Alternate History

For Want of a Heimlich

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POD: Jan 14, 2002: US President George W. Bush chokes on a pretzel and dies. It is decided that the American people should not learn of the undignified way their President died.


Dick Cheney is sworn in as 44th President of the United States. For his VP he selects Chief of Staff Andrew Card, although it is known among insiders that Card is only a stop-gap until Cheney can find an ideal conservative to groom as successor.

The Winter Olympics are held in Salt Lake City. There Cheney meets Olympic CEO Mitt Romney and hears about his success in fighting corruption and tightening the budget of the Olympic Committee. Cheney sees potential in him and gives him Card’s old job of Chief of Staff, reasoning that Romney needs experience in the executive branch.

Operation Anaconda consolidates US control of Afghanistan. Cross-border raids by Special Forces into Pakistan are condemned by that country. Pervez Musharraf wins another five-year term.


Saddam Hussein is assassinated as he gives a speech in Baghdad. An unnamed source inside the CIA leaks documents which seem to indicate American involvement. Hussein’s will names Qusay as his successor. Uday, the eldest son, becomes enraged by this. Gathering a group of friends, he enters the palace where Qusay is beginning to form his new government. The men pull out handguns and AK-47s, and massacre Qusay and many of his new ministers. The palace guard rushes in and all of the men including Uday are killed in a hail of bullets. Qusay is rushed to the hospital, and it is uncertain whether he will live.

Iraq erupts into civil war as Qusay Hussein falls into a coma. The long-oppressed Shi'ite minority, led by several revolutionary clerics, begins an armed insurrection, and the Baathist military imposes martial law. Genocide along religious lines is reported in the countryside, and Iran is rumored to be funneling money to the rebels.

Rumors abound that President Cheney is using the USA PATRIOT Act to wiretap Americans’ phones. Cheney dismisses this as paranoid speculation but his notorious secrecy doesn’t help matters. Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft and other high-ranking Cabinet members are investigated for possible abuse of power. Many simply refuse to answer questions.

The Human Genome Project is completed ahead of schedule.

Dick Cheney names Mitt Romney his Vice President and once more makes Andrew Card Chief of Staff.

President Cheney attends the G8 amid worldwide protests. Many blame Cheney and the CIA for killing Saddam and causing the Iraqi Civil War.


Kurdistan declares independence in northern Iraq. The Iranian-backed Shi'ite faction now controls most of the country except Kurdistan and the Sunni Triangle around Baghdad. The Republican Guard pulls back as the Fedayeen begin a guerrilla war in Shi'ite-controlled areas.

The Democratic primaries are held. Although Sen. Hillary Clinton had been rumored to want the nomination, Clinton eventually agreed with the DNC that it is too soon after her husband’s presidency. Howard Dean of Vermont eventually wins the nomination. Perceived as far-left, Dean chooses as his running mate John Edwards, a more conservative Southern Democrat. Dick Cheney declines his party’s nomination and endorses Mitt Romney. Romney accepts the nomination at the Republican National Convention, held in Madison Square Garden amid massive security. To please the base and allay the concerns of Evangelicals, who are skeptical of a Mormon President, Romney chooses Evangelical Gov. Mike Huckabee as his running mate.

Operation Mountain Thunder: The US military launches an extended campaign in Pakistan to root out Taliban fighters who are using the border areas as a base. Pakistan protests this violation of its sovereignty, and the international community widely condemns Cheney. The incident differs from previous border raids in that it is an extended operation, with American troops occupying parts of Waziristan for weeks fighting the Taliban. Though it solidifies Cheney’s reputation for unilateral action and disdain for international opinion, the operation does have one major success: Osama Bin Laden is captured. A video of the terrorist leader being pulled out of a cave by American troops becomes the most-watched video on the Internet. Bin Laden dies of his injuries before he can be brought to trial, but Cheney’s approval rating spikes.

The Fall of Baghdad: Brutal urban warfare in the streets of Iraq’s capital ends as the final fallback of the Republican Guard, the so-called Green Zone surrounding one of Saddam’s many palaces and the hospital Qusay is in, is overrun by Shi'ite fighters. In a widely-broadcast iconic moment, a statue of Saddam, blindfolded by a black revolutionary flag, is pulled down by a militia with a captured Iraqi tank. The hospital is stormed and Qusay is shot at close range with a pistol. His corpse is paraded through Baghdad by the victorious Shi'ites, who engage in looting and violence against Sunnis. The only good news for Sunni residents of the city is that the Republican Guard holds on to the airport until the last minute, evacuating many Sunnis, government and military officials, and millions of dollars. The planes go to nearby Saudi Arabia, which grants them asylum.

2004 US Presidential Election: Mitt Romney campaigns primarily on his party’s foreign policy victories, especially in capturing Bin Laden, and on his own reputation as an outsider willing to battle corruption. Opponent Howard Dean criticizes Romney for lacking experience and calls attention to Huckabee’s far-right stances on social issues. Romney still wins the election, 281 electoral votes to Dean’s 257.


Mitt Romney is inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. He is the first Mormon President. Immediately he makes sweeping changes to the cabinet, replacing Donald Rumsfeld with Robert Gates, Andrew Card with Rob Portman, and John Ashcroft with Paul Clement.

Terri Schaivo becomes the focus of a national debate when her husband attempts to take her off life support. Mike Huckabee personally campaigns to keep her alive, and draws criticism from both the left and the libertarians, who don’t feel it’s appropriate for the government, especially the Vice President, to get involved. Largely because of Huckabee’s activism and large protests by conservatives, the Florida courts rule to keep her alive. Huckabee is famously quoted as saying that Shaivo’s fate was “narrowly avoided by President Bush” and questions whether those who want to take her off life support “might have done the same to the President”. Huckabee, like most people, thinks Bush died of an aneurism. The event dramatizes the split between the right and left and hurts Huckabee’s chances of running for office after Romney’s presidency.

From the chaos in Iraq, a leader begins to emerge. Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al Sadr is proclaimed by a council of radical mullahs as their leader, and while some militias fail to recognize his authority, a majority of Iraqis are loyal to him. He is installed as the new dictator in Baghdad, but refuses to take over one of Saddam’s many palaces, claiming that such splendor is offensive to a true Muslim. Instead Sadr bases his government in an unpretentious office building downtown, which is heavily guarded by his fanatically loyal troops. Only Iran recognizes al Sadr’s regime. The UN passes a resolution calling for democracy in Iraq.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is named Pope Benedict XVI.

Syria, with international focus diverted to Iraq and stronger ties among Sunni countries, given what happened to Iraq, is able to resist international pressure and keeps its troops in Lebanon.

Al Sadr’s forces begin a push into Kurdistan, but are hindered by the militias of rival Shi'ia clerics and attacks from Baathist remnants around Mosul and Tikrit. Supply lines are difficult to maintain, and the army is little more than a mob of former militiamen using captured Republican Guard equipment. However, al Sadr needs to keep the armed mob that put him in power occupied, lest they turn on him. In Baghdad, he begins training a real army, loyal only to him.

Romney draws criticism for closing many military bases in the US, but the move is seen as necessary. Romney promised to his fiscal conservative base that he’d cut the out-of-control military budget, which had never been properly reduced since the end of the Cold War. Still, the loss of jobs makes him less popular.

Several countries reject a proposed European Constitution in the EU.

Live 8 is held, with the goal of reducing both poverty and violence, especially in Iraq. Protesters gather to demonstrate against the G8, which Mitt Romney attends for the first time as President.

Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans. Though Romney had vetoed the appropriation of funds for strengthening the levies, he had, as part of his reformer crusade, replaced the head of FEMA with someone more competent. Aid arrives in a timely fashion, and the disaster doesn’t significantly hurt Romney’s popularity.

Israel pulls out of many settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

John G. Roberts is made Chief Justice by President Romney.

Shi'ite forces are engaged in a guerrilla war in Kurdistan. Neither al Sadr’s Iraq nor Kurdistan is internationally recognized.

Iranian President Ahmandinejad holds an anti-Zionist conference in Tehran and makes controversial statements calling for Israel to be wiped out. Mitt Romney condemns his statements and reaffirms US support for Israel. US-Iranian relations become hostile.

Riots break out in poor Parisian immigrant communities.


Islamic extremists in Somalia capture Mogadishu. The spread of Islamism worries many in the Romney administration. Despite the successes in Afghanistan, the death of Osama Bin Laden, and the failure of terrorists to attack America after 9/11, the events in Iraq and Somalia have lead to a perception that Romney is soft on terror among more hard line neoconservatives. Not wanting to gain Cheney’s reputation for disregarding international will, however, Romney makes a speech stating that the US will spearhead efforts to combat radical Islam, but must work with the rest of the world. The speech is well-received and America begins to work with the UN to create task forces to curb the violence in Somalia.

Israeli troops enter Lebanon to combat Hezbollah. Lebanon is still occupied by Syrian troops, leading to fears that Syria will declare war on Israel. When Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan sign a defense pact with Syria, both to protect against al Sadr and block Israeli ambitions in the region, Israel backs down.

Pluto is classified as a dwarf planet and not a “planet”.

UN troops recapture Mogadishu. Republican Sen. John McCain is lampooned on late-night TV for describing a market in UN-occupied downtown Mogadishu as being as safe as “any mall in America”, only to have the camera zoom out and reveal over 50 heavily-armored bodyguards following him.

Shi'ite forces retreat from Kurdistan. Moqtada al Sadr himself survives an assassination attempt when a roadside bomb explodes early, destroying the car in front of him in his convoy.

Iranian President Ahmandinejad visits Baghdad and shakes al Sadr’s hand in a widely-published photo. After this incident the US declares Iran “the world’s number one state sponsor of terror”, cuts diplomatic ties, and puts an embargo on Iranian exports. Oil prices reach record highs, as the chaos in Iraq and embargo on Iran deprive the US of two major sources of oil. Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela and Vladimir Putin’s Russia net record profits. Iran suffers a recession but Ahmandinejad’s popularity remains high, as he is seen as bravely resisting American bullying.


Moqtada al Sadr instigates a purge in Iraq, using his recent assassination attempt as an excuse to kill many of his perceived enemies. The Iraqi army, little more than a mob of zealots and suicidal freedom fighters, returns from Kurdistan to find that al Sadr has created the Revolutionary Brigades. Trained in Iran, armed with Iranian and captured Republican Guard weapons, and loyal only to al Sadr, the Brigades attack and purges the old army, killing thousands of those who helped al Sadr come to power. The Brigades then hunt down the few remaining clerics who won’t support al Sadr’s regime and bring them back to Baghdad for mock trials and execution by firing squad. For his purges al Sadr is charged in abesentia with war crimes by the ICC.

US and UN forces drive the Islamic Courts Union out of Somalia. Mitt Romney famously visits the troops and makes a speech on an aircraft carrier. This becomes one of the iconic moments of Romney’s presidency. Romney takes the opportunity to introduce a similar operation to lead peacekeepers in Darfur, although he emphasizes it will be more of a humanitarian aid mission and less of a military operation. The idea gets a largely positive reaction and the US prepares to deploy troops to aid the UN in Sudan.

At Virginia Tech, a student named Seung-Hui Cho kills himself, raising questions of suicide prevention, depression awareness, and gun control, as many ask why someone with a record of mental illness was able to purchase a handgun. Riots against the Syrian military occupation break out in Lebanon. With America’s more active foreign policy and international focus temporarily off Iraq, Syrian is forced to pull out of the country.

US troops are redeployed from Somalia to Darfur, with the stated goal to protect civilian populations there from militias. Hugo Chavez’s proposed constitutional amendments pass a referendum, expanding the powers of the executive in Venezuela.


Benazir Bhutto is elected President of Pakistan.

The 2008 Democratic primaries are held. Hillary Clinton has been building a coalition of Democratic allies almost since her husband left office. When she passed up the chance to run in 2004 and supported Howard Dean, it was with a sort of tacit understanding that she'd be the candidate next time. So naturally Clinton is quite surprised when a young junior senator from Illinois by the name of Barack Obama started winning states in the primary. For a while it even looks like Obama was going to win, before Clinton won Ohio. In the primaries, Obama demonstrates his ability to get out the vote among African Americans and young voters. When John Edwards, also a strong contender in the primaries, is caught having an affair with a campaign worker and disgraced, Clinton wastes no time in choosing Obama as her VP.

The US undergoes a mortgage crisis as the housing market begins to collapse. High gas prices have been a fact of life for years, but now consumer panic sends the country into a slump. The stock market plunges, seems to recover, drops again, and then plateaus fairly low. The media, with traditional alarmism, only makes things worse by declaring that a Second Great Depression is imminent.

As election night looms, President Romney make a last-minute change and replaces Vice President Huckabee with Rob Portman, his Chief of Staff (a position which is increasingly being seen as a stepping-stone to the Vice Presidency) and a young, charismatic conservative from Ohio. Although the far-right evangelicals who liked Huckabee protest, and some end up voting for conservative third parties like the Constitution Party, most dislike Clinton strongly enough to remain loyal to the Republicans. Romney’s foreign policy experience is considered to be his strongest qualification, especially when Clinton tells the press of her harrowing trip to Bosnia where her plane landed under sniper fire, a story which turns out to be greatly exaggerated. Clinton, on the other hand, is seen to be the stronger candidate on economic matters. As the recession worsens, Clinton’s plan of middle-class tax cuts, easier access to healthcare (although not truly “universal healthcare” although that is on her long term agenda), and higher taxes for the very rich seem more and more appealing to Americans. However, Clinton herself has trouble attracting certain demographics, specifically men and moderates, to her side, and is generally described as “unlikeable” by many.

Election night is a tense one for both campaigns, as the results from state after state slowly come in. Portman, Romney’s new VP, delivers his home state of Ohio as the Republicans had hoped. New Hampshire, somewhat surprisingly, is too close to call for most of the night, a disconcerting spot of gray on an otherwise solidly blue Northeast. Eventually it goes to Clinton, but it is clear that she has alienated some moderates (a group New Hampshire is known to have a lot of) and the toss-up nature of the state turns out to be something of an omen for the campaign. Clinton also wins the swing state of Missouri, with urban St. Louis and Kansas City playing a large part in her victory. County-level results show a stark division between blue cities and red rural areas however she does do well in rural areas depending on state. However, despite her extensive campaigning in the state, Florida narrowly goes to Romney, and New Mexico, which went for Dean in 2004, goes to Clinton. Clinton also wins Iowa, easily wins Arkansas with 61 percent of the vote, and also wins Nevada. Virginia(1%), North Carolina(1.5%) , Montana(2%) and Georgia(4%) are surprisingly close. Michigan ends up being the deciding state of the election with Clinton winning it by only 15,000 votes. In the end Clinton defeats President Rommey with 34 more electoral votes more than Romney, 286 to 252 becoming America's first female president. Romney, though looking somewhat weary after staying up most of the night, makes a concession speech the next morning in which he promises to run again in the future. Clinton, addressing supporters in Little Rock rather than New York in a nod to her Arkansas roots, promises to focus on the economy and begin the hard work of fixing America’s problems.

2009 On August 30, 2009 the Opposition Democratic Party of Japan or DPJ wins a landslide victory over the long ruling Liberal Democratic Party or LPJ. Party President Yukio Hatoyama will become the next Prime Minister of Japan.

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