RealClearWorld Articles

The Desperate Plight of Petrostates

Michael Klare - May 27, 2016


Pity the poor petro-states. Once so wealthy from oil sales that they could finance wars, mega-projects, and domestic social peace simultaneously, some of them are now beset by internal strife or are on the brink of collapse as oil prices remain at ruinously low levels. Unlike other countries, which largely finance their governments through taxation, petro-states rely on their oil and natural gas revenues. Russia, for example, obtains about 50% of government income that way; Nigeria, 60%; and Saudi Arabia, a whopping 90%. When oil was selling at $100 per barrel or above, as was the case until 2014, these countries could finance lavish government projects and social welfare operations, ensuring widespread popular support.  Now, with oil below $50 and likely to persist at that level, they find themselves curbing public spending and fending off rising domestic discontent or even incipient revolt.

At the peak of their glory, the petro-states played an outsized role in world affairs.  The members of OPEC, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, earned an estimated $821 billion from oil exports in 2013 alone. Flush with cash, they were able to exert influence over other countries through a wide variety of aid and patronage operations. Venezuela, for example, sought to counter U.S. influence in Latin America via its Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), a cooperative network of mostly leftist governments. Saudi Arabia spread its influence throughout the Islamic world in part by financing the efforts of its ultra-conservative Wahhabi clergy to establish madrassas (religious academies) throughout the Islamic world. Russia, under Vladimir Putin, used its prodigious oil wealth to rebuild and refurbish its military, which had largely disintegrated following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Lesser members of the petro-state club like Angola, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan became accustomed to regular fawning visits from the presidents and prime ministers of major oil-importing countries.

That, of course, was then, and this is now. While these countries still matter, what worries these presidents and prime ministers now is the growing likelihood of civil violence or even state collapse. Take, for example, Venezuela, long an ardent foe of U.S. policy in Latin America, but today the potential site of a future bloody civil war between supporters and opponents of the current government. Similar kinds of internal strife and civil disorder are likely in oil-producing states like Algeria and Nigeria, where the potential for the further growth of terrorist violence amid chaos is always high.

Some petro-states like Venezuela and Iraq already appear to be edging up to the brink of collapse. Others like Russia and Saudi Arabia will be forced to reorient their economies if they hope to avoid such future outcomes. Whatever their degree of risk, all of them are already experiencing economic hardship, leaving their leaders under growing pressure to somehow alter course in the bleakest of circumstances -- or face the consequences.

The Islamic State Is Targeting Syria's Alawite Heartland - And Russia

Fabrice Balanche - May 27, 2016


On May 23, the Islamic State (IS) perpetrated suicide bombings in Tartus and Jableh, killing 154 people and wounding more than 300. This was the first time either coastal city had been targeted by such attacks since the beginning of the war. Tartus in particular had seemed like a haven up until Monday. It was still an attractive tourist destination because of its wide beaches, and it was in the middle of a construction boom given the arrival of internally displaced people (IDPs) from other parts of Syria -- not just the Assad regime's fellow Alawites from Damascus, but also members of the Sunni majority from all across the country. Many Syrian refugees had even returned from Lebanon to Tartus because they considered life to be cheaper and safer there.

IS operatives can conduct simultaneous attacks of this nature rather easily given the corruption and nonchalance at coastal security checkpoints. I saw this problem firsthand when I visited Tartus and Latakia last month. After I crossed the border from Beirut via taxi, nobody asked me for my passport or searched my suitcase. The driver was known at each checkpoint, and by giving 100-200 Syrian pounds (10-20 cents) to those who stopped us, he was able to quietly proceed without hassle. Thanks to rampant corruption, he had also obtained a special permit to use military roads, further enabling him to avoid stringent controls. So it would be quite simple for terrorists to regularly infiltrate the Alawite heartland, which is also home to Russia's main bases in Syria. Moreover, IS could readily establish sleeper cell among its fellow Sunnis in these areas, who number in the hundreds of thousands (both locals and IDPs).

Through the latest attacks, the Islamic State is attempting to send different messages. The first is for the Alawites -- IS wants to show them that the Assad regime cannot protect them. After all, the group has not attacked the nearby coastal cities of Banias and Latakia, which have larger Sunni populations. In Latakia's case, IDP flows have made Sunnis the majority, and IS likely prefers to avoid the risk of heavy Sunni casualties there. Regime security efforts are also more serious in Banias and Latakia, where Sunni neighborhoods erupted into armed rebellion in 2011-2012, which was not the case in Jableh and Tartus.

Sending such violent signals to the Alawites could have multiple ripple effects. IS leaders likely hope that Alawite soldiers serving in hotspots on the eastern front (e.g., Deir al-Zour, Palmyra) will refuse to fight if their families back in Tartus and other cities are not given better protection; the regime might even decide to redeploy eastern troops to the coast. The group also aims to spark discontent against the regime and Alawite reprisals against Sunnis. On February 21, IS attacks in Homs affected Alawite neighborhoods and provoked strong discontent against local authorities and the security apparatus, with people denouncing the corruption and inefficiency of officers. For now, such antipathy does not extend to Bashar al-Assad himself, but that could change if attacks continue. Meanwhile, Alawite reprisals against Sunnis could undermine the regime and its army, since many Sunnis are still fighting on Assad's side. On Monday, Alawites attacked al-Karnak camp in Tartus, home to 400 Sunni families from Aleppo and Idlib; according to unofficial sources, seven Sunnis were killed.

How Russia Engineers Its New Patriotism

Samuel Bendett - May 27, 2016


Despite a recent attack on a Russian military base in Syria that reportedly caused serious damage to weapons and equipment stationed there, Moscow is bullish on the overall progress of its forces. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu recently noted that the fighting potential of his forces rose by one-third following structured reforms and direct involvement in various global hot spots. Shoigu:

"Over the past three years, we have conducted structural reforms of the Armed Forces, which contributed to the successful solution of strategic tasks in the Arctic, on the Crimean peninsula, in the Mediterranean Sea, deep-sea areas, and airspace."

The defense minister noted that since 2013, his forces have received more than 15,000 units of new and modernized weapons and military equipment. Shoigu said that this year, more than 80 military units will receive modern weapons such as modernized T-72B3 tanks, Su-24M and Su-25 aircraft, and Carapace-S air defense missile systems, as well as Iskander-M missile complexes. He added that modern weapons and equipment in the military now account for 47 percent of the total, and that military exercises have increased threefold in their intensity.

Youth, Patriotism, and the Search for a Russian Revival

Right-Wing AfD Poaching Voters From German Left Party

Deutsche Welle - May 27, 2016


Germany's socialist Left party is bleeding voters to the AfD in its heartland - eastern Germany. As a party conference looms, the party leader is under fire for adopting the AfD's anti-immigration rhetoric.

Gregor Gysi is not happy. The hugely popular Left party veteran, who stepped down as parliamentary leader last year, has condemned his successors as "marrowless and feeble" ahead of this weekend's party conference in Magdeburg.

The 68-year-old Gysi, who remains one of the Left's most high-profile and charismatic MPs, is angry that his party has allowed the insurgent Alternative for Germany (AfD) to poach from what he sees as the Left's natural voter base - the working classes - especially in formerly communist eastern Germany.

In a new poll for the eastern state of Brandenburg, the AfD has leapfrogged the Left, jumping seven points to 20 percent to claim third place behind the Social Democrats and the Christian Democratic Union. Meanwhile, in Berlin and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, two states holding elections in September, the AfD and the Left are now virtually neck and neck.

G7 looks for smallest common denominator

Christoph Kober - May 27, 2016


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe cannot really be blamed for beating about the bush. He demanded that "a clear and strong signal" for economic growth be sent out from the G7 meeting in his country, pointing out that the current situation was indeed alarming and reminiscent of the crisis years in the not-too-distant past.

Abe recalled that commodity prices had dropped by over 50 percent between June 2014 and January 2016, thus marking as hefty a slump as in the time immediately after the collapse of the Lehman Brothers' empire and the ensuing global financial crisis.

That's why the prime minister is seeking support for growth incentives and more investment. In his view, billions of dollars need to be ponied up to kickstart sputtering G7 economies. Only recently, the government in Tokyo agreed on investments in its Asian neighbors with a view to building power stations, hospitals and trains for them and with it create jobs and foster innovation.

Abe's now hoping to lay on a global program with a similar thrust. He wants the G7 countries to shell out $200 billion (179 billion euros) over the next five years mainly for projects in emerging economies.

Obama Makes Historic Visit to Hiroshima

Deutsche Welle - May 27, 2016


The president has said he wouldn't apologize for the dropping of an atomic bomb on the city. But it is a place to "remind ourselves that the job's not done in reducing the prospect of nuclear war in the future," he said.
US President Barack Obama visited Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park on Friday, making him the first sitting US head of state to visit the Japanese city.

"71 years ago, death fell from the sky and the world was changed," the president said after laying a wreath.

"We come to ponder the terrible force unleashed in a not-so-distant past," Obama said. "We come to mourn the dead."

The US leader also called for a reduction in nuclear arms, saying: "We must change our mindset about war itself."

Obama Administration Helps Iran Get Its Money Back

Emanuele Ottolenghi - May 26, 2016


On March 19, the FBI arrested Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab upon his arrival in Miami for evading sanctions against Iran, money laundering, and bank fraud. Zarrab, who pleaded not guilty in Manhattan’s District Court, is now awaiting trial. The Zarrab trial may look like proof that the Obama administration -- even after last year’s nuclear deal with Iran -- is serious about upholding its sanctions policy. In fact, much like Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent efforts to assuage European banks about doing business with Iran, the Zarrab trial might end up helping Iran recover assets lost during a decade of sanctions evasion.

Zarrab allegedly worked with Babak Zanjani, the ringleader of one of the most prominent sanction-evasion and money-laundering networks ever established on behalf of the Iranian regime. Zanjani, along with an associate, is currently on death row in Tehran for having embezzled $2.8 billion from that operation. The Obama administration sanctioned Zanjani in 2013, but missed the other two. A key question Zarrab’s court case may reveal is why the U.S. failed to pursue them until after the Iran nuclear deal, given that their illicit corporate schemes kept Tehran’s economy afloat at the height of the sanctions era.

Turkish prosecutors already arrested Zarrab in December 2013 for allegedly buying off Turkish government officials to grease the wheels of Iran’s money laundering schemes. Turkish media had also linked him to Zanjani, with whom Zarrab allegedly worked to turn illicit oil sales into gold through Zanjani’s companies in Dubai, Turkey, Tajikistan, and Malaysia. Zanjani’s London-based associate Mehdi Shams helped invest those revenues.

Eventually, all three drew Tehran’s ire for keeping huge sums to themselves. In September 2013, Iranian authorities arrested Zanjani for embezzling nearly $3 billion. Tehran was also likely behind leaked news to the press that the Turkish low-cost airline Onur Air, which Shams had bought in May 2013, was a Zanjani asset.

Vietnam, the U.S., and the Centrality of Geopolitics

George Friedman - May 25, 2016


U.S. President Barack Obama in Hanoi yesterday announced an end to the decades-long arms embargo on Vietnam. Vietnam may purchase weapons from the United States under the same terms as other nations. This would not be major news except for the fact that the United States fought and lost a seven-year war with Vietnam.

One would think that history and ideology would make arms trade impossible. But when we look at the post-war history of the region, the unimportance of ideology in the decisions that nations make is actually startling.

The reason for this decision is China. In my view, the Chinese do not yet pose a significant military threat globally or in the region. At the same time, their intent is to increase their capabilities and the United States must plan accordingly.

Geography dictates that the United States must find allies who have significant disputes with China and need support to cope with a potential threat. China and Vietnam were allied during the Vietnam War, with China providing massive amounts of weapons, material and some advisers to Vietnam. The Chinese saw the defeat of the United States as diminishing the American threat to China.

Saudi Oil Policy Is Set in Stone

Matthew Bey - May 25, 2016


Next week, OPEC will hold its first meeting since talks on freezing production between the bloc's major producers and their non-OPEC peers fell apart in April. The June 2 convention will also mark the first time OPEC members have come together in Vienna since Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi stepped down, making way for Khalid al-Falih to take his place. Both events have raised questions about what direction Riyadh's oil policies will take in the months ahead, and how they will affect the kingdom's relationships with its fellow producers.

By all accounts, Saudi Arabia seems prepared to move forward with its original plan to protect its share of the global oil market, allowing concerns about low oil prices to take a backseat. Deviation, at this point, is not really an option; Riyadh's strategy has firmly committed the kingdom to riding out fluctuations in the market over the next five years. Saudi Arabia will have no choice, then, but to redouble its efforts to dramatically restructure its economy away from excessive spending and an overreliance on energy revenues. But whether the House of Saud will be able to get the country's younger generations on board with what is likely to be a painful economic adjustment remains to be seen.

A Painful but Logical Strategy

When oil prices plunged from $115 to $80 per barrel between June and November 2014, many of the world's oil producers and companies hoped that OPEC would step in to fix the situation. By collectively reducing their output, perhaps the organization's members could bring the market into balance and nudge prices back up. But Saudi Arabia, which has historically dominated the bloc, had other plans. Al-Naimi chose to increase production instead, intending to maintain Saudi Arabia's sizable share of the global oil market. By March 2015, Saudi output had risen by 660,000 barrels per day and oil prices had fallen even further, reaching as low as $45 per barrel.

Taliban Will Go On, Even Without Mullah Akhtar Mansur

Susanne Schmeidl - May 23, 2016


Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansur was confirmed killed by a US drone strike in Pakistan's Baluchistan province yesterday. Unlike his predecessor, Mullah Omar (who ruled the Taliban for at least two decades), Mullah Mansur's reign was short and controversial.

A coffin believed to contain the body of Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansur is inspected in Balochistan Province, Pakistan 22 May.

Though he officially only ruled for a year, Mullah Mansur likely ran the Taliban unofficially for several years prior, given that it was confirmed in 2015 that Mullah Omar had been dead for at least two years. And this suggests that perhaps his death is not the success that many proclaim. 

First, the Taliban movement (or self-proclaimed 'Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan') has been gaining strength since the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force handed over all security responsibilities to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in 2014, ending 13 years of foreign intervention in Afghanistan. The Taliban's most recent spring offensive — Operation Omari (named in honour of Mullah Omar) — has been a bloody and forceful one. The movement has managed to pound the ANSF, exposing its weaknesses and increasing the Taliban's territorial spread. 

How the British Defeated Napoleon With Citrus

Andrew George - May 22, 2016

Everyone knows that Britain’s conclusive victory over Napoleon was at Waterloo. The story of that day – the squares of infantry repulsing cavalry charges, the Imperial Guard retreating under murderous musket fire delivered by a red line of soliders, the just-in-time arrival of Field Marshal Blücher’s Prussian army – is one of excitement, horror and heroism. However, Britain’s biggest contribution to Napoleon’s defeat was much less romantic. It involved the first randomised controlled trial.

Without the trial, the years of blockades of French ports by the Royal Navy would not have been practical. The blockade kept the French fleet confined, preventing Napoleon from invading Britain. It gave the British freedom to trade across the world, helping finance not only the British but other European armies and nations. It threatened France’s trade and economy, which forced Napoleon to order the continental system: a Europe-wide embargo against trade with Britain. He invaded both Spain and Russia to enforce this boycott – actions that ultimately brought about his downfall.

Blockade work was often tedious, always dangerous. Navy frigates, keeping close to the shore, would watch the French ports, using signal ships to notify the main fleet over the horizon if the French were to sail. The ships (and sailors) had to maintain station for months without relief. In 1804-5, Admiral Horatio Nelson spent ten days short of two years on HMS Victory, never stepping on dry ground, most of the time enforcing the blockade of Toulon.

The scourge of scurvy

The ability of the sailors of the Royal Navy to operate for such long periods at sea was remarkable. For most of the 18th century, ships could only stay at sea for relatively short periods (six to eight weeks), without the sailors developing scurvy.

Defeating the Islamic State: Advice from Sun Tzu

Ronald Tiersky - May 20, 2016


Anti-Islamic State coalition military operations are underway. Their goal is to liberate the cities of Mosul, Raqqa, and Fallujah, as well as all ISIS-entrenched positions on the Euphrates River, beginning west of Baghdad and heading north all the way to Raqqa and beyond, to Syria’s border with Turkey. Since the Islamic State is fanatically committed to a single jihadist principle -- either victory or death (“martyrdom”), and a scorched-earth policy in retreat, any strategy to defeat and dismantle their so-called caliphate in Syria and Iraq requires thinking outside usual frameworks.

American leaders sometimes say, in effect, ‘we don’t understand ISIS at all, it’s a totally new phenomenon.’ To the extent that this is true, it is at best a half-truth. ISIS is made up of two parts: the caliphate, and an always-changing transnational network of terrorists and local military forces.

Strategic priority is to destroy the caliphate. From the beginning, the jihadist organization’s goal has been to restore Islam’s power and religious prestige in world affairs by creating a new global theocratic institution. That credibility and prestige is what has attracted tens of thousands of fighters from more than 100 countries. The initial fanaticism has faded, but thousands in Syria and Iraq remain committed. The caliphate could, in fact, be destroyed militarily in a few weeks if major coalition powers were not so committed to limiting civilian casualties and the devastation of cities and infrastructure. As things are, it might be totally defeated and dismantled in a year or two, with the hardest struggles being to liberate the major cities that require siege and surgical attack. The Islamic State’s loose transnational network of terrorist operations will survive the demise of the caliphate. Diligently tracking down the forces of jihadism will take years, until the impulse to violent jihad finally burns itself out.

The Art of War Against ISIS

How to Bring Vietnam Into the U.S. Fold

Sandy Pho - May 20, 2016


When U.S. President Barack Obama travels to Vietnam this week, he will need to execute a delicate diplomatic dance.

On the one hand, Obama will need to signal Washington’s genuine desire to deepen relations with a nation that is important to U.S. interests and that figures significantly in the U.S. rebalance to Asia. At the same time, he will need to take care not to introduce new tensions in America’s complex yet essential relationship with China. He must make clear that the United States is not reaching out to Vietnam and its neighbors in order to contain Beijing.

U.S.-Vietnam relations are of growing importance in their own right -- even without adding China to the picture. In 2013 the United States and Vietnam upgraded their relationship to a comprehensive partnership. Although this is the lowest level of partnership Vietnam offers -- China enjoys the highest status of comprehensive strategic partner -- it opened the door for more direct cooperation between Washington and Hanoi. To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the normalization of U.S.-Vietnam relations, U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter met with his Vietnamese counterpart, Defense Minister Phung Quang Thang, in Vietnam and signed a joint vision statement on defense relations in 2015.

Even with the vast improvements in bilateral defense ties since diplomatic normalization in 1995, mutual mistrust still pervades the relationship. The U.S. government maintains a partial ban on the sale of lethal weapons to Vietnam due to concern over human rights abuses. The Communist Party of Vietnam remains suspicious of U.S. intentions and of the American penchant for spreading democracy.

The Quick Death of the EU-Turkey Refugee Deal

Kaj Leers - May 19, 2016


Anyone in Europe who had worked with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in the past months probably saw it coming: the death of the European Union’s refugee deal with Turkey. With Davutoglu effectively out of the picture, the increasingly autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears intent on blowing up the deal.

President Erdogan is a proud man. His Trump-like compulsory obsession with his image has led him to persecute thousands of people and punish journalists and columnists. He pressed the German government to prosecute a German comedian who ridiculed Erdogan on television -- Germany has a sizable Turkish minority that may vote in Turkish elections -- and just last week demanded that the CEO of Germany’s largest media conglomerate be prosecuted. A German court was quick to reject that latest demand.

No one can be sure what precisely goes on inside Erdogan’s head. But maybe it is more than a coincidence that the deal on refugee resettlement between the European Union and Turkey has been collapsing fast since the political decapitation of Davutoglu and the dust-ups with European comedians. Erdogan recently forced Davutoglu to resign, probably because the prime minister was getting a bit too popular for Erdogan’s liking.

The resulting death of the refugee deal would be a severe blow to European leaders.

Keeping Up With Russia's Military Robots

Samuel Bendett - May 19, 2016


Russian daily Komsomolskaya Pravda recently published a report on concept technologies being developed for that nation's armed forces. Highlighting achievements by the Foundation for Advances Studies, or FAS, the paper wrote about unmanned and robotic systems that are undergoing the last trials before their consideration for operational duty. The Foundation -- essentially the Russian version of America's Defense Advanced Research Project Agency -- was established in 2012 to ensure the dynamic development of breakthrough and high-risk research and development in the interests of national defense and state security. Over the past year the fund has registered 22 inventions, 23 informational programs, four utility models and eight specifically-tailored computer programs.

In establishing the Foundation, Russian President Vladimir Putin cited time and technological pressures

"Today we are witnessing the birth of the new global technological order, based on cutting-edge discoveries in biotechnology, nanotechnology, and information systems. These technologies will soon dictate not only socio-economics, but also a political agenda on the planet. Russia must not stand aside from these processes, since the risks of a sudden altering of the military-strategic balance due to the introduction and implementation of these technologies may be too high for our country." 

According to Putin’s decree, FAS research is to focus on the implementation of three megaprojects, titled Future Soldier, Future Weapons System, and Cyber Weapons of the Future.

How Isolation Is Bringing China and Israel Together

Stratfor - May 18, 2016


Summary

A China-Israel free trade agreement (FTA) makes a lot of economic sense. China is one of the world's leading manufacturing markets, while Israel is among the leaders in research and development (R&D). The Chinese want Israeli technology, and the Israelis want the cheaper consumer goods that the Chinese can make. The countries' economic relationship has expanded, with bilateral trade climbing to nearly $11 billion in 2015 from $50 million in 1992, and an FTA would accelerate the process.

It is no surprise, then, that the two recently launched formal negotiations on such a deal. Fewer trade barriers would be good for both sides, but there are also political and supply chain concerns pushing them together.

Analysis

The Cultural Revolution, Then and Now

Merriden Varrall - May 17, 2016


It has been (arguably) 50 years since the start of one of the greatest, but least well understood, social upheavals of modern history. The Chinese Cultural Revolution, overseen by Mao Zedong, has been in the news in the West and in China both because of this anniversary, and because of controversy surrounding a recent concert in Beijing that featured 'red' songs from the period.

These, along with observations that President Xi Jinping is creating his own personality cult, not unlike Mao's, are causing some to speculate that another Cultural Revolution could be possible. However, the likelihood of another descent into such chaos in contemporary China is low. This is not because of newfound access to information via the internet, or nascent stirrings of political liberalism but, rather, because today's leadership know that to unleash that kind of havoc would be the end of the Communist Party, the last thing Xi wants to see.

While Xi is widely accepted to be consolidating power in a manner not seen since Mao, he is not likely to be the driving force behind a second Cultural Revolution. 

It is generally accepted that 16 May 1966 marked the onset of the decade of turmoil and turbulence overseen by then Party Chairman Mao Zedong, a period of disorder that most of Australia could not even imagine. It only ended when he died in September 1976. During that time Mao instructed the people to question authority, criticise the Party and, ultimately, overturn his enemies. Chinese society imploded, friends and families turned on each other, trust among people was deliberately destroyed and replaced, by force if necessary, with loyalty to the Party–state.

Israeli kibbutz: Communal idealism or a privileged few?

Dana Regev - May 17, 2016


People worldwide have visited a kibbutz or even tried to live in one at some point in their lives. Though created over 100 years ago with a utopian collectivist vision, nowadays the kibbutz divides Israeli society.

Founded over 100 years ago, before there was a nation called Israel, the kibbutz is a form of cooperative settlement unique to the modern country and based on socialist values and on Zionist aspirations.

The early concept of the kibbutz was based on a form of economic cooperation that in many ways resembles communism, and the settlements continue to formally exalt the idea of equality - and often the practice of it, too.

The kibbutz is usually a small community that comprises several hundred residents, and its income, at least traditionally, comes from agriculture and industry.

Six Stubborn, Essential Middle East Truths

Aaron David Miller - May 17, 2016


Leaders change, and the Middle East can always surprise. But regardless of presidential preference and promises, there are a half-dozen verities that will haunt any leader, from Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton -- just as they have bedeviled President Barack Obama and his predecessors.

Want Hollywood endings, go to the movies. I challenge anyone to identify a single issue in this region today that is heading toward a meaningful or sustainable end state. From Syria’s civil war to the politics of Iraq, from the war against the Islamic State to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we are dealing with problems that are much more likely to have outcomes than solutions.

Even the Obama’s administration’s signal foreign policy achievement  -- the P5+1 Iranian nuclear agreement -- is an accord limited in time and scope that in no way assures Iran’s nuclear aspirations have been laid to rest, let alone guarantees the Islamic republic’s behavior in the region.

We need to stop thinking about fixing problems in the Middle East on what I call Administration Time -- four-to-eight-year increments -- and start thinking about a more extended metric, say a decade. Even the highly imperfect Iran nuclear agreement recognizes this reality.

A U.S. Strategy Beyond the Cold War

George Friedman - May 16, 2016


The United States became the only global power in 1991. In the 45 years prior, it had been locked in a swirling global struggle for primacy with the Soviet Union, and at many moments it did not look like the United States was going to win. Before that, since about the turn of the 20th century, the United States was an emerging power, finding its place in a violent world

In 1991, the United States had to come to terms with a new role. The collapse of the Soviet Union took the U.S. by surprise. Washington’s strategy during the Cold War was to create a complex alliance structure for both military and economic affairs. It embedded its forces in military alliances, and it focused on the development of trading structures designed to entice other countries away from the Soviet Union and into the U.S.-led trading system. The United States was prepared to trade economic advantage for an enhanced alliance. It was also prepared for asymmetric military alliances in which the United States provided the bulk of the resources, and its allies provided far less than they could have.

Since the United States saw itself as caught in a global struggle with strategic and moral dimensions, this imbalance made sense. What also made sense was the use of U.S. forces not only to guarantee the security of the alliance, but to act in direct military operations with minimal support from allies. From the Korean and Vietnam wars to the crises in Lebanon in 1958 and Grenada in 1983, as well as endless covert operations, the United States waged a global war of varying intensity against Communism.

The United States was driven both by national interest and by its historical reading of the Munich Agreement, which was meant to appease the Germans by allowing them to annex parts of Czechoslovakia.  The failure of Munich to prevent World War II was understood by the United States as the result of appeasement and of the failure of the United States to join the Anglo-French alliance sooner. Therefore, during the Cold War, America’s strategy was to constantly refuse to reach accommodation, while attempting to increase the number of its allies. The lessons of World War II became the strategy of the Cold War. It worked in the end. A nuclear war did not erupt, and that is the measure of a successful national strategy.