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George Friedman’s “The Next Decade”, preliminary notes

July 26, 2015

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post on Iran and oil, I just picked up a 2010 book by George Friedman, of Stratfor, entitled “The Next Decade”. Read about halfway thru it, not in order though. So this impression is a little premature.

His reasoning seems to be very classic, geopolitics, driven by mainly by geography and material considerations – more so than cultural.

Friedman advocates / predicts that US leadership, i.e., presidents, embrace their role as managers of an empire, and act as a sort-of enlightened despot, a-la Machiavelli. But with a kind of moral compass, in that leaders ought to act in the national interest rather than fall victim to some form of corruption. I didn’t see a description of a mechanism that ensures this.

The technique of empire-management he advocates / predicts is to selectively create and/or feed regional conflicts, and exploit them to prevent any other power from challenging the US. (this seems to be quite in line with the impression I get from US Government (USG) and think tank publications). The primary regions of concern are the ME and Russia. (again, no surprise there.)

While he recognizes what a spectacular disaster Iraq has been, he does not seem inclined to draw more generalized conclusions from that example — so far I haven’t read from him the possibility, that fostering regional conflicts and/or using destabilization as the primary tool, or more generally, broader belief in the proactive exercise of power, may have drawbacks that outweigh the benefits.

He also picks up on the contradictions between the values of the US as a republic (i.e., wishes of the founding fathers, democracy, freedom, well-being of citizens, well-being of humans in general), vs the practical considerations of power and geopolitics, when tasked with managing a de-facto empire. He attempts to synthesize these contradictions into something, but I think the book is a little weak on that subject. To be fair, it is a really difficult conundrum. The synthesis he gets out, as far as I can tell, seems to be the enlightened-despot concept, per above. The other chapters, on specific regional power balance considerations, I think are quite good overall.

It all makes sense, for the most part, if one accepts the premises, and the reasoning about the method of empire management, which I must confess I don’t at all. But more importantly, to what degree does it describe actual reasoning in the USG? English language musings from some Russians, for one, seem quite willing to project Friedman’s interpretations onto their interpretation of USG thinking — another reason I decided to read it.

[updated 2015.07.28, paragraph on contradiction between US as republic vs an empire]

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