THE ANNO DOMINI 2008: WHAT WILL IT BRING?
The state with the greatest need to take advantage of this U.S. occupation [of Iraq], bar none, is the Russian Federation. Moscow knows full well that when the Americans are finished with their efforts in the Middle East, the bulk of their attention will return to the former Soviet Union. When that happens, Russia will face a resurgent United States that commands alliances in Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Russia must use the ongoing U.S. entanglement in the Middle East to redefine its immediate neighborhood or risk a developing geopolitic far less benign to Russian interests than Washington’s Cold War policy of containment. Russia needs to move — and it needs to move now.
George Friedman, President & Founder, Stratfor.Com (www.stratfor.com).
I do not really believe in crystal ball gazing or forecasting. Any more then I believe that someone can reliably predict the moves, up or down of the stock market or the American electoral cycle. The only thing that a well-educated and learned mind can do, is to make certain hypotheses, based upon a good knowledge of past events. This is something which I as a historian believe is one of the usages of a deep knowledge of history. Not that I (or anyone else for that matter) can 'predict', what is going to happen in say Moskva, Kiev, Madrid or London either today, tomorrow or the day after. What we can do is utilize our knowledge, even with all its subjectivity and limitations, and, draw certain analogies, with the past, and the present. But, any such exercise is by definition a very very limited one indeed. Because the present and the future, while very much dependent upon what has occurred in the past, especially the recent past, never quite replicates what occurred before. Whether in the Marxist sense farce as opposed to tragedy, or simply by virtue of the fact that discontinuity will by definition be as great a force as continuity in the history of any nation or people. Just as Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin, was never (not even close actually) a 20th century version of Tsar Ivan Groznii, or Nikolai Pavlovich. Nor was Sovietskaya Vlast a modern-day version of Tsarist Russia, again the discontinuity is much greater than continuity.
There are however some (actually way too many) who are willing to stake a bet as to how they see events moving forward. Among the more interesting and intelligent ones is Stratfor.Com (Strategic Forecasting, Inc.). Founded by the ex-academic and sometime advisor & briefer to the Department of Defence, Joint Chiefs and other levels of the American military establishment, Dr. George Friedman, Stratfor has in recent years achieved some degree of credibility with an audience outside of the Defence Department, War / military studies nexus. Indeed, not only has his name been mentioned in the Financial Times, but, he has even been granted the privilege of penning an article or two in the New York Review of Books, the most prestigious periodical on this side of the Atlantic. I myself have been a reader of Dr. Friedman and his web site, for a good number of years now. And, I will admit that I find both to be (especially the former) to be a combination of the predictable, the formulaic, and the hair raising ne plus ultra, at times all in one. It is perhaps these rather muddled qualities which has kept me reading the good doctor for all these years now. Otherwise what can one say except that while always intelligent and 'realistic' (in a sort of debased, Realpolitik sense), a sort of vulgar Realismus. The flip side of vulgar Idealismus. Unfortunately the former has all of the same set of conceptual flaws as the latter only reversed. In this case, a consistently erroneous supposition that 'realism', as taught by American academics in the post-war period (1945-1980) is the key, indeed the only means of understanding international politics. Id est, in the case of Dr. Friedman, we are confronted with a sort of Hans J. Morgenthau pocket-size. With all the flaws that this provides us. Perhaps it is not entirely surprising that Friedman penned in 1991, a book titled: 'The Coming War with Japan'. Perhaps from a realist perspective war with Japan, indeed a 'preventative war' at that, was par for the course. Faute de mieux, it did not occur. Perhaps Dr. Friedman's then clients at DOD, were not paying attention.
I have attached for your collective perusal, an excerpt of Stratfor.Com's year 2008. As is usual, it is a mixture of sense and nonsense. In the latter category I of course put his prognosis about a a coming and or future, American 'cold war policy of containment'. Right now, per se, the United States does not have 'a' policy vis-`a-vis Matushka Roissya. What it has is an odd combination of a series of policies, none of which (Russian human rights, Georgia, Ukraine, Kosovo, Persia, North Korea, Conventional Forces in Europe, European Missile Defence, European Gas Supplies) while not tending to cancel each other out, do tend to give the appearance of incoherence. Due mostly to the fact that the Americans do not, and, have not seen the need to prioritize what is important or un-important in their relationship with Russia. Which just points to the fact that the Americans still harbor the belief that they have all or almost all of the cards to play vis-`-vis Russia, and, see no reason to engage in a policy of quid pro quo or trade-offs. This will occur, if it occurs at all, if and when the Americans see the need to do so. In short when official Washington sees that it hasto make choices, because the international situation dictates that it must. That situation has not yet arrived. As per a Friedman's supposition, of a new American policy of containment in the offing, given the fact that the Russian State-owned Gas combine, Gazprom, is buying up, as we write, now Bulgarian, now Serbian, gas pipelines and state owned energy companies, as well as further west and north, the idea is on the face of it, ludicrous. More or less twenty plus years out of date. Not to mention that none of the nations of Europe, whether 'old' or 'young', are seriously interested in resurrecting a new cordon sanitaire in Eastern Europe.
However, I do urge that you all do peruse and read Friedman's jottings and let time tell how plausible or not are his suppositions.
Annual Forecast 2008: Beyond the Jihadist War, January 8, 2008
By George Friedman
"Editor’s Note: This week’s Geopolitical Intelligence Report is the introduction to Stratfor’s Annual Forecast for 2008. Following the introduction are links to each regional section of the 35-page forecast. We’ve also created a report card of our 2007 forecasts highlighting where we were right and where we were wrong.
There are three major global processes under way that will continue to work themselves out in 2008. First, the U.S.-jihadist war is entering its final phase; the destruction of al Qaeda’s strategic capabilities now allows the United States to shift its posture — which includes leveraging the Sunni world to finish the job begun in Iraq — and enables Washington to begin drawing down its Middle Eastern forces. Second, an assertive Russia is re-emerging and taking advantage of the imbalance in U.S. power resulting from the war. Third, oil at historical highs and continued Asian — particularly Chinese — exports have created a massive redistribution of financial might that is reshaping the international financial architecture. These processes intersect with each other, as well as with a fourth phenomenon: It is a presidential election year in the United States, which remains the center of gravity of the international system. These are the trends that shape our global forecast....
Such energy is not simply a result of this odd hiccup in the American political system but of a major shift in circumstance on the issue that has monopolized American foreign policy efforts since 2003: Iraq. The Iraq war was an outgrowth of the jihadist war. After the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, the United States realized it lacked the military wherewithal to simultaneously deal with the four powers that made al Qaeda possible: Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran and Pakistan. The first phase of the Bush solution was to procure an anchor against Afghanistan by forcing Pakistan into an alliance. The second was to invade the state that bordered the other three — Iraq — in order to intimidate the remaining trio into cooperating against al Qaeda. The final stage was to press both wars until al Qaeda — the core organization that launched the 9/11 attack and sought the creation of a pan-Islamic caliphate, not the myriad local extremists who later adopted its name — broke....
This leaves Iran, the region’s only non-Sunni power, in the uncomfortable position of needing to seek an arrangement with the United States. The year 2008 will still be about Iraq — but in a different way. Iran cares deeply about the final status of Iraq, since every united Mesopotamian government has at some point in its history attempted a Persian invasion. Yet for the United States, the details of intra-Iraqi negotiations and security in Iraqi cities now are irrelevant to its geopolitical concerns. Washington does not care what Iraq looks like, so long as the Sunni jihadists or Tehran do not attain ultimate control — and evolutions in 2007 have made both scenarios impossible in 2008.
Iran recognizes this, and as a result Washington and Tehran are ever less tentatively edging toward a deal. It is in this context — as an element of talks with Iran — that Iraq still matters to Washington, and this is now the primary rationale for continued involvement in Iraq. The United States will not completely withdraw from Iraq in 2008 — indeed, it likely will have 100,000 troops on the ground when Bush leaves office — but this will be the year in which the mission evolves from tactical overwatch to strategic overwatch. (Roughly translated from military lingo, this means shifting from patrolling the cities in order to enforce the peace to hunkering in the desert in order to ensure that Iran does not try to seize Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula beyond.)
In the aftermath of the November 2007 Annapolis, Md., conference and the declassification of a National Intelligence Estimate on the nonexistence of the Iranian nuclear program, the ball is in the Iranians’ court. A U.S.-Iranian deal — no matter how beneficial it would be for both states — is not inevitable. But Stratfor finds it unlikely that Tehran would choose strategic confrontation with both the United States and the Arab world when the benefits of cooperation — and the penalties for hostility — are so potent. A framework for future relations, as well as for co-dominion of Iraq, is likely to emerge in 2008.
Still, frameworks come slowly, and crafting such a framework will require the bulk of American forces currently in Iraq to remain there for most of the year. The United States will draw forces down and eventually regain its bandwidth for other operations, but 2008 will not be the year that the United States returns to policing the world on a global scale. And considering the still-mounting costs of regenerating military capabilities after six years of conflict, manpower expansion and acquisitions, such force recovery might not even occur in 2009. The United States could have more energy and political freedom to act, but military realities will anchor the lion’s share of Washington’s attention on the Middle East for — at the very least — the year to come. And Afghanistan, and therefore Pakistan, will have to be dealt with, regardless of what happens in Iraq.
This means 2008 will be similar to 2007 in many ways: It will be a year of opportunity for those powers that would take advantage of the United States’ ongoing distraction. However, they will face a complication that was absent in 2007: a deadline. The Iraqi logjam is broken. Unlike in 2007, when Iraq appeared to be a quagmire and other powers therefore sensed endless opportunity, those hostile to U.S. interests realize that they only have a limited window in which to reshape their regions. Granted, this window will not close in 2008, since the United States will need to not only withdraw from Iraq but also rest and restructure its forces; but the United States no longer is mired in an open-ended conflict.
The state with the greatest need to take advantage of this U.S. occupation, bar none, is the Russian Federation. Moscow knows full well that when the Americans are finished with their efforts in the Middle East, the bulk of their attention will return to the former Soviet Union. When that happens, Russia will face a resurgent United States that commands alliances in Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Russia must use the ongoing U.S. entanglement in the Middle East to redefine its immediate neighborhood or risk a developing geopolitic far less benign to Russian interests than Washington’s Cold War policy of containment. Russia needs to move — and it needs to move now.
And there are a host of secondary powers that will be interacting within the matrix of American actions in 2008. Some — such as Syria and Saudi Arabia — want to be included in the U.S. Iraqi calculus and will have their chance. Others — namely South Korea, Taiwan, Australia and Japan — are looking for new ways to work with Washington as they adapt to their own domestic government transitions. All of Europe is shifting back to a power structure that has been absent for two generations: the concert of powers, with all of the instability and mistrust that implies.
Others will be pursuing bold agendas, not because of the United States’ distraction but because they are rising to prominence in their own right. Angola will rise as a major African power to rival South Africa and Nigeria. Brazil will lay the groundwork for reasserting its long-dormant role as a South American superpower. Turkey — now the strongest it has been in a century — will re-emerge as a major geopolitical weight in the eastern Mediterranean, albeit one that is somewhat confused about its priorities....
This will be a year in which the United States achieves more success in its foreign policies than it has since the ousting of the Taliban from Afghanistan in late 2001. But the actions of others — most notably a rising Russia — rather than U.S. achievements will determine the tenor and fury of the next major global clash".
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