So in class this week I'm talking about the 1990s and the attempt to set up a post-Cold War foreign policy. In an effort to hammer home just how radically different the world had become in such a short time I invoked the utter absurdity of the leader of the Soviet Communist Party making a commercial for an American fast food chain. Not sure that fully sank in for kids who didn't live through that time, but one of them pulled it up on YouTube and hung around after class a bit to talk about it. He was amused to read comments, one of which was something to the effect of "Imagine if Reagan had wound up making commercials for Stolichnaya."
Of course whoever made that post missed the point completely: If we were living in a world where the USSR was the only global superpower, no one would be making commercials for anything. For a couple of days the prospect of how to get there has marinated in my mind, and for the first time in ages I find myself coming up with an original AH idea. I figured I might as well sketch it out here in case anyone finds it interesting.
So HT of course gave us something like this in ''[[The Gladiator]]'' and kept the POD kind of vague, but it does somewhat seem like the USSR was able to score a decisive military victory without American second strike capability turning that victory to ashes. But I was thinking a peaceful end to the Cold War, something that closely parallels what really happened, would be more in order. I came up with the following, which I want to emphasize is not something I actually think could have happened. In fact I think the probability approaches zero. But as a thought experiment, it was the most grounded scenario I could come up with.
So my first thought was, Reagan was way too hard line to be a Gorbachev like figure. He's not going to end up making the equivalent of a Pizza Hut commercial; his contribution to this timeline will be losing power, or maybe never attaining it to begin with. The latter option struck me as the more promising of the two; if he was in power military buildups would make a peaceful fall nearly impossible. This starting point may be too strongly influenced by depressing current events, but let's say that Nixon is sulking about how badly he was treated at the end of his administration, and despite the fact that he'd been caught red-handed breaking the law, too many Republicans are fighting his corner even though the country desperately wants to move on. This makes the GOP unelectable--I mean, it would have to, wouldn't it? Wouldn't it?--and Carter is reelected in 1980.
Despite getting a second term, he's faced with one worst-case scenario after another. At home, inflation and unemployment both remain painfully high thanks to OPEC continuing to choke oil imports down to a trickle, and the generalized malaise of the 1970s, with its loss of faith in public institutions, continues to hang around like the smoke and haze of a faraway wildfire. Abroad, the US is on the back foot everywhere we turn. The diplomats who'd been abducted in Tehran never do make it home, and are ultimately executed on Khomeini's orders when the CIA opens a back channel to Baghdad during the Iraq-Iran War. The Camp David Accords are quickly forced aground by hard-liners in both Tel Aviv and Cairo. Vietnam forces Pol Pot out of power, reveals to the world the full extent of his crimes, and publicizes that, for all its talk of human rights regimes, America had backed the people responsible for these horrors. Pro-US regimes in Latin America fall to Marxist insurgencies, and it seems every year we're in danger of another Cuba. The situation there really deteriorates when Argentina repels the British force sent to retake the Falklands, and American support for the UK badly backfires with regional leaders.
Moscow on the other hand is doing great. Swift military action in Poland cuts the Solidarity strikers down to size, and the USSR welcomes the newly annexed Afghan Soviet Socialist Republic.
The British defeat in the South Atlantic leads to the fall of the Tory government, and late in 1982 Michael Foot forms a government, with Tony Benn as chancellor. Left-wingers like Eric Heffer and Dennis Skinner take Cabinet posts, new MPs like Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are fast-tracked, and Militant ensures that the Tony Blairs of the world never gain traction. Before too long we see Britain withdraw from NATO, and other Western European nations follow. Spain and Portugal drift in a Marxist direction following the deaths of their ancient fascist rulers. For good measure we'll say Canada somehow gets taken over by an anti-NATO faction of New Democrats and possibly sees Quebecois secession as well. (What good AH scenario doesn't include Quebecois secession?)
The 1984 election is a shitshow. Carter is term limited but steers the Democratic nomination to a centrist establishmentarian--for simplicity's sake, say Mondale. This infuriates hard left factions that had arisen out of nowhere in response to the successes of their comrades in other (former) NATO countries. They'd hoped to reverse the ultimate failure of the left wing to seize the Democratic Party from the establishment in 1968, and having failed again they run a ticket of their own. (No one really comes to mind off the top of my head--Abbie Hoffman, maybe?) The Republicans run someone repugnant like David Duke, and favorite sons crop up here and there as well. No one gets a majority in the EC and Congress is unable to break the deadlock. The lame duck Carter seems paralyzed and a coup is attempted by Oliver North or someone like that. It fails when the radical left's candidate stares them down, Yeltsin style. His popularity soars and demand for a new constitutional convention becomes irresistible.
At the convention, Hoffman or whoever makes a compelling case that both politics and economics have been hopelessly corrupted by private enterprise, and a new constitution that enshrines nationalization and a planned economy is approved by the delegates. Of course not everyone's on board with it, and significant civil unrest will drag on. But a new, radical government is able to seize enough control to obtain widespread international recognition. This is greatly helped by the fact that Moscow welcomes these developments and pushes the other nations of its now vastly expanded sphere of influence to do the same. That government has to request aid from the booming USSR to jump start its by now tattered economy, and that aid comes with strings attached, including large scale unilateral disarmament. Game, set, match.
Some time in the late 90s, Soviet state TV sends a crew to do a documentary on the progress of communism in the United States. For one segment they travel to Plains, GA, where Comrade Former President does a propaganda piece on how much more productive agriculture has become since corporations like Carter Farms were nationalized.
It's a long walk to a small payoff, I'll admit, but I hope anyone reading it may have found it mildly interesting. If nothing else, thinking just how unlikely it is might drive home how similarly hard it would have been to imagine Gorbachev wound one day wind up selling Pizza Hut.