Stock exchanges all across the globe were closed for a fortnight, as central bankers and investment firms tried to decide how to balance the avalanche of sell orders by deciding how much governmental capital would be printed, and deciding at what level to allow markets to open. Their first guess, 50 percent down, proved disastrously high. After a second week-long stoppage, markets reopened at 18 percent of their prewar value, then settled around 20 percent a month later. The world economy plunged into a protracted, deep global depression.
After a huge initial price spike to $512 per barrel, oil plunged back to $80, as bankrupt consumer countries could not pay a hugely inflated tab; heating oil was rationed in the winter, and summer brownouts became commonplace. Transportation use was drastically curtailed, with air travel plummeting. Russia saw anticipated petroleum revenues fall well below the $100 price it needs to sustain its economy and social fabric. China and India accelerated coal projects, but with petroleum in short supply their economies collapsed, setting off immense internal unrest. Gold topped $10,000 per ounce. The dollar plunged 88 percent in value. Though the crash enabled the U.S. to inflate its way out of accumulated debt, U.S. assets fell even more drastically, as housing, lending, and consumer spending plunged to lows not seen in two generations.
America’s allies drew the conclusion that the American nuclear guarantee was no longer credible. Gulf Arab nations instituted nuclear programs, purchasing nuclear bombs from Pakistan and North Korea. Asian allies Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea jump-started theirs, with Japan going nuclear within 90 days. Australia and Canada started nuclear weapons programs. Pakistan’s 100-nuke arsenal fell into Islamist hands. America’s position as global superpower supreme vanished overnight, as its immense military was paralyzed by political indecision and its economy pushed over the abyss by the global crash. Preoccupied with domestic crises, America left its closest Mideast ally to fend for itself, save for sending medical and food supplies.
The second American Century was over. Waves of jihadist fervor swept Arab and other Muslim lands. This time the struggle against an ascendant West could at last be won. In this the jihadi would be proven wrong, but only after a series of sanguinary wars taking countless lives. A crisis of confidence in the West toppled governments everywhere, but with no leaders emerging who could win broad popular trust. The essential glue of civil society had come unstuck; it would take generations to repair. Devastation was so widespread and severe that much of the world was catapulted back a century in time.
The events of April 2013 put paid to the illusion that a nuclear strike upon Israel, while a catastrophe in human terms, could be weathered by an America spared the physical annihilation visited upon the Jewish state. Twenty-first-century America proved a far less cohesive society than the America that won the Second World War. America thus found itself irremediably diminished as a world power, its enemies exultant.