JOANNE MYERS: I'm Joanne Myers, director of Public Affairs Programs, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council, I'm delighted to welcome back one of our favorite speakers.
For the past two years, George has made good on his promise to return each time he publishes a new book. With the publication The Next Decade, he proves that he is indeed a man of his word. We are grateful that he is here to share his latest thinking on matters that concern us all.
With his characteristic insight and broad knowledge of history, George will be speaking about what he sees as the immediate events and challenges that will test America and the world in the next decade. While his previous book, the widely acclaimed and much quoted The Next 100 Years, talked about the century, this time around he focuses on the next decade and the important role leadership will play, especially that of the American president.
He phrases his concerns with a question and asks: How should the United States behave in the world while exercising its power and preserving the republic at the same time? He invites us to consider two themes. The first is the concept of "unintended empire" and what this means. Secondly, he considers what it will mean to manage this unintended empire, and whether the republic can survive.
Combining an extensive background in geopolitical analysis with the knowledge and insights George has gained from his dynamic intelligence network, our speaker is uniquely poised to forecast his views on the next ten years—years that, he argues, will set the course of the 21st century.
We are only a few weeks into this new decade, yet we are already facing foreign policy challenges that could not have been imagined a month ago, just as in January of 2000. Few could have foreseen that a terrorist attack on the United States would so radically reorient and drive our foreign policy for most of the decade or that we would spend most of the last ten years embroiled in a seemingly endless war in Iraq.
Going forward, there are bound to be new incidents, and they could throw us off-guard. Some of the foreign policy issues confronting the United States now will not go away. It is likely that the problem of combating terrorism or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will remain, but may take very different forms over the course of the decade. America will be tested, and this will require a new vision of American global leadership.
When it comes to anticipating future conflicts and embracing the opportunities that lie ahead, there is no one as astute or skilled as Mr. Friedman, who can also deliver a prognosis for the interesting decade that he says lies ahead.
Please join me in giving a very warm welcome to our recidivist guest, George Friedman.
GEORGE FRIEDMAN: Nothing on the book tour is more frightening than Joanne's introductions. I never imagined I was so good. And I'm not.
The last book I wrote was The Next 100 Years. Now I have written The Next Decade. If this is successful, my publisher will have me write The Next Week, The Next Minute, and so on. This is my last "next."
But this is really part of the next 100 Years. The Next 100 Years was a study in the impersonal. In the course of a century, there are many personalities, and few of them really make a fundamental difference. Over 100 years, very impersonal events drive and change our lives.
In the course of the next decade, the personal becomes much more important, for two reasons.
Whereas The Next 100 Years was an abstract exercise in imagination, The Next Decade is hopefully where I'm going to live, and certainly where my children are going to live. The consequences of what happens become very personal, unlike 2080, which sort of doesn't matter to me.
Also in the course of a decade, policy matters. Whereas there is a futility in making policy in the course of a century, in the course of a decade decisions matter. They can change things. The crises we face have to be coped with. We can have a sense of aloofness that, in the end, all human efforts are irrelevant, but when you think about the next few years, it kind of matters what they do.
This is the other side of it. The Next Decade is about policy. It is the first time in my writing that I actually take policy decisions. I've always avoided them because opinions are like noses—everybody has one. It's actually more vulgar than that, but I won't use that here.
In shaping the meaning of the next decade, you can't avoid identifying the real issues, and how you identify the issues defines a great deal of what policy means.
To me, what this decade is about is coming to terms with what I call "the unintended empire." I go back to December 31, 1991, a critical date, in which the last European power collapsed. For the first time in almost 500 years, not a single European power was global and deep, possessing political, military, economic power, and able to project it anywhere. For the first time since Columbus, no one in Europe could do that.
The United States, in a way, was the last man standing in a bar fight. It had extraordinary power. It had no idea what to do with it. For the first ten years, it didn't even think of itself that way. It simply was, and life was easy. Frank Fukuyama wrote of The End of History. It was "the giddy springtime of the bourgeoisie"—you know, "It's a Small World After All," and Citibank can invest anywhere it wants. And Citibank did, didn't it?
But underneath that, there were serious problems, which were discovered on September 11, 2001. And the next decade was entirely about an obsessive war against terrorism and the Islamic world—not a frivolous war, but not necessarily the most well-thought-out war.
We went from a vision of universal peace, from Kant, to a vision of the long war, and we were spun and whipped about, because we had the worst of both worlds. We were enormously powerful, and we had no conception of how to manage that power. Therefore, events controlled us; we didn't control events.
To summarize why the United States is an empire, to begin, almost 25 percent of all economic activity in the world takes place in the United States. The United States accounts for just under 25 percent of the world's gross domestic product. That is an extraordinary number, especially when you consider that this has declined from 50 percent. The great American decline has reduced this only to this size. This means that virtually anything we do economically affects someone else.
If we decide to change import quotas on bananas, entire countries in Central America stagger under the weight. Most of the consequences of our economic actions are unknown. If somebody in New York comes up with a really whacked-out idea about packaging mortgages, the Serbian economy staggers.
One of the great signs of the power of the United States, if you will, is the fact that American stupidity can reshape the financial structure of the world, while the United States, quite blithely, goes on.
The United States has control of the seas. I say this every time I come here, because it is so important and so unknown. We believe in globalization. We certainly know it's happening. And that means, at root, a massive increase in international trade. That international trade takes place upon the oceans. In the long run, the nation that controls those oceans has a tremendous amount of power over whether and how that international trade takes place. And that's the United States.
The United States, at my last count—and it's a hard thing to count—has troops or installations in 27 countries in the world.
You may cut back the number of troops in the world, but you are not going to cut back your economy so that you don't get entangled in the world. Certainly you don't give up control of the seas. From my point of view, that makes us an empire.
Empires don't begin, as Hitler tried to, first with a plan and then with trying to directly govern countries he had no idea how to govern; they sort of unfold, like the British Empire and the Roman Empire. As Rome began to expand, it didn't have a master plan for dominating Carthage, nor did it, very sensibly, directly try to control countries by main force. It manipulated them; it enticed them; it seduced them; it sometimes got them to beg Rome to take them.
But, like Rome, like Britain, the United States is now an empire. It is also an empire that is highly disorganized, completely unfocused, and quite destabilizing in the world because it really doesn't know what it's doing. But it's a baby empire. It's 20 years old.
Remember that during the Cold War, the United States hardly controlled the world and many times didn't appear to be quite in charge. When you think about it, it's a very young empire, and one without the institutions for being an empire. Most of all, it is without the ability to face the fact openly of what we have become and harboring illusions that we can decide not to be this; we can be something else.
I can't imagine anything more dangerous in the world than an empire with the power of the United States that wants to pretend that it really doesn't want the power and that it really isn't an empire; it's just a club of really nice guys trying to help out. That's a problem.
The second problem deriving from this is that this empire is a tremendous threat to the republic. The United States was founded as a moral project, and the heart of the moral project was anti-imperialism, the idea of national self-determination. We were the first.
When we were founded, it was said that we should avoid entangling alliances, which was quite easy, since no one really wanted to be allied with us. We were a small country on the eastern seaboard of North America with less power than Chile has today, and shaped pretty much like Chile today.
What was easy to imagine at that time—a nation of yeoman farmers, Boston merchants, engaging in trade peacefully and harming no one—is impossible today. Then, we couldn't harm anyone. Today every decision we make hurts or helps someone.
Because of this, we not only lack imperial institutions, we don't want them. If I were to go to Washington and make a speech in front of the Senate, "I declare the empire. Let us create the colonial office"—well, there are enough crazy people in Washington that they would listen to me. But this is running totally counter to the political culture that our founders created.
We have a national security apparatus that grew up in the Second World War and matured during the Cold War, but is wholly unsuited for the management of anything less than a crisis, and not always that great beyond that. We are crisis-driven. In other words, when there is a crisis, we can respond.
When there is no crisis, when you have an endemic problem—we have 16 intelligence organizations, a State Department that is occasionally listened to, a Defense Department at war with itself, and a National Security Council that is supposed to coordinate everyone else. It is a marvelous instrument—if you're the Keystone Kops. If you have a 9/11, it does come together, because the president now pays attention. But we have a presidency that is inherently weak and can't govern this.
We have to remember that this is what our founders wanted. Our founders did not trust the state. The intention of the founders was to create an inefficient state, and they did it—divided between three groups of government, a federalist system, and a legislative system divided against itself and able to make its own rules.
The founders got what they wanted—a state which is not a danger to the people—save that in a world where every day we have endemic decisions to make, the regime we have is in many ways unsuited. This is a danger to the regime, which is that as we adjust ourselves to deal with a dangerous world, we undermine the republican virtues and institutions that it was founded on.
We have this problem. We are a republic. The institutions of the republic are not suited for managing the vast power we have. We therefore create work-arounds, usually through the executive branch, for dealing with this. In fact, the necessity of what the world demands creates powers that undermine what the founders created.
It is not clear to me that the republic can survive. I say that very unhappily because I regard the moral project as central to the United States. Yet, as with Rome, as with Britain, institutions must change. The way we have changed since World War II was to imbue the executive with enormous power, because that's how decisions have to be made. The executive is unstable in the way that the executive branch has evolved.
Decisions are made, and you frequently cannot understand how the decisions are made, and multiple decisions are made that sometimes run against each other. In the course of this, the air is being sucked out of the republic. In other words, since the executive branch is making these decisions, many times what the other branches or, certainly, the states want is irrelevant.
This is the crisis of the next decade. The crisis of the next decade is, here we settle into the post-Cold War world, in which American power must find its balance, and the only institution that can find the balance, the executive branch, could very well undermine the republican institutions that we value.
This is the crisis of the next decade. This is why I said, in identifying that, I'm in the world of policy.
It is, of course, necessary to understand that we have problems. People have pointed out, how could we be an empire? We have had our heads handed to us in Afghanistan or Iraq. We have financial crises.
I would point out that Britain lost a war against a group of insurgents in North America that lasted seven years and had a financial crisis in 1825 that would curl your toes. It had something to do with Latin American bonds for nations that didn't exactly exist. That created a massive depression.
In 6 A.D., the Romans got whipped by the Germans, Arminius, in a battle that decided the shape of Rome, that it wouldn't take Germany. This did not determine the next century or two centuries or three centuries of what would happen.
The mere fact of disorder, of failure, is inherent in the building of an effective empire. Just as the British learned something from the way they tried to control North America and the Romans certainly learned a great something about not messing with the Germans in the Teutonic forests, the Americans are learning a great many things in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The most important thing is this: The Romans and the British did not govern by sending large numbers of troops to occupy and rule countries. They sent a small number of troops to govern a large number of native troops and a cadre of diplomats whose job it was not to run the country so much as make political alliances with people in the country so that they could run it for their benefit. There were certainly crown colonies and directly controlled colonies in places where this failed, but this was the model.
The United States' problem is that, drawing on its memories of World War II, it resorts to main force as the first recourse. The United States, since the end of the Cold War, has invaded, that I count, seven countries, including Haiti, which we do for practice regularly—toward what end I don't know, but it seems to be part of what we do.
In each case the mission was to land the military and turn the United States military into a force for building nations. Militaries are forces to defeat enemy armies. Social workers they are not very good at. People who can negotiate complex relationships among myriad tribes—they are even worse. My daughter was an intelligence officer in Iraq, and she did a very good job. She did not speak Arabic. I'm not sure how she could be an advantage in the job, but that's not a bar in the United States.
The British Empire was governed by very eccentric people, who studied at Cambridge and then went out and spent their days speaking Farsi. Our empire is governed by people doing a five-year trip before they get a job at Goldman Sachs—not all of them. We do have a professional cadre. But that professional cadre is the least powerful in government.
The use of main force creates profound problems. Let me lay this out in the question of Iraq and Iran. There are many arguments for the invasion of Iraq. I'm not one of those who says this was just a stupid thing. It was a complexly stupid thing, but it was not one that was frivolously undertaken. That has to be understood. Nevertheless, it took a fundamental thing, the balance of power between Iran and Iraq, bloody as it was, and destroyed it.
It didn't intend to destroy it. There were three missions in the invasion: to destroy the Iraqi army, to destroy the Baathist regime, and to replace it with a powerful pro-American regime.
Step 1, good. Step 2, great. Step 3, a problem. It became difficult to create a regime because the Iranians had a deep interest in Iraq. They didn't want another war in which they had a million casualties. They had what I call negative control. They couldn't dominate Iraq directly, but they could stop other people from simply dominating it.
We now have a terrific problem. It's the Iran problem. Why we say it's the Iran problem is not because Iran is developing nuclear weapons—as the Israelis have now conceded, it will be three to five years; whether it's a virus or the fact that they don't know what they are doing really doesn't matter—they are the major and largest conventional military force in the Persian Gulf.
Absent the United States, the Iranian conventional military is the dominant force, not because the Iranian military is brilliant or anything like that, but you measure conventional force by whom you are facing. They can overawe the Saudis.
The United States is now committed to withdrawing from Iraq. If the United States withdraws from Iraq, I don't think the institutions we have left behind are capable of resisting the Iranians. It's not an accident that just before the talks Muqtada al-Sadr, the serious pro-Iranian figure, shows up in Iraq again. We have sanctions; they have Muqtada al-Sadr. This is one of the problems.
If the United States stays in Iraq, we do not have sufficient force, with 50,000 or 30,000 or 20,000 people, to impose a reality on Iraq. We didn't have enough with 170,000. We do have enough to fill body bags, if the Iranians decide to support some of the Shiite and Sunni groups that they have relations with and want to activate them. It becomes a very complex situation. We are not deployed to block the Iranian armed forces, because many of the people there are trainers in the Air Force and they're in the wrong place and so on.
We either rationalize our force in Iraq and increase it, from forces we don't have because we're in Afghanistan, or withdraw. If we withdraw, Iran will fill or try to fill the space we leave behind. I think they will be successful. They will be in a position to influence events on the Arabian Peninsula, which does matter to the world since that's where the oil is.
When you do that, the Iranians don't have to invade. The Saudi calculation will be, having watched the withdrawal from Iraq, that it's unlikely that the United States is going to come back in. The Iranians aren't going anywhere. The Saudis can buy all the weapons they want; they are not going to construct a viable military in a meaningful period of time. They are going to have to do the unthinkable to them—reach a political accommodation with the Iranians.
This, of course, changes the balance of power in the Persian Gulf and changes the balance of power in the world, potentially.
So while everybody is off having discussions over Iranian nuclear weapons, the Iranian nuclear weapon is closing the Straits of Hormuz, cutting off the flow of oil from the region, and destroying the global economic recovery. If you want to know why Ahmadinejad is so cocky, it's because he knows this. If you want to know why six nations, five from the Security Council and Germany, are willing to sit down across the table with the Iranians, it's because they know it, too.
The destruction of the balance of power has put the United States in an extraordinarily difficult position, where the president has two choices.
One is to simply stay there and, like Mr. Micawber, hope for the best, which may well be his choice.
The second option that the president has is an air attack against Iran's conventional forces, which the United States is quite capable of being successful at, but also quite capable of failing catastrophically at. So the question for that is, how lucky do you feel? Because if you try it and you fail, you've got a problem.
The third is to do what Franklin Roosevelt did with Stalin and Richard Nixon did with Mao, which is to do the unthinkable and try to reach a political settlement with the Iranians. That political settlement would, of course, involve selling out the Saudis, to some extent, which is troubling, perhaps, for what others will think of us.
But certainly, if the president wants to do something, he is going to have to be extraordinarily duplicitous. Either he's going to have to resort to war in the face of public opposition in the United States—and, "Now, here we go again"—or he has to make accommodation with the axis of evil. These are the choices he faces.
Roosevelt dealt with Stalin; Nixon dealt with Mao. Ahmadinejad is small potatoes on the scale of mass murderers. The recommendation for doing this comes from the fact that there are few other choices. An air campaign could fail. Leaving forces in Iraq the way we currently have puts them at risk. We have no other forces to put in. This is where presidents have to be clever.
The reassertion of the balance of power is what clearly has to happen, to go back to the status quo ante, but not in the same way. From my point of view, it's buying time while Turkey figures out what its next move is and balances around itself. But the balance of power is everything.
I will say the following: For the United States in foreign policy, the balance of power is what the Bill of Rights is in domestic policy, the founding and organizing principle.
A power the size of the United States cannot operate in the world directly and overwhelmingly. It has to be subtle, manipulative, clever, and Machiavellian. If it does that, it relieves pressure on the republic. The pressure on the republic is that by moving directly from 1995 to 2005, the institutions of the federal government suddenly swell enormously—please go to your local Department of Homeland Security office—and destabilizes the domestic balance.
If we have a stable, ongoing, understandable foreign policy in which we use minimal force, not because we're afraid of force, but because there's a more efficient way to manage the international system, then the pressure suddenly releases on the democratic institutions, because, for one thing, you have fewer public servants.
Public service is a very real thing, and I value it. But when you have as many public servants as the United States has, you have both an inefficient and a confused system. Everybody is looking to exercise power, and they do.
One of the places, apart from the inefficiency in the international system you get, is a tremendous pressure on the other institutions of the republic, because there are just so many of them. There are only 100 senators. There are, I think, 42,000 [senior] people in the Department of Homeland Security, all of them making decisions. Their intent is not bad, but institutionally the imbalance between the executive branch and the rest is overwhelmed. Therefore, you step down the direct action to a smaller cadre.
One of the things I have said about the CIA is that it has only two problems: too many people and too much money. If they had less, they would do more. They don't agree with me.
When we look for models, we have them in American history: Lincoln, who said, "I hope God is on our side, but I must have Kentucky," who made his deal with the slaveholding states because he had to maintain the balance of power. He needed to have Kentucky to balance off Tennessee. Or Franklin Roosevelt, who, on the days that his staff was talking to the British about entering the war, was making speeches about how we'll never do that. He lied. That lie was necessary to manage the republic.
The paradox is that in a healthy democratic society, a president who is cunning in his leadership, who is gentle in his management of the international system, and manipulative of others becomes much more effective.
It is a model of the president that we celebrate in the League of Women Voters, but it certainly has to do with Jefferson when he decided, against all norms of our republic, to buy the Louisiana Purchase. And thank God he did, because he needed to. He also did it very personally and without setting up the Department of Louisiana Purchase Management and everything else.
We have a debate in our country between idealism and realism in foreign policy. This debate is one of the hallmarks of the immaturity of the republic. Power has no meaning without morality. In other words, what is power without an end to which you intend it? It's Belarus. What is having this kind of power if you have no vision of how to exercise it? You lose the power very quickly.
But there is no morality without power. What there is, is good intentions and being a really nice person. But morality requires power in the way that Churchill, Roosevelt, or Lincoln used it. There is no power without reality. You cannot have power if you have an unrealistic view of the world, if you are either sentimental or ideological, in the sense that you fantasize the way the world should be, because there is no reality without honesty.
The foundation of a moral state is an honest state. It is a state that is in touch with reality and shapes its power toward that end.
We are a nation that, very reasonably, is not in touch with reality. The national slogan should be, "What, me worry?" You remember Mad magazine and Alfred E. Neuman. It should be that, because we didn't expect 1991 to happen. Our mind was wrapped up in a Cold War against an enemy that was worthy of our mettle, as Churchill said. It was also one that frequently looked like it was winning.
The idea that the United States was the dominant power of the 20th century—that's unrealistic about the 20th century. In the first half of the 20th century, we were a marginal player. In the second half of the 20th century, we thought of ourselves as fighting for our lives. Then suddenly one day we woke up and said, "Never mind," and we went on.
We have not yet come to terms with what happened in the fall of the Soviet Union and how it has changed, not just the world in which we live, but the nature of the problem of the republic. We were very happy, in an odd, bizarre way, when 9/11 happened—all of us. We had a problem. It was pressing, it was dangerous, it required immediate thought, and we were very busy. We could avoid the question, what exactly are we doing?
I say this because we are in a war against terror. I'm against terror. I'll be very honest; I don't want to be blown up. Silly of me, but that's the way it is. But the fact is, we cannot defeat terrorism. It is a mode of operation. It will happen. It happened in Moscow the other day. It will happen everywhere. It is something we must attend to, but it is part of a broader foreign policy, of which it is one piece.
The creation of a great "Global War on Terror"—I sometimes joke that it's like after World War II. During World War II, FDR had declared a war on aircraft carriers. Terrorism is a mode of war. We have an enemy, al-Qaeda. We have done fairly well against it. There will be other enemies. But there are other parts of the world that bear watching—China, Russia, Germany, oldies but goodies.
It was wonderful to be able to focus in and call it "the Long War" and declare that this is all we're going to be doing for the next century. It was, of course, nonsense. It's not all we're going to be doing; it's one of the things we're going to be doing. The crucial thing is to have perspective.
Wars come and go. Enemies come, become friends, become enemies again. The world demands much of the sole empire, and the empire gains a great deal from the world. The idea that the Defense Department will be wholly focused on the war on terror and the State Department will have a holding action, having meetings of varying substance with everybody else, is unrealistic.
It's also dangerous. It is dangerous, not because the United States can lose this power. You don't lose 25 percent of the world's economy that fast. You don't lose control of the seas. These things don't go ahead.
It is dangerous because it creates a massive instability in the world and imposes costs on the United States that it cannot bear. It cannot bear it, not because it doesn't have the finances or the resources or the UAVs [Unmanned Aerial Vehicle]; it cannot bear it because the republic can't bear it, because there is disorder every day.
The challenge of the next decade is not American power. That's hardwired into the system now. The challenge is the preservation of the republic through a management of the international system that faces the fact that, intended or not, we're an empire and, intended or not, and we don't have the institutions for managing it. So long as we refuse to face that—so long as we call it a free world and we're just one of the nice big guys—we can't be effective.
You cannot be effective in a delusional world. This is a decade where we either lose our delusions or the United States will remain very powerful, but whether the republic survives will remain the question.
I'll stop and take questions.
Questions and Answers
QUESTION: Susan Gitelson.
Thank you for your marvelous insights. May I extend your analysis both through time and space? Time, because the United States faced this question of transition from republic to empire in 1898, with the Spanish-American War. Suddenly we were in the Philippines, Cuba and so forth. President Teddy Roosevelt, it turns out, was quite happy about this and didn't mind extending the borders of the United States.
Secondly, when it comes to space, you have been concentrating mainly on the Middle East and on the military area. But most of the time these days we talk about competition from China, who just developed a stealth bomber, of course learning from the United States, and they are our major concern for trade. China is also expanding its military force in the oceans.
So in order to have a more complete picture, I think it would be helpful to bring the time and space into your dimensions.
GEORGE FRIEDMAN: Fortunately, there's a chapter on China in the book. I won't get into it. I could only pick one area and I chose that one.
You're certainly right about Teddy Roosevelt. There has been a long march to this position. We had our training wheels, if you will, in the Philippines and in the Filipino rebellion in our first counterinsurgency outside of North America. But that was the Philippines and that was Cuba. That was nice. It was in a world where there were real empires, like Britain, France, and the Netherlands, all of whom had far more holdings than we did.
What I'm saying is not that we did not encounter the problem of empire before, but those things did not press in on the republic the way it does today, nor were we in the global position that we are today.
When I focused in on the Middle East, it strikes me as the immediate problem and one that illustrates the issue of balance of power most clearly and most immediately. But I have other things to say about China, and I'll be happy to carry on for an endless period of time. I do like the term that "they got from the United States." They got their stealth bomber from the United States the old-fashioned way—they stole it. But they still have to manufacture it in large numbers. That's the story there.
But you're absolutely right that this is a story that has to be told about the world, and I have endless and tedious chapters on that.
QUESTION: Richard Valcourt, International Journal of Intelligence.
George, in your book you have talked at length about two things, but specifically this one: The relationship between Germany and Russia and the presence of Poland in there. Could you elaborate on that for us?
GEORGE FRIEDMAN: Germany has had, if you will, an epiphany: Being part of a single structure with Greece has its drawbacks. Germany is reconsidering in many ways the use of the EU. I don't think the EU is going to go away as a free-trade zone, but many other institutions are in the process of being changed.
In the meantime, it has, as it has had going back to 1871, when the Russians were one of the sponsors of unification, a relationship with Russia. It's a very practical one. Russia is one of the main sources of energy for Germany, and Germany has a dependency on it. Germany has a shortage of workers and doesn't want to import any more Muslims and Turkish workers. When you are in that situation, if you can't move workers into your factories, you move your factories to where the workers are.
Russia, even though it has an extraordinarily declining population, still has a surplus labor force. Because it's an exporter of primary commodities, it has lots of workers, most of them underemployed. Russia also needs technology.
Not capital so much—it has money—but it needs technology.
Both Germany and Russia have things the other needs, and both of them share a not-quite loathing of the United States, although Frau Merkel is getting pretty close. Neither of them wants to get involved in the American adventures, and they would love to have a counterbalance.
This puts Poland in an interesting position because its two favorite countries, Germany and Russia, are getting together again. I was in Poland recently, and there is a great deal of bitterness toward the United States because the Polish problem of national security is, "Who do I get to guarantee it so that I don't have to do it?"
They are moving beyond that point, but they feel very much under pressure, which is why they became very interested in seeing Lukashenko in Belarus fall—it would give them breathing room. They were quite confident they could do it, and they didn't.
The Polish issue becomes critical. The United States does not want to see an amalgamation of Germany and Russia into one entity. That creates an international force that truly challenges the United States in a way that nothing else does.
The Russians and the Germans don't particularly want to challenge the United States; they want to contain it. But you can't calibrate that well. Poland is the monkey wrench between the two, and it can't go anywhere.
So the United States has a special interest in Poland, and Poland has a very, very special interest in the United States. The problem the United States has is that it can't really act on that special interest effectively while all of its forces are tied down trying to democratize Afghanistan.
These are the reasons why I began with the Middle East, because all these other things don't work until that becomes, in some sense, settled.
I regard the German-Russian relationship as among the most interesting and concerning, and the U.S.-Polish relationship as one of the most important we have. Yet we have no bandwidth nor forces to devote to that question because we're extremely busy sweeping Helmand.
I say this ironically, but ultimately the fate of Afghanistan is not quite as important to the United States as the fate of the North European Plain. An imbalanced foreign policy is one which becomes committed to peripheral issues, leaving central issues untouched.
QUESTION: Richard Horowitz.
Could you give us some of your thoughts on the recent events in Tunisia and how the rioting is spreading through other Arab countries?
GEORGE FRIEDMAN: Yes, and let's not do another [Iranian] "Green Revolution" or Iran and the Ayatollahs are about to fall—the ability of the Western media to overestimate the events.
What happened in Tunisia was extraordinarily important to Tunisians. The outcome of this revolution is very much unclear. There are any number of forces inside of Tunisia that are manipulating it to their ends. If you want to look at what influences Tunisia, you look at France and Algeria. A few thousand Egyptians thought this was a marvelous idea; let's do it ourselves.
But that does point to a very important question. Egypt is the center of gravity of the Arab world. For the past 30 years, it has been pro-American, it has been neutral-to-friendly to Israel, and it has been generally inert. Hence, the North African feeder, if you will, of the Arab world has been relatively quiet.
It is not clear what's going to happen after Mubarak. I remember that after Nasser died, Sadat was declared to be a temporary placeholder who wasn't up to the job. After Sadat was killed, Mubarak was announced a temporary placeholder who wasn't up to the job. Now his son, Gamal Mubarak, is being declared to be a temporary placeholder who is also not up to the job. The track record of Egypt specialists is not something I would have bet on.
But as Tunisia, so goes Chad, as we like to say. That doesn't bother us particularly. But quite independently of anything that happens to Tunisia, what happens to Egypt is the single most important question in the Islamic world.
Should the Muslim Brotherhood or its allies come to power in Egypt, should they abrogate the treaty with Israel and reactivate the Sinai front, should Saudi money, terrified of Iran, flow into Egypt to arm Egypt, it gets real interesting.
From what I have said, the proper answer is to slowly tiptoe out of their way—the Iranians and the Egyptians and the Saudis are going to fight—yes, nice—and allow national self-determination to take its place while making pious pronouncements, if that happens.
This, properly managed, could be beneficial to the United States. It could also be catastrophic if mismanaged. But then we don't even know if it's going to happen.
Given that statement—which, if you think about it, is pretty cosmic—who in the United States deals with this? Who actually has power to make decisions about this?
There are many people writing papers. They are not the ones who have any authority. The people who have authority don't have the bandwidth to worry about Egypt. They're tied down with a lot of other things.
This is another perfect case of where imperial power must focus on the truly relevant things, and that is very much Egypt. But I don't think it has to do with Tunisia. Those are separate issues. They're not even neighbors.
QUESTION: Alan Young.
You talk about threats to the republic developing since the fall of the Soviet Union and the creation of this unintended empire since 1991. There have been, as I'm sure you know, lots of writers, including many people who have spoken here, who have talked about the national security state and the imperial presidency as having developed after the Second World War and creating also the same concerns about the republic and the republican institutions that you talk about.
How do you differ from those writers, who believe it started in 1945, with the beginning of the Cold War?
GEORGE FRIEDMAN: If you read the Autobiography of Mark Twain, he's worrying about this in the 19th century. If you read people like Thoreau on the Mexican-American War, they have been concerned about this.
Americans have been concerned about the growth of American international power and its effect on the United States for a long time. My argument is that, up until 1991, it was theoretical. Yes, there was pressure. Yes, there were problems. But 1991 radicalized it. The fall of the Soviet Union created a radical new global order. I will not call it a new world order, or I'll be getting emails for the next six months.
It left the United States in an extraordinarily different place than it was before, giving it the opportunity to surge into areas that it didn't surge into before. Kosovo is an example, and Bosnia. All of these interventions were there. It also, because of the war on terror, created an imperative for an internal security apparatus that never existed before.
I'm not arguing that there is not a continuum. Going back to the 19th century, this has been a concern, and it has been an intensifying concern. What I'm arguing is that the international situation has radicalized itself in a way that makes it impossible to back off. Eisenhower could warn about the military-industrial complex. In the 1980s or 1990s, there would be some elements to pull back and so on and so forth.
My argument is that we can't stop. We will be an empire, regardless. I'm giving no warning—let's get out of being an empire and go back to something safe. I'm saying we have the empire, there is no going back, and we have to harmonize the empire with the republic. That's a somewhat different message.
Mark Twain would have said, "This is simply despicable, what we're doing with the Filipinos. Let's stop."
I'm saying there's no stopping; there's no getting off the train. We're going. We now have to harmonize it.
Those two things make my view somewhat different. But I get to stand on their shoulders.
QUESTION: Robert James, a businessman here.
It seems that means that underlying your assessment of the future of the United States and the world is that the United States will continue to be what it has been in the past decades—the only world power or the strongest world power.
What I want to ask you is, why must the United States continue to be this world policeman in Asia, Europe, and even in the Persian Gulf? More specifically, why do we have to take a stand between the Persians and the Arabs? Why do we have to take a stand at this time on India and China? Why do we have to take a stand on Germany, Russia, and the rest of Europe?
GEORGE FRIEDMAN: As 25 percent of the world economy, we are standing between each of these. The future of China's economy and its foreign policy directly impacts the most important entity in the world, the Republic of Walmart. The flow of oil from the Persian Gulf, should the price of oil go to $300, $400, $500 a barrel, will define the American economy.
It is all very well to say someone else should handle it, but they can't. If you consider what happens to your life if the flow of oil from the Straits of Hormuz gets cut off, it's extraordinarily catastrophic.
The size matters, and it matters because it intrudes everywhere and because many of our lives are financially enriched by this intrusion. Therefore, the future of Bangalore profoundly affects the future of the American IT industry, in turn transforms the way call centers for Citibank and Bank of America are handled, and so on, and because of all of these impact one-quarter of the world's economy.
We can back off, if we are prepared to have a much smaller economy and pay the price. It's all very well to say we shouldn't be that intrusive in the world. You can't not be intrusive and you can't not manage it. It's all very well to say that we'll have a smaller economy, but a smaller economy means substantially greater poverty. We benefit from this empire. Many companies—and we could go through all the details—are intertwined.
We also benefit from the control of the sea. We get to invade other people and they don't invade us. Very good. When we do stupid things, the Iraqis and the Vietnamese can't chase us home. We could stop doing stupid things, but we show no inclination toward that.
Control of the sea ultimately allows us to decide whether China is going to be a great power or not.
This is something the Chinese know, which is they're building stealth bombers and missiles and everything else, because we can simply cut off China's ability to trade. This is a tremendous bargaining chip, and one, I'm afraid, that President Obama didn't bring up. But the Chinese know it anyway.
My argument, therefore, is that we benefit greatly from the empire, and we can't have our cake and eat it, too. We can't have the benefits of this vast global capability without paying a price. It's very nice to say we don't really care what happens in India, China and the Middle East; let them go their own way. But we do care. It matters a great deal.
I could very well argue that if we screw up with Iran and it results in a closure of the Straits of Hormuz, this country will have a depression. Between the financial crisis we have and energy prices at $400 or $500—and this is what I mean by getting on the tiger. You have gotten on the tiger. It's hard to get off. The tiger may turn around and eat you.
So we have to do these things because the direct consequences of failure to do them will affect our everyday lives.
QUESTION: Ron Berenbeim.
The formulation of the kinds of policies and initiatives that you have described requires, at least historically in the United States—most importantly, I suppose, in the immediate aftermath of World War II—some sort of bipartisan consensus as to how these things are going to be done. What do you see as the prospect of that? It doesn't look too good right now. This would be the most important task, it seems to me, required of what you described as presidential management.
GEORGE FRIEDMAN: It also requires the virtue of citizens. We have the political order that we want. It's the way it is. You're right; this is the most daunting task and the reason that I don't know that the republic will survive. The immaturity of the American public is the greatest burden.
First, I don't think they understand how much they depend on this personally. It seems to them elective.
Secondly, they are focused on all sorts of exciting issues that are tangential to this. We know that the Romans worried about the price of taxes on wheat, but at the end, when we look back at it 2,000 years later, it was kind of a side issue to some fundamental other areas.
Our republic approaches the question of empire as if it's optional. Therefore, they have a debate, but they don't have a debate about the republic. They have a debate about doing something about Islam, or they have a debate about doing something about communism, all of which are virtuous things to discuss, but there are other things to discuss as well.
The trace in the United States is this. We're 200-and-some-odd years old. The American public has never had a particularly balanced view of international relations. It hasn't had time to grow into it, very much like Rome. At a certain point, the generals took over. In all the history, the generals are greedy. They took over because they couldn't let the idiots in the Senate keep doing it, which has nothing to do with our Senate, which is excellent.
But the fundamental question is, can the American public honestly confront who they have become and accept the limited options that they have? If they continue to want to have side issues or if they want to continue to argue, "Let's just not do this anymore. I don't like this game," we have a serious problem.
I'm saying that the United States as a country will dominate for a long time. I am not saying that the republic will survive. That is where the policy issue comes and that's where the crisis is. But I'm also not blaming our politicians. Our politicians are us. They are addressing the issues we want to address at the decibel level that we use ourselves. Therein lies the crisis of the next decade.