The next book featured in my “consulting the crystal ball” series like Kaplan’s Monsoon I discovered thanks to Book TV. Back in late February I caught an interview with George Friedman, author of the The Next Decade: Where We’ve Been….and Where We’re Going. After listening to Friedman answer questions concerning the future of American power, the Chinese economy and Russia’s relationship with Europe and the like, I was intrigued by his bold statements and vowed to read his newest book, should I ever get the opportunity. Well. lo and behold while I grabbing Kaplan’s book Monsoon from the hold shelf I happened to spot The Next Decade, just sitting there waiting for me to take it home. So, naturally, I did. After finishing it a few weeks ago it probably safe to say that Friedman has written an engaging and readable book which describes the geopolitical picture of tomorrow’s world and perhaps above all how the United States should best proceed over the next decade in its relationships with the nations of the world.
Friedman begins his book with the spotlight not necessarily on the world but on the United States. After spending a little time discussing the recent financial meltdown Friedman contends that the United States, much like ancient Rome and Imperial Great Britain is an “accidental empire” created not malevolently by deliberate design but more as a result of the beneficial forces of history and lucky geography. With rival power centers in Europe decimated by two world wars the United States on the other hand is blessed with abundant natural resources and protected from armed invasion by two massive oceans. Eventually, after the Soviet Union’s collapse America would be the world’s greatest power. But how to rule ? Much like Kaplan in Monsoon, Friedman also looks to the past for answers. Taking Machiavelli’s advice on leadership, he would see the effectiveness of past American presidents Lincoln, FDR and Reagan. Friedman also considers the examples of ancient Rome and the challenges it had balancing the responsibilities associated with possessing an empire versus those of sustaining a republic. In other words, the challenge over the next decade for the United States will be how do avoid having our republic’s democratic way of life corrupted and compromised by the temptations and responsibilities brought by our accidental empire. To Friedman, the solution rests with a President, gifted with the ability to make decisions, even if seen at the time as unpopular, that align America with nations that safeguard our long-term global security. According to Friedman a worthy future president will emulate such men from the past as Kissinger, Metternich and Machiavelli.
So, using that as a starting point, what does the next ten years look like in Friedman’s crystal ball ? Starting with the Middle East much like Robert Baer and Stephen Kinzer he believes it’s in America’s interests to cement a strategic alliance with Iran, keeping in mind since the Sunni Al Qaeda hates the Shia as much as it hates the United States, such an alliance would also serve as a counter balance to other potential Sunni rivals such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Knowing that America’s close relationship with Israel is actually only a recent development dating back to the early 1970’s, Friedman, like Kinzer advocates a more detached relationship with the Jewish state, partly in hopes it will pressure the Israelis to grant greater autonomy and ultimately statehood to the Palestinians, partly in hopes it will raise America’s standing in the Islamic world and maybe, just maybe, help set the stage for a future alliance between Israel and such Sunni nations as Turkey, Egypt and Jordan.
As for Asia, unlike many pundits, Friedman feels China has reached its zenith economically and politically and will not be by the decade’s end a global superpower. Much of this stems from China export-driven economic model and its inherent inability sustain such red-hot growth over an extended period of time. Oddly enough, while he sees even a nuclear North Korea as little more than a nuisance, Friedman sees Japan playing a larger role politically and militarily, perhaps even driving South Korea into a closer relationship with the United States.
As for Europe and Russia, Germany will depend on Russia and the lands of the former Soviet Union for oil and natural gas, possibly drawing it and France away from America politically. Britain will move closer to the U.S. and the Eurozone will continue to disintegrate. Continental Europe’s population implosion will continue with immigration from Africa, the Middle East and South Asia the only antidote to the coming labor shortage.
Lastly, regarding the Americas, the flow of drugs and migrant labor north into the U.S. will continue largely unabated in the next decade, simply because too many people on both sides of the border benefit from all of this. If one Latin American nation emerges stronger in the coming decade, according to Friedman it will be Brazil. Rich both in population and resources, currently it exports a variety of products and commodities to a diverse group of trading partners.
I liked Friedman’s book. While I don’t think it will make my “best of” list for 2011, it’s certainly in the running for my honorable mentions roster. It’s also a book I can easily recommend.