Chapter 213: Politik
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Columbia, Federal District, the United States of America

May 28th, 1837

Marie-Adriana Bonapart d’Armont stirred sugar into her coffee as she glared at the fat stack of papers on the table. The cover sheet menacingly blared the words “CONGRESSIONAL BRIEF OF MIDDLE EASTERN AND CENTRAL ASIAN AFFAIRS,” which made her coffee taste more bitter than usual. She sighed as she slipped the china back onto the saucer and leaned back in her chair. “Out of all the regions I could’ve received… I get assigned to the Middle East. What even happens there? All I know about is the pyramids in Egypt, but how is that important to anyone in the US?” 

Congresswoman Laura Walker, a fellow representative from the Liberal Party and her mentor, raised an eyebrow as she flipped through her own file. She glanced at Marie’s source of frustration and hesitated before speaking, “Every part of the world is important, Marie. It’s our duty to be aware of the world at large. There are hundreds of countries in the world, and their situations are changing daily. This report is probably outdated by now, but it’s still important to read and analyze it.”

The two were in a lounge nestled in between the Congressional Houses of the New England Representatives and Senators. The vast and spacious building contained various amenities: a small library, a bar, a cafe, and a smoke area. The interiors were simple yet clean and organized, with its mahogany walls decorated by famous legislation and pictures. The oak tables and chairs were imprinted with the scars of pens and utensils. In their downtime, members of Congress socialized and strategized within its walls, churning the gears of democracy as they argued and relaxed.

“But it’s… the Middle East,” Marie answered lamely. “It’s filled with sand, camels, and more sand. And pyramids on top of the sand. My point is, what is there to be interested in? Central Asia isn’t that much better. I swear, they only gave me a seat on the Foreign Affairs Committee because of my name and pushed me aside because I’m a rookie, and a Congresswoman at that.”

Laura opened her mouth but closed it and gaped awkwardly. She looked up at the ceiling for a few moments before flicking her blonde hair and turning to her colleague, “You might be right about that. I didn’t even get a seat on a committee during my first term and had to observe the Committee on Agriculture even though I was from New York City. Despite our party’s policies, even the members sometimes look… down on women. But if they think they’re sidelining you by assigning you these two regions to study, then they’re wrong. Those two regions are important.”

“Why?”

“Because of what Britain is doing in those two regions, specifically the Ottomans and Egypt.” 

“You mean settling the Russo-Ottoman War and the Egyptian-Ottoman War recently? The Ottomans lost territories in both, but according to the notes, it could’ve been much worse. They only lost that Crimean Khanate they established a few decades back and parts of Romania and Moldavia. The British did something right, for once.”

“For their own gain, not because it was the morally right thing to do,” Laura snorted. She pulled a map from a nearby bookshelf and laid it across the table. It was an older map without the border changes following the two wars. However, she pulled out a pen and redrew the borders after reading about the aftermath of the two wars. “The report should’ve mentioned other events the British were involved in within the last few years or so.”

Marie scrambled through her file and skimmed through the lines. “They also brokered a peace between the Ottoman Empire and Persia ten years ago. And willingly ceded Balochistan to Persia… Where is that?”

“Between Persia and India.”

“Right. Huh. I had no idea the Brits were involved even before that. During the early 1820s, their foreign policy was led by Foreign Secretary Robert Jenkinson. He used his influence and position to urge Europe against intervention when the Greeks were revolting, which led to the Ottomans crushing the revolution in 1824….” Marie scowled as she finished reading about the failed Greek Revolution. “France was rocked with a political scandal at the time, which paralyzed the government….”

“A tragedy… perhaps the Greeks would’ve won their independence in another world. However, do you understand what I’m saying here?”

“They’re up to something, but what is it?”

“This should answer your question nicely,” Laura drew a straight line from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea through Egypt. “There’s your answer.” 

“A road?”

“No, a canal.”

The Bonapart’s jaw dropped. “Oh. And they’ve been courting the Ottomans for decades… for a canal?”

“Once the canal is finished, it’ll be the bloodline of the British Empire. They need a route to Asia, a secured one at that. It seems they’ve prepared for their worst nightmares to be realized.” 

“I see…” Marie glanced around the map and widened her eyes after looking at the Atlantic islands and the Cape of Good Hope. “So… the Middle East and Central Asia are important because of this canal.”

“Every move, every treaty, and every gesture have led up to this moment. Settling the Ottoman-Egyptian War was their final touch. I haven’t read that report, but I’m guessing the British have expanded their influence over the Ottomans and Egypt.”

“The Treaty of Alexandria, signed October 15th, 1835. It gives the ruler of Egypt… this Muhammad fellow, nominal independence and guarantees of ‘fair trade’ in exchange for ceding Syria and southern Anatolia back to the Ottoman Empire. Egypt still kept the Levant, Hejaz, and Crete. Even in its weakened state, Britain was enough to force this treaty with its remaining navy and seasoned army….” Marie recited from her file. 

“They also got something out of the Ottomans, I’m sure,” Laura muttered. “The Treaty of Balta Liman…”

Marie pulled out a sheet and waved it at her, “You’re a fast reader! Here it is, the Treaty of Balta Liman of 1835. A treaty that completely opened up the Ottomans’ market to Britain, with Egypt being exempt.” 

Lucky bastards… If only the Indian Rebellion hit a bit sooner.”

“But why would they do all this? If Britain wanted the canal….”

“The Suez Canal.”

“Right, the Suez Canal. Why would Britain anger Egypt by forcing it to cede the territories it seized from the Ottomans?”

Laura drummed the table with her fingers, “Containment and pragmatism. Britain was distracted due to the War, and Russia took that chance to fight the Ottoman Empire while it was busy dealing with Egypt. The British government immediately scrapped up whatever forces it could after the war to settle the war between the Russians and the Ottomans. They want the Ottoman Empire somewhat weakened, but not fatally, so it can still be a viable threat to Russia.” 

“The two are rivals,” Laura continued. “Russia is the only nation with the numbers to match Britain at sea. Not to mention, they have conflicting interests in Central Asia, especially Persia. Also, the British don’t want the Russians controlling the Turkish Straits, as that would give them access out of the Black Sea and into the Mediterranean. The current British Queen is also married to a Swedish prince, and Sweden lost Finland to Russia not long ago. Basically, the two have strong reasons to butt heads with each other.” 

“Then why give… any concessions to Egypt?” 

“They saw an opportunity and took it,” Laura answered. “Muhammad Ali is a reformer, a strong ruler who could prove vital to British interests. The canal is worth more than an open market policy in Egypt, and the Ottomans weakened slightly more. The British have a friendly local ruler while constructing the canal by satisfying most of Ali's desires. They’ll probably sway the Egyptian ruler to handpick a successor favorable to the British, like his fourth son Mohamed Sa’id….” 

“And leverage over both nations, “ Marie finished.

“Precisely.” 

“So, Britain ceding control of Balochistan was to pull Persia to their side.” 

“Correct. With the Sikh Empire standing strong, they need a counterbalance in the region against it and a bulwark against Russian expansion. Not to mention, another leverage piece over the Ottoman Empire.”

“So they’re not ‘helping’ nations; they’re holding them hostage with threats?” Marie frowned.

“It’s similar to what they did in India: pit the native kingdoms against each other and rapidly expand their influence and control. By the time the locals realize what’s going on, it’s far too late. Like a disease.” 

“I guess it would be beneficial for the committee to know about this. The file mentioned a canal, but its conclusion wasn’t as detailed as your lecture. Thanks for all the help, Laura. How do you know so much about this anyways? I thought you were on the Industry and Economy Committee?” 

“Ah… I wanted to be an ambassador when I was younger, so I studied foreign affairs from a young age. I still do,” Laura shrugged. “For example, the current Prime Minister of Britain is John Lambton, a swanky Whig who passed a disappointing Reform Act that heavily favored cities and wealthy capitalists. Though, he did help abolish slavery fully across the British Empire. He’s also ushering in new social and economic laws to ‘revive Britain,’ so he says. Probably just copying parts of Nathaniel’s plan… As for the canal, there have been similar proposals for a Central American Canal to connect the Atlantic and Pacific floating around for a while now.”  

“I see. I guess being in Congress for eight years makes you knowledgeable about many things, huh?”

Laura grinned and straightened her blouse, “You bet.”

Marie peeked over at Laura’s papers, “How is ARRP going?”

“How do you think it’s going?” The senior Congresswoman groaned. “Your uncle rammed dozens of bills through Congress while I picked up the pieces. Many landed on my committee, and I’ve dealt with arguments daily.” 

She motioned her junior to follow her to the smoking room, and the pair walked while Laura massaged her temples. They greeted a few passing Congress members with smiles but walked hurriedly to their destination. “God… No matter what nation you’re in, if you’re a member of the government, politics will haunt you.” 

“Is it that bad?” 

“Yes, it’s that bad.”

They arrived at the smoking room, and Laura pulled a cigar from her pocket. She lit it with the small candle in the room and breathed in deeply. A puff of smoke left her mouth as she leaned her head against the wall. “Our nation is large, too large at times. We have so many different groups, interests, and backgrounds that it sometimes gets difficult to pass laws.”

“We’re all Americans,” Marie replied, puffing out her chest. “That’s why we passed most of ARRP in record time. I was in the chamber when they passed the programs with overwhelming majorities.” 

“The president is very patriotic and says that America is truly united. However, even he knows that most of the nation is still divided into regional interests and cultural backgrounds. Yes, almost everyone identifies as ‘American,’ but they all have different ideas of what an American is. We only managed to pass ARRP because we maneuvered around the parties to achieve our goals. There were a lot of backroom dealings, which you probably didn’t see.” 

“What do you mean?”

Laura tapped her cigar and dropped some ashes into a nearby ashtray. She offered the cigar to Marie, who frowned and shook her head. “Some parts of ARRP had support nationwide, like the healthcare service. More taxes, but an opportunity to help those injured or distressed from the war? Great! Almost every region has thousands of casualties from the war. That program was acceptable, provided each region saw the results they paid for. ‘We’re all in this together,’ only because this benefits every region.”

“Now, take the Industrial Revitalization Project. $350 million to rebuild and retool America’s industries, including new factories, machinery, and higher wages. Which regions do you think would be against that?” 

Marie rubbed her chin and slumped down onto the ground, “The South, and the West too.” 

“Frontier, and Democratic. Both were raising holy hell about how that money was being ‘wasted into the pockets of industrialists.’ So we had to compromise; some money was placed aside to help develop local industries in the south and west. And an increase in funding and expansion of the railroads, including the Transcontinental Railroad and the Southern Belt Railway. We could’ve passed it without them, the Republicans and Unionists were on board with the proposal, but we don’t want to anger the other regions too much since we were going to anger them with the other proposals.” 

“Now, the Public Housing Act. That one took two weeks to negotiate, and the president had to strong-arm a few Congressmen. Who do you think opposed it?”

“Everyone but the South?” Marie questioned.

“Parts of the North were agreeable to it since coastal cities like our home city and Boston were shelled. But yes, most of Congress was against it outside the Liberal Party. Only after we agreed to increase the number of ships for the naval expansion and the construction of a new dockyard in Virginia did we have enough votes to pass it through.”

“That was the only one I remember passing with a small majority, by four votes, I think.” 

Laura huffed her cigar again. “Correct. And don’t get me started on the taxes or printing more dollars. The Frontier was hell-bent on preventing them from passing, with a few representatives representing wealthier districts also chipping in. We only managed to placate the Front by adding a provision in the G.I. Bill for granting free land to veterans as compensation for their service. Napoleon’s Consent Executive Order to declare all foreign volunteers who fought in the War as citizens under the previous promise helped a bit.” 

“Don’t get me started on the Canadians, American Creole, or other ethnic groups with clashing interests. I wouldn’t be surprised if new parties sprung up in the future based around that.”

Marie’s shoulders dipped as she stared warily at the tobacco smoke cloud. "You just shattered my... ideal view of the United States." 

"It's realpolitik, unfortunately. The representatives represent their constituents, and every region wants different things. It's why the president had to kill the proposal for full gender equality in government and voting."

"Wait, he did? I didn't even know about this!" 

"Because your aunt in France would strangle him." Laura scoffed. "However, he expended all his political capital in getting ARRP passed, and most of Congress have no stomach to attempt another, more controversial reform while the nation is struggling. As much as I hate it... It was the right choice. We'll get there someday, but our current focus must be on rebuilding the nation." 

“A very divided nation.”

“We'll be more united in the future, I know it. But for now, we're not as united as the world may believe. We don’t have a choice; the world must believe we are united. Otherwise, everything we've built up so far will unravel at the seams. I hope God is merciful enough to prevent major international incidents from blowing up while we settle things at home.” 

+++++

AN: And with that, here we go!

The next update will be another POV about ARRP or the final chapter of the Third Coalition War. I'll also start planning out chapters about South America's volatile situation. 

I'll be busy all week, but hopefully, I'll get another chapter or two out.

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