. Toad's rants about egoism found a ready audience. Stirner's work quickly became a frequent topic of discussion, blending with half-baked occultism and the hatred of content moderators and gatekeepers of all kinds. And somewhere along the way Radio Free America was born.

Something between a Union of Egoists and a mob playing at a political party (or was it vice versa?), the RFA had no centralized structure, congregating and dispersing effortlessly whenever two people had Stirner masks and wanted to bust spooks. It evolved its own symbols organically and communicated through memes. Teal was popular for the movement, along with frog symbolism, but there was no rhyme or reason to it and it could be discarded at any time. DDOS attacks on censors, doxxing of abusive police and corrupt officials, hacking and theft of any intellectual property imaginable, everything was on the table, and the lack of any sort of organization made cracking down on anything besides the occasional sloppy lone wolf a nightmare for the DHS and the FBI.

2004 would be the first election to feature an RFA "candidate", with write-in St. Toad garnering a few thousand votes. At the time little more than a footnote to Powell's successful bid for reelection, it would be a shape of things to come, with the St. Toad character quickly growing in popularity as a write-in protest vote, with the mix of organic voluntary participation and disdain for government censorship and intellectual property laws making RFA by some metrics the world's first pirate party. If one assumes that something with no leaders, infrastructure or official members could be considered a party at all 🤔
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What’s civil unrest and terrorism like in the USA? When did it all start?
Right now civil terrorism in the US is a primarily right wing phenomenon given the cross-pollination of the militia movement and Unabomber anti-industrialism that coalesced into the Regressive eco-fascist movement. Most Regressives don't focus overtly on race so there's a sizeable population of nonwhites in the movement, and we'll get into a bit of left of center terror later on so it'll be a bit of a mixed bag as the century drags on. Terrorism in the US was (like OTL) really high in the seventies*, dipped a little at the start of the eighties and then started rising again in the wake of the Reagan assassination in '84. It's something of a cyclical problem, with brief surges under each administration so far, a result of which is the persistent erosion of civil liberties despite recurring promises to the contrary and consistent outrage at the scope of the crackdowns. Ironically enough the fact that it's only under the Powell Administration that all of these police powers are brought under the same roof and written into law theoretically makes it much easier for some future Congress to roll back those same powers in a lasting way given that all the anti-privacy fish are in the same DHS barrel instead of being spread around all over the place.

*Apparently the seventies were actually the high water mark in terms of terrorism on a global scale in real life, given the sheer number of bombings and plane hijackings.
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