Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Reviewing George Friedman's Predictions

Reading George Friedman's comments on Greece made me take another look at his arguments in The Next Decade and The Next 100 Years.

As one might guess, the evidence is ambiguous on a great many issues. Still, he seems to have been at least partly right about some things. The idea that Europe's integration had reached its high water-mark now seems more persuasive to me, rather than les so. I would say that he has also been right regarding an increased American concern with Russia leading to greater attention to European affairs, and China's increasing economic difficulties.

However, Friedman would also seem to have been wrong about the emergence of a Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis. Germany seems to behave more unilaterally than ever now (as the Greek situation demonstrates), while its relations with Russia have worsened considerably, particularly in the wake of a civil war in Ukraine. Additionally, the idea that this would be associated with the U.S. pulling back militarily from the Middle East and keeping aloof from East Asia has also been wrong. Instead there have been the operations in Libya, Iraq, Syria in the former region, and the "pivot to Asia" in the latter--even as the U.S. has become more concerned with Eastern Europe. And certainly the idea of Russia falling apart looks less likely than it did before.

Africa also remains a more active scene of foreign intervention than he thought, as has been the case in Mali--with that particular intervention related to that greater intensity of conflict in the Middle East (its civil war, in part, a spillover from the fighting in Libya). And of course, while he anticipated a more statist economics, neoliberalism, discredited as it is, remains the conventional wisdom among policymakers, no real challenge having emerged to it (a fact recently underlined by SYRIZA's immediate and utter surrender to Germany's demands).

Of course, tabulating right and wrong guesses has only a limited interest. What seems to me more interesting is the reasons for both the successes, and the failures. Given that his books--forecasts--offered more in the way of prediction than argument for why he thought events would take the course he describes, there is only so much of that one can discuss. Still, it seems to me that his track record has much to do with his basic analytical framework, which is centered on a realpolitik vision of international relations in which billiard ball-like states bounce off of one another. This keeps him from underestimating the importance that nation-states still do have--but it would seem that this also leaves him with an insufficient regard for economic motivations. Even where he was right (the EU and China bumping up against important limits) it seems to me that he guessed the event, but not what would lead up to it, namely the depth of a worldwide economic crisis, which he does not seem to have appreciated. Nor does he seem to have appreciated the difficulties neoliberal prescriptions for the problem have caused (the real factor which has made the EU's weaknesses so glaring).

Fourth Reich, Again?

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