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"Where are U.S. and Europe Heading? Managing America’s Unintended Empire” by George Friedman     Print Email

george friedman imageThis bold and deliberately provocative book on geopolitical forecasting has smart and suggestive points to make about the whole geopolitical scene, especially the U.S. and Europe.

According to the author George Friedman to manage its "unintended empire," Washington will need to learn the doctrine of playing off new regional contenders against each other. He advocates this "Machiavellian" strategy -- sometimes called "off-shore balancing" -- because it seeks to avoid getting U.S. "boots on the ground" and getting sucked into future wars that might resemble Iraq.

Europe, not withstanding its economic clout, lacks the “deep power” in the form of united military heft that is required to be a serious player, he says. A striking new European development for Friedman is the evolution of Germany in its increasingly tenuous political ties with the U.S. and its contrasting (re)discovery of the benefits of an economic alliance with Russia.

In his new book,  Friedman, founder and editor-in-chief of the respected commercial intelligence service Stratfor,  worries not about decline of the American empire — as is the current fashion -- but rather whether America can learn to manage its burgeoning power  without undermining the  “republic.”  The country needs, according to Friedman, a “Machiavellian presidency,” which will need to “reconcile duplicity and righteousness in order to redeem the promise of America.   And when Friedman says “duplicity,” he really means it.

The lodestone of the Machiavellian presidency is the relentless pursuit of a balance of power in every region of the globe in order force others to expend energy and divert threats away from the U.S.  and to create alliances in which the U.S. maneuvers other countries into bearing the major burden of confrontation.

One of Friedman’s most pungent chapters is his forecast for Europe. While he is not quite as dismissive of Europe as he was in his earlier book “The Next 100 Years, A Forecast for the 21st Century,” where he characterized Europe as “extinct,” he remains skeptical of the ability of Europe to be a power player. “Contemporary Europe is in search for an exit from hell,” says Friedman. Hell has constituted in the 20th Century a fiery progression from Verdun to Auschwitz to threat of a possible U.S. – Soviet nuclear war. And Friedman says that the European Union grew as much out of exhaustion as a desire to lay to rest the “German problem.” Integration, he says, was imposed by a combination of the Soviet threat on one hand and pressure from the U.S. on the other.  Moreover, says Friedman dismissively, Europeans saw unity as a way for Europe to find a place in a world “that had reduced them to the status of regional powers at best.”

Without its own army, thinks Friedman, Europe lacks the “deep power” required to be a serious player, notwithstanding its economic clout. Authority to act internationally with military force is an indispensable part of global power, says Friedman and this authority is retained by individual states, as has been recently demonstrated, of course, in the response to the Libyan uprising.

The EU, says Friedman, an unrelenting euroskeptic, remains an elective relationship, created for the convenience of its members, and if it becomes inconvenient, nations can leave. “Ultimately, there is a European bureaucracy but no European state.”

All true, but Friedman ignores the extent to which economic integration, and the euro, have made it increasingly difficult to reverse integration, even under the stress of the economic crisis of the past two years.

What does impress Friedman is the reemergence of Germany and the fundamental change in the U.S. – German relationship as Germany discovers the benefits of an economic alliance with Russia. Compounding the potential problem with Germany is its close alliance with France which creates a strong center in Europe that must be balanced.  Friedman suggests that the U.S. should do everything it can to split the Franco-German bloc, although the U.S. has limited blandishments attractive to France to make that happen. The U.S. should look to Poland to replace Germany as a block to Russian westward expansion. Moreover, the U.S. should emphasize bilateral relations on the periphery of Europe, “bypassing NATO while paying lip service to it.”

But whatever the U.S. does on the periphery, the question of Germany remains paramount, says Friedman. “The United States must avoid the appearance of being hostile to Germany or indifferent to Europe,” says this modern day Machiavelli.  “It must not abandon NATO, regardless of its ineffectiveness, but must treat all multilateral institutions with respect and all Europeans as if they are significant powers.”

The relationship with the UK will remain important and the UK will want to retain its “special relationship” with the U.S., however hollow this may be from the U.S. perspective.  “British strategy is incompatible with an open-ended commitment to Europe,” says Friedman. And the U.S. can count on the fact that the UK will “tilt” towards the U.S. when there is an issue between the French-German bloc and the U.S.

Moving to the Middle East, Friedman says it will be important in the next decade and sooner rather than later, for the U.S. to seek accommodation with Iran.  Both sides have an interest in avoiding serious confrontation, and accommodation will help balance relations with both Israel and Saudi Arabia where the U.S. is disproportionately weighted currently.  Both Israel and Saudi will, of course strenuously object, but that is part of the plan and the U.S. move towards Iran will give it more leverage over both longstanding allies.

Israel is particularly in serious need of rebalancing, thinks Friedman, and he suggests a nuanced pull-back to force Israel to stop taking for granted that it can create realities on the ground that are inconsistent with U.S. interests.

The U.S. president must “maintain a ruthless sense of proportion,” says Friedman, “while keeping the coldness of his calculation to himself.” Among other things, this means recalibrating the centrality of “terrorism” as an overweening foreign policy preoccupation, says the hardhearted Friedman, “Terrorism — even including nuclear terrorism — does not represent an existential threat to the United States.” Consequently, a foreign policy focused singularly on terrorism is fundamentally unbalanced.  Friedman is not suggesting presidents ignore terrorism, but that they not get trapped like George W. Bush into a one-dimensional and emotional response that drew us into the Iraq war.   There, the major miscalculation was not the intelligence failure on weapons of mass destruction, but blindness over the consequences of the removal of Sunni Iraq as an effective check on Shiite Iran resulting in the need for a decade long occupation by U.S. troops.

Although Friedman has interesting perspectives on the way countries will jockey for power over the next ten years, his deviousness sometimes becomes distracting and one wonders how the Machiavellian President is supposed to remember just what lever he is supposed to be pulling and when.

 

William Marmon is Managing Editor of European Affairs.