Paul Laxalt’s term is an enigma in American history. Such few American presidents have seen the world changed so much during their term. The problem with the Laxalt presidency being so consequential is that he spent so little time as president. During his short term as president, he did the standard conservative policies. Pass a couple of tax cuts here and there and increase military spending.
These policies weren’t an important part of his administration. Neither was meeting with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, but the global backdrop was. Shortly after he was sworn in as president by Chief Justice Warren Burger Guatemala descended into chaos. After the sister revolutions of Nicaragua and El Salvador had descended into an international conflict Guatemala experienced an uptick in revolutionary activity. In response the Guatemalan government, led by Fernando Garcia retaliated with a series of killings and village burnings by military death squads. A group of peasant farmers protested these killings in Guatemala City on December 1st. In response to people using their right to freedom of speech the government brutalized them, beating men and women alike for the crime of speaking out against injustice.
The protestors realized they needed to do something bigger to allow their voices to be heard over the deafening tyranny of the Guatemalan government and took drastic action on the 10th of December. The Spanish embassy was stormed by poor farmers in a desperate attempt to show the plight of poor Ixil and K’iche farmers in the country. Spain was sympathetic to the cause of the indigenous farmers, especially after the murders of several Spanish priests in the region. The Spanish ambassador pleaded with the Guatemalan government to negotiate with the farmers, but the government refused. On December 20th, a few days before Christmas the Guatemalan City police department sent in the SWAT team to dislodge the protestors, despite the brazen violation of international law. A fire soon started due to white phosphorus being deployed by the police mixing with tear gas and Molotov cocktails. The fire burned out of control as the police fled the building along with the staff and protestors, causing the entrances to be jammed. To make the situation even worse the SWAT team actively sabotaged the efforts by protestors to escape the embassy by continuing to deploy tear gas and beating protestors who escaped to the brink of death. In total forty-one people were killed in the fire, including the Spanish ambassador to Guatemala.
First responders at the Guatemala Embassy.
A wave of grief burned like a wildfire through Guatemala City as the funerals for the 41 people murdered on December 20th were held on December 26th. As thousands of citizens viewed the charred bodies their anger only grew when they realized the sheer brutality of the government. But the final straw came when the Guatemalan government broke up the funerals as “riots” due to angry funeral goers burning effigies of the dictator Lucas Garcia. The soldiers deployed tear gas and used batons to brutalize the funeral goers. If they thought their crackdown was going to work, they were mistaken. The next day several factories went on strike to protest the brutality of the Garcia regime and the attack on the funeral service. A couple hours later railroad workers went on strike in the south of Guatemala City in solidarity. By the end of the day 20% of all workers in Guatemala City were on strike and by January 1st that number increased to 35%. The Garcia regime was on the brink of collapse when soldiers fired on strikers on the outskirts of Guatemala City. With a couple of shots Guatemala burst into flames. The Guerrilla Army of the Poor (EGP) and Organization of People’s Arms (OPRA) saw a dramatic increase in support and renewed their offensives towards Guatemala City. The Garcia regime dug in and begged the Jackson administration for aide. Jackson agreed and sent millions of dollars in guns, RPGs, and artillery to the Garcia regime in the final act of the Jackson administration.
Socialist militia marching to Guatemala City.
The war became a slaughter as death squads “disposed” of suspected communists in a precursor to the indiscriminate Guatemalan genocide under the Montt regime. But for the time being the OPRA and EGP united under the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) along with dozens of smaller decentralized local militias. The Guatemalan military managed to hold the line due to the US aide but rioting in Guatemala City and massive offensive allowed the URNG to capture vast swathes of land in the poor rural areas of the country. As Laxalt came in he expanded the air war to encompass Guatemala as the Panama War winded down. Plans for a possible invasion of Nicaragua were being drawn up but Laxalt knew he couldn’t invade every country in Latin America. So, his plan of using the CIA to direct and aide the Guatemalan military and JNP was put in motion. The CIA would aide anti-communist dictators and organizations with advisors and weaponry to out class and out gun the communist organizations. This strategy would be first used in Guatemala as the civil war raged on. At first it was successful as the heavy weaponry managed to kill scores of disorganized UNRG members, but things would change in the near future as more fires lit up in Latin America and America’s network of supplies would have to be stretched thin.
Laxalt’s most consequential action would be passing the Wilson Act, named after representative Charlie Wilson of Texas, it’d would provide billions of dollars over the next decade to aid the Islamists in the civil war. This came as the first major battle in Qom was raging between PIF forces who defended the city from an Islamist offensive. The battle quickly devolved into street to street fighting and was considered the most important city besides Tehran. First of all, the city was the political base for the Islamists and if it fell it would deal a great psychological blow to the Islamists. Second it would allow the PIF to penetrate deep into Islamist territory. The battle started with a massive artillery barrage by the PIF that killed thousands before they attempted to storm the city. However, the destruction created by the artillery barrage became the greatest enemy of the PIF. Moderates who were neutral or unwilling to fight in the civil war were horrified by the destruction of mosques, which while not purposeful didn’t exactly disprove the allegations of radical and oppressive atheism that the PIF attempted to dodge. The Islamists soldiers in Qom were soon reinforced by Islamic militias who held back the PIF soldiers while the Islamists entrenched themselves. But more importantly militias formed inside the PRRI itself and were instrumental in sabotaging the supply lines. By the end of the first two weeks the PIF looked like it was going to be pushed out of Qom as Islamic militias wreaked havoc on other parts of the country and were at risk of breaking the front line.
Soviet Premier Dimitry Ustinov
The Soviet Union saw this and wasn’t about to allow a potential oil rich ally fall into the hands of the NATO sphere. The PRRI would be a far more helpful and powerful ally compared to the weak and feeble Afghanistan regime they propped up. It was in Tehran that the Soviet Chairman Dimitry Ustinov, who had replaced the sickly Leonid Brezhnev after a stroke incapacitated him in 1978 wanted to leave his mark on the world. He felt that the Soviet Union had the potential to win against the United States in the Cold War due to the fact so many organic revolutionary movements had springing up. Figuring the US was unwilling to fight in Iran as even Jackson flat out rejected the idea of sending US soldiers to Iran when they could’ve easily turned the tide due to the crisis on America’s home continent. Ustinov knew it was a gamble, but he needed to do something to prevent a hostile country in charge of a decent amount of the world’s oil supply from taking root. Just like the US intervention in the Vietnam War the reasoning would be mostly fictitious. On February 14th, 1981, a Soviet plane carrying cargo would be shot down in Islamist territory. The crew survived but shooting down an officially neutral plane was an act of war. Ustinov responded by bombing key Islamist positions, specifically in Qom and dramatically increasing the importation of heavy weaponry to the PRRI. Ayatollah Khamenei denounced the Soviet bombing campaign as an act of war and Muslims across the Middle East burned Soviet flags and called for death of Rajavi and Ustinov. Vice President Cianci while in Egypt to discuss escalating tensions between Israel and Egypt after the failed peace talks of 1979 denounced the intervention as an act of international terrorism.
The Soviet weaponry of APCs and heavy artillery and air strikes did much to help the PIF as they were now able to focus on Islamist forces in Qom and cause some serious casualties. A month after the Soviet intervention the PIF launched an offensive on Islamist supply lines just South of Qom forced the Islamists to retreat. After the deaths of 80,000 people the battle of Qom was won. Most of the city, including several important religious monuments were destroyed in the crossfire and were the real decisive factor in the battle. It was an important strategic victory for the PIF on paper but to the public it was a rallying cry. Many Muslims viewed the PRRI as another puppet of the Soviet Union and one that would destroy Islam in the Middle East. The popularity of the PIF collapsed in the religious, conservative, poor, and rural areas of the country. This made occupying the rural areas of the country increasingly difficult as Islamists ran a brutal guerilla campaign against the PIF that wreaked havoc on their supply lines and soldiers. The Battle of Qom may have been a victory for the PIF, but it was a political blow that they would never shake off. The US at the advice of Secretary of State Alexander Haig began to bomb PIF positions.
Saddam Hussein announcing the invasion of Iran.
If things were looking to simple for those looking at the Iranian Civil War a new country would join the war on February 25th. Iraqi soldiers crossed into the Khuzestan region in the dead of night as the lightly defended border was wide open. The few Islamists and PIF soldiers or militia members were swiftly crushed by the superior Iraqi soldiers. Saddam Hussein had long sought the Khuzestan region since he came to power in 1979. This was due to the immense oil wealth in the region that would turn Iraq into a superpower that would command respect from the rest of the world. Furthermore, he would supplant Egypt as the leader of the Arab world. Seeing Iran torn apart by civil war gave him the best possible opportunity to invade with minimal casualties. As news trickled into the ears of the Islamists and PIF the more soldiers trickled into the Khuzestan region. Almost immediately both the Soviet Union and the United States condemned the invasion of Iran by Iraq as a criminal act of aggression. Overnight Iraq turned into a pariah state in both the Warsaw Pact nations and the American aligned bloc of the world. One particular opponent of the invasion was representative George W. Bush of Texas who said on the house floor:
“This battle in Iran serves as a battle not just against Godless socialism but also now against the tyrannical piranha state of Iraq who seek to only benefit off chaos and murder scores of innocents. Hussein and his ilk are no better and just as tyrannical as the China and the Soviet Union. Him and his fellow tyrants, Ustinov, Hongwen, Rajavi, and Ortega are part of a new axis of evil that threatens the very fabric of society.”
Bush's gaffe aside the US would become a sworn enemy of Iraq as they penetrated deeper into the Khuzestan territory. But one nation would stand out in their support for Hussein as both the Soviets and United States wished for his death. That nation was Israel. A surprise for sure as what do they have to gain from Iraq? Well Israel had been fearful of an avowed antisemitic Islamist state backed by one of the most powerful nations on earth. Israel didn’t like Rajavi and the PRRI for obvious reasons, but the Islamists’s brazen antisemitism and ultra-reactionary subgroups terrified the state that was surrounded by hostile states. Especially since the failed peace talks in 1979 between Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin allies or even non-hostile countries were hard to come by. So, they naturally looked for someone who would tip the Middle East in their favor. Israel’s whole policy was to play for the Arab powers against each other while they lived in peace and the other nations were too busy either fighting or bickering with themselves to focus their wrath of Israel. Hussein’s invasion of Iran presented a golden opportunity for Israel as Hussein was desperate for support after both the Soviet Union and United States denounced him as a rogue regime and he would do serious damage to the Islamists and PIF who hated Israel. If Hussein’s plan did succeed then Israel had a somewhat competent ally in the Middle East who would be willing to tolerate them and would make nations like Syria, Egypt, and Iran think twice about messing with them. If he lost, then well he’s alienated and would have to be a friend of Israel to prevent Iraq from becoming a hermit kingdom. Plus, he’d weaken whoever won the Iranian Civil War for years to come. The support for Iraq was at first clandestine but once it was figured out it was going to unleash a firestorm Begin would regret for the last of his time on earth. But for now, the Iraqi military only just started to face resistance from the Islamist and PIF soldiers. The first major battle came in Ahvaz against the Islamist forces. The Iraqi army went in overly cocky and with high expectations that this was going to be a quick and decisive victory for the nation. What followed was a brutal battle that saw Islamist militias fight with an intensity not seen since the crusades. The Iraqi soldiers were stunned and suffered a hefty price for entering the city. Urban warfare made the Iraqi soldiers cramped and easy to pick off by merely blowing up a house with either booby traps or an RPG.
Iraqi soldiers in 1981 after capturing an enemy position and Islamist flag.
The Iraqi soldiers would win the battle of Ahvaz by the end of April but at an enormous cost in morale and lives. Shortly after the United States bombed Iraqi soldiers as they attempted to take the coastline. The air strikes slowed down the advance to a stalemate as they came under attack from PIF soldiers in the north of the country. Next Hussein tried to secure a defensive line against the PIF to allow him to focus his main fire power on the Islamists and force a peace deal. Instead, the battle turned into a full-blown siege as Rajavi told the people of Illam via radio to hold strong against the tide of Iraqi imperialism and Arab Nationalism. By the end of May Hussein was making gains but at a slower pace than expected. Thanks to support by Israeli advisors and weaponry he managed to stabilize the situation, but Soviet and United States air strikes damaged his ability to totally cripple the Islamist forces. Laxalt was planning in around a month to confront the UN about implementing international sanctions against Iraq but in the meantime he had too much to chew on. The FSLN and FDN were inflicting thousands of casualties on the Honduras military and there was now a refugee crisis on the southern border. The stress was getting to him, and he decided he would knock out three visits with foreign leaders at once. He would first stop in Sydney Australia to meet with Prime Minister Bill Hayden of Australia for two days between May 5th and May 7th. Then he would meet with the Queen in Auckland to discuss global issues and take a couple of photos for the UK-US press. Then the next day on the 9th he would meet with Robert Muldoon to round off the trip and return back to the US. A tight schedule that wouldn’t be healthy, but neither was being president.
He just wouldn’t realize how unhealthy it was. Everything was going fine until his visit to Auckland. He got a feeling in his gut this wasn’t a good idea. It was as if his guardian angel was telling him something he told his wife. On the 9th he had gotten a good night of sleep, but he still had the nagging feeling that something was wrong. He ignored it, figuring it was just some anxiety due to the situation in Latin America or Iran. As he drove up to the parliament building from his hotel crowds started to form at the sight of a foreign visitor of such prestige. He exited his car and waved to the crowd. Bang
. One shot rang out from fifty feet away. The gun shot was the last sound Laxalt heard before fell into the arms of a secret service man, dead from a direct shot to the head. The bodyguard was covered in blood and Laxalt’s wife was screaming in horror as would America when they woke up to find out their nightmare had just begun. America was now on the highway to hell.