Sunday, January 08, 2012

BC2012: The Next Decade by George Friedman

This isn't a book of mystical, Nostradamus-like predictions; Friedman is the founder and CEO of STRATCOM, a private intelligence firm. I read his previous book, The Next 100 Years, last year and found it fascinating. This book is even easier to grasp since it relates to a shorter time period. Friedman talks about how the United States has to accept its imperial role whether Americans like it or not. He says the best way for the U.S. to manage world affairs is to set regional rivals against each other to maintain a balance of power. For example, Iran and Iraq filled that role in the Middle East. For decades, the U.S. maintained balance by offering assistance to one side or the other depending on which needed help the most. Unfortunately, the "war on terror" has undermined this strategy by weakening Iraq (it has also weakened Pakistan, which has served as India's foil in southern Asia). We are already seeing a resurgent Iran attempting to fill the power vacuum.

In addition to predicting the future, Friedman provides ample education about how current geopolitical situations have developed. While many Americans think the Arab nations are against us because we support Israel, Friedman explains how those nations actually turned against us by siding with the Soviets before we threw our support to Israel. Regardless, he suggests that we reconsider aid to Israel because it is no longer a weak state that needs our assistance. He notes that although U.S. aid has remained more or less constant, it was about 21% of Israel's GDP in 1974 whereas now it is about 1.4%.

Although my examples above are from the Middle East, Friedman covers every region of the world thoroughly. The Next Decade and The Next 100 Years are must-read books for anyone interested in geopolitics. While I consider myself more aware of international affairs than most Americans, I still learned a lot from both books.



Chris said...

How does he do with Africa? Concentration on Somalia, etc.? Or more broadly? And is it dated now that everything is changing there?

David Johnsen said...

His position on Africa (excluding the Mediterranean countries) is that the U.S. shouldn't get involved since the African states don't have enough power or stability to position them against each other. Basically, "Arab and European imperialism have left the continent in chaos" by creating arbitrary borders that don't reflect national/tribal allegiances. His feeling about aid is that it can improve the U.S. image, but it doesn't solve the basic problem of Africa's irrational borders. He suggests that bloody wars may be the best way for Africa to sort itself out because they tend to unite people (he acknowledges that this is a brutal perspective). The chapter on Africa is short enough that you could read it in a bookstore.

I wouldn't say it's dated now. One of Friedman's themes in the two books I've read is that individual leaders or regimes matter little in the long term (granted, they matter more over a decade than over a century). For example, I think he would point out that removing Mubarak from power hasn't changed the factors that maintain peace between Israel and Egypt. Egypt still can't maintain a wartime supply chain across the Sinai, and Israel's population is still far too small to control Egypt.