George Friedman runs “Stratfor,” which has been called a “private CIA”. For $349/year, he’ll send you predictions about the next military coup or bankrupt European country, and apparently there are enough “individuals, Fortune 100 companies, government agencies, and other organizations” to provide for him and several employees. His about-to-be-released book The Next Decade will therefore probably be influential (the introduction is here).
Which is too bad.
And here’s an example of why. He writes,
Recovering from the depletions and distractions of this effort [the attempt to end terrorism, the Iraq and Afghan wars] will consume the United States over the next ten years. The first step—returning to a policy of maintaining regional balances of power—must begin in the main area of current U.S. military engagement, a theater stretching from the Mediterranean to the Hindu Kush. For most of the past half century there have been three native balances of power here: the Arab-Israeli, the Indo-Pakistani, and the Iranian-Iraqi. Owing largely to recent U.S. policy, those balances are unstable or no longer exist. The Israelis are no longer constrained by their neighbors and are now trying to create a new reality on the ground. The Pakistanis have been badly weakened by the war in Afghanistan, and they are no longer an effective counterbalance to India. And, most important, the Iraqi state has collapsed, leaving the Iranians as the most powerful military force in the Persian Gulf area.
Restoring balance to that region, and then to U.S. policy more generally, will require steps during the next decade that will be seen as controversial, to say the least. As I argue in the chapters that follow, the United States must quietly distance itself from Israel. It must strengthen (or at least put an end to weakening) Pakistan. And in the spirit of Roosevelt’s entente with the USSR during World War II, as well as Nixon’s entente with China in the 1970s, the United States will be required to make a distasteful accommodation with Iran, regardless of whether it attacks Iran’s nuclear facilities. These steps will demand a more subtle exercise of power than we have seen on the part of recent presidents. The nature of that subtlety is a second major theme of the decade to come, and one that I will address further along. [my emphasis]
The first thing I noticed is that he doesn’t mention radical Islamism except in connection with al-Qaeda. Apparently he understands the behavior of regimes purely in terms of power relationships, and so he doesn’t view the tectonic shift in ideology toward radical Islamism that characterizes the Muslim world today as relevant.
This makes it possible for him to think that an accommodation between the US and Iran — the nexus of the Shia version of expansionist Islamism — can provide an advantage for the US. But Iran will exploit any concessions to advance its ideologically driven agenda, even if it is disadvantageous in traditional terms (economics, etc.).
Sometimes ideology counts. Not every diplomat, especially an Iranian, is Henry Kissinger.
The other thing that struck me is that he entirely fails to understand Israel. He writes,
The Israelis are no longer constrained by their neighbors and are now trying to create a new reality on the ground.
Israeli policy remains what it has been for almost 63 years, which is to provide for a secure Jewish state. A ‘new reality on the ground’ was created in 1967 as a result of one of the periodic failures of the Arab world to destroy Israel, but there is nothing comparable that might occur today. Indeed, Israel has lost ground to its enemies in the past few years, with the growth in the capabilities of the Iranian proxies on its borders and the increasing pressure from the US and Europe to cede territory to the Arabs.
There isn’t a ‘balance of power’ between Israel and the Arabs. There is simply ideologically-based aggression in one direction and defense in the other.
Friedman’s prescription to dump Israel in favor of Iran and Pakistan will increase the hold that radical Islamism has over the region and further reduce the influence of the US. This is as if he were to have suggested in the post-WWII era that the US should not oppose Soviet expansionism in Europe.
There is a fundamental ideological/religious conflict between radical Islamism and the West, and coexistence can only come about through deterrence. Western retreats will only give rise to additional Islamic demands. What the US must do to keep its influence in the Middle East is project its power to contain Iran. Israel is the front line in this struggle.
The very knowledgeable David P. Goldman (‘Spengler’) says this about Stratfor:
Friedman’s thriving business targets a key market niche: corporate types with geopolitical exposure who are too busy or too ill-informed to use Google.
That about covers it.