It began unexpectedly. Ramon was standing behind a German at an airport cash machine for about five minutes before he realized something was wrong. The man, who had been conversing normally with someone over his cell phone in a jaunty German just a few minutes before was having trouble with his cash cards. He was inserting cards one after the other at the cashpoint. At first he had punched in his PIN with the practiced hand of someone who did it routinely but when the machine rejected his card he retried the password more carefully.
It didn’t work. In the intervening minutes the German tried every piece of plastic in his wallet with varying combinations of passwords without result. The man left the line and went over to another cash machine. Ramon stepped up to the ATM and inserted his card. It worked perfectly. He checked his balance and saw the usual pitifully small balance correctly displayed and was about to withdraw $50 when he became aware of a growing buzz in the airport concourse. It came from a number of individuals at the other cash machines. They too were having trouble withdrawing money. On an impulse Ramon cleared the $50 amount from the screen and entered his cash limit: $1,000 and pressed OK.
The cash machine whirred and 20 $50 bills were pushed out between the rollers of the ATM. Ramon took the money and stepped away from the device to place the bills in his wallet. The next man in line behind him had just inserted his debit card when the ATM’s display turned yellow and displayed the following message. This machine is unavailable. For inquiries call 1-800-715-4345. He glanced over to the ATM queue that the German had joined. Its display too had gone yellow. The murmur in the concourse grew louder and some of those in line were leaving it to make cell phone calls in quieter alcoves.
“Excuse me sir,” a man in a dark tailored suit said to Ramon, “but can you direct me to the office of … and he mentioned a credit card company … I’m having trouble with my cards and I don’t have any cash on me at all.”
Ramon gestured in the direction of where he thought it might be and briefly glanced at the well-dressed middle aged man walk off pulling his baggage trolley. A vague suspicion that had been growing in his mind took approximate shape. Acting on the hunch, he took out his phone and opened a browser on it to http://www.telegraph.co.uk/, a site that he knew to be following the dramatic economic events in Europe closely.
There was nothing except the routine story of the deepening Eurozone debt crisis. Using his thumb to push up the page on the touchscreen display he noticed an item two down in that day’s rolling, live coverage of events: “Unconfirmed reports of dozens of major companies emptying their accounts at …” and it gave a list of banks. And then he knew.
In the coming weeks everyone would remember where he was at that precise moment, at 08:47 Australian Eastern Standard Time reckoned as 16:47 Eastern Standard Time the previous day in New York. Most people in America were at work. Most people in Europe were asleep. But everyone would remember where they were the way earlier generations recalled the assassination of JFK and people an increasingly long time ago heard that two airliners had crashed into the World Trade Center in Manhattan.
From this fictional beginning we can imagine a series of events unfolding across five continents. There is China without any real food or real energy resources coping with the problem of growing fast enough to keep down internal unrest. We have the North Korea’s population moving with Biblical implacability across the border to the North and pushing, despite fearful losses to landmines, in desperate hungry numbers across the DMZ toward the lights of Seoul. There is a Europe, facing hunger for the first time in 60 years, convulsed with civil unrest as its political fabric, so long divided between the left and the not-so-left is torn, driven by desperation to rally around the banners of creeds which had been forgotten for decades.
The Arab Spring had long since turned into regional chaos. Faced with a declining demand for oil, the House of Saud had collapsed and was saved from occupation only by the circumstance that every other country in the region was in turmoil. In all the Gulf States hundreds of thousands of people, from Western expatriates to impoverished contract workers were waiting at airports and seaports for a way out.
There is America with every seeming advantage paralyzed by a debate over whether to allow drilling for oil on the continental United States.
And our hero Ramon Delgato gets bundled into a car by one person he never wanted to hear from again, Bill Greer, to learn that Pakistani nuclear components have gone missing, transported according to the best available intelligence to the one place Ramon knows best. Where seven groups of Pakistanis unknown to each other might meet on neutral ground; to the place where the September 11 plot had first been hatched. That place. And Greer was wondering whether someone — someone who knew the ground — a person who had America’s best interests honestly at heart, might be of assistance, or whether he preferred to spend the next six months in Guantanamo prison, which was of course officially closed, because no word of the offer must ever leak out. And so it begins.
I would write the book if I could, had I either the time or the talent. But consider that in a worldwide crisis the dramatic scenario above — without the literary embellishments — might not be too far from the truth. It would be a world where America could blunder its way into a new century of dominance while Europe commits economic suicide and the Middle East tears itself apart. That is, if the men in Washington can keep the world itself from going up in smoke.
So with that introduction, this open thread is inaugurated. What happens if the EU implodes?