Prompt 119: A Sanctioned USA
119. The Gulf War started on August 2, 1990, when Saddam Hussein's Iraqi regime invaded and conquered Kuwait. In retaliation. the United Nations and the U.S. invaded to cut Iraq off from much of the world for over a decade. How would your life be different if your country was cut off from all other countries? How might you feel about the governments and people throughout the world?
I'm attempting to recall history a bit on this one. I may be hazy and inaccurate on the specific details. I was finishing up middle school and going to 9th grade in 1991.
I suspect that most everyone in the United States has a very inaccurate picture about just how much energy the average US citizen uses every single day. Stretch that out to an entire week, and I doubt anyone has a clue as to what their life would be like were the US cut off from every other country in the world. This is coincidental to the notion that the Iraq War was engaged in by the US not to prevent and halt human rights abuses, but to protect US oil interests. Had Saddam Hussein's government and military forces invaded Saudi Arabia after Kuwait and eventually Iran, then the US would have had to pay Hussein's government for oil - Iraq's government would have been steward of the majority of oil assets in the Middle East - and they didn't want to do that.
Anyway. This further speculation is based on what I know, and could be wildly-incorrect. I'm ignorant that way. All the time.
I bring up energy consumption because the US being cut off from the rest of the world in the way Iraq was sanctioned in the early '90s would have been just as devastating. Prior to NAFTA, there was still manufacturing in the US. Nowadays, US corporations have outsourced most manufacturing (and pollution, and labor costs, and, and...) - ranging from clothes to cars to smartphones - and as soon as those things break, US citizens are used to just throwing them away and buying new ones.
So what would happen in the US if sanctions were as overarching and comprehensive as they were in Iraq back in the day...? On Wikipedia, I read that the Oil For Food Programme helped Iraq offload its oil in exchange for non-military aid, including food and medicines. But that's because they had oil all over the place. What does the US have to share?
Well, the US has a lot of farmland. Much US-grown food is found in the midwest. The trouble is, there's not exactly cheap fuel to be found that will help trucks and trains distribute that food efficiently to the edges of the USA. The east coast might fare better than west: for one, water over there isn't being hijacked to irrigate Vegas, a shit-bird town that shouldn't exist in the first place. For another, there's no nuclear waste making its way to the east coast of the US before the west coast absorbs it (Fukishima).
Does any other place in the world need US food as bad as the US needs everything else it consumes? This is doubtful.
"Alternative energy sources" such as solar and hydropower are not to the extent here in the US to serve as a suitable alternative. There is no fuel source as energy-dense as petroleum-based fuels, and anyway there's no economical-at-scale way to move that food to the edges of the country before the food spoils. I assume coal and wood (burned in improvised fireplaces in homes across the country) would become the dominant fuel for day-to-day life.
Assuming suburban USA didn't turn into a Mad Max hellscape within two years of the onset of the sanctions... There'd be a lot (more) black market stuff going on, a lot more smuggling. Customs & Border Patrol would flip its responsibilities, and instead of preventing illicit imports they would likely facilitate them. A lot of human trafficking would send women -out- of the US into the hands of Russians and Saudi oil magnates, in exchange for smuggled oil shipments - big and small - into the country. Japan would welcome US women as trophy brides and indentured servants. Winters would be long and cold. Cities would burn and crumble due to the inability of municipal governments to maintain water, electricity, sewage, and roadways. Computers would suck up most available energy, thanks to the "Service Economy" now dominant here in the 'States.
The rich folks would escape to their Swiss and Caribbean hideaways, sucking off their tax-free "rainy day funds." They'd been building up to a moment like this. I imagine that there would in fact be a mass exodus of US citizens to places like Canada and Mexico. Imagine refugees from the US, forced to work in textile factories for a few bucks a day, when just a year earlier they were using the same amount to pay for a new sweatshirt from WalMart or Target. Canada would stop joking about building a wall, and they would be turning away hundreds of US refugees a day. Those US citizens who decided to dig in and stay in the 'States to "tough it out" would likely move closer to the center of the country and work farmland. At least until the water dried up or tornadoes decimated their chances.
"Oh how the mighty have fallen," indeed.
On the other hand, the US has a lot of customers for overseas businesses, so these sanctions might not last as long (again, thanks to Wikipedia... UN sanctions against Iraq began Summer 1990 and ended in Spring of 2003). Could China handle not having the US as a customer for all its stuff for 13 years? Again, I think this is doubtful. Additionally, it's unlikely any country or coalition of countries could enforce sanctions against the United States, -unless- said coalition was headed by Russia and China.
That would provide an interesting dynamic... China would vehemently enforce the sanctions in public, but behind closed doors would be orchestrating all manner of deals to funnel oil into the US in exchange for US food and eventually US holdings. The end result of all this, I think, would be that in much less time than the Iraq sanctions the US economy would be perforated like a paper towel. Its population would be decimated by starvation, sickness, and human trafficking, with Asian billionaires now owning much of the US. Once the parceling-out of the US was complete, the sanctions would be lifted, and the US would then be occupied territories. At best, they would be satraps of the new world powers, like Canada and Mexico are to the US now.
So, I think it's safe to say that life in the 'States could be a lot worse than it is now.