2016-12-29 By Robbin Laird
As we end 2016 and look forward to 2017, it is difficult not to believe that we face a year of upheaval.
Several dynamics in play at the same time and these dynamics will interact with one another to generate profound change in the world as we know it.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, we had a period up to 9/11 where the world was characterized by the increasingly power of the United States and Europe while China emerged as a global economic power. The Islamic-Western conflict was already there but with the 9/11 crises it emerged full blown.
And then the two decades of the war on terrorism entered the Western agenda, with the strikes in Afghanistan and the ill fatted invasion of Iraq. As the Middle East began to resemble the 12th century landscape of the crusades (a period which generated even more intra-Muslim conflict than that between Christians and Muslims), the ability to manage the geopolitical landscape became secondary to the struggle against various brands of Jihad, something not reducible to geopolitics.
The new phase of global development sees the continuing influence of the conflict with the Jihadists for sure, but with the inevitable collapse of the “deal” with Iran, the Israelis and key Arab states are very likely to confront the Iran leadership directly.
How violent the confrontation will be is anybody’s guess, but the challenge for the outside powers is direct: who is supporting whom and for what purpose?
The anti-terrorism paradigm and the flawed from the start policy of putting Western forces into the Middle East to reform societies that do not share Western values is over.
It has FAILED and both the military which has been sent on these missions and the citizens that support them recognize this, although many American strategists somehow think this will go on.
Certainly, Europe and the United States will accelerate their efforts at energy independence from the Middle East which poses significant challenges as well for the Middle Eastern and Russian oil producers.
What Western policies will be crafted to deal with the Iran conflict and with other Muslims and the Israelis?
And how best to define one’s interests in the Middle East when you are not largely dependent on energy imports from the Middle East?
Also changing are the global macro-economics as industry is starting to come back from Asia to the West, and both the Chinese and Russian leaders face significant economic challenges.
Their response to failure to meet these challenges are that they very likely to use military means to gain domestic support in the face of declining economic performances at home.
Europe is in fundamental change.
With the Brexit negotiations to start this year and with a new French Preisident for certain and a new German Chancellor probably, the Prime Minister of the UK will look to those two leaders for shaping what form Brexit actually takes.
At the heart of the change certainly will be the end of the free flows of people which was never part of the Treaty of Rome in any case.
Domestic security will return with a vengence with states having to demonstrate to one another that the proteciton of the lives of their citizens matters more than excessive protection of individual privacy rights.
Europe could divide on this issue and as it does, Britain could work with those states serious about domestic security and be part of a new European coalition.
The Euro will not survive in its current form, and how growth will be generated will be a serious issue in the period ahead.
It is into this world where Mr. Trump is becoming President of the United States.
His election should provide cautionl to those over confident in their predictive abilities.
One book which I just read is Imperium by Robert Harris which is the first of a trilogy which I now will have to acquire and read all of the volumes.
It is a book from the perspective of Cicero’s (slave) secretary and tells the story of Rome in the period of the late Republic and early Empire, in other words, the time where the public life of Rome’s most famous lawyer and orator unfolded.
There are many good comments throughout the book but this seems especially relevant now:
“You can always spot a fool, for he is the man who will tell you he knows who is going to win an election.
But an election is a living thing you might almost say, the most vigorously alive thing there is — with thousands upon thousands of brains and limbs and eyes and thoughts and desires and it will wriggle and turn and run off in directions no one ever predicted, sometimes for the joy of proving the wiseacres wrong.”
Trump is more of an independent than a Republican and has come to power promising significant change.
But then again so did President Obama (Remember Change You Can Believe In?)
But Trump certainly is different in that he ran against the leadership of the party whose nominee he eventually became.
It is somewhat akin to the Progressive era in the late 19th century where both parties where in meltdown over corruption and other issues and the election of President Theodore Roosevelt opened a new era.
In this sense, Trump is somewhat akin to his New York predecessor, although TR was known for his famous statement about speaking softly and carrying a big stick.
TR came to power by accident and in a period of Western ascendancy and self-confidence and relative calm.
Trump is not coming to power in such a period of history.
And although to date his discourse about defense seems to revolve around cost, he will quickly find that capability and skill will matter more and are in short supply.
After a long period of fighting land wars against locals and jihadists expeditionaries, neither the U.S. military nor diplomatic elite are well prepared for the decade ahead.
This is one in which armed conflict with peer competitors has already started and skill in maneuver warfare and diplomacy will be learned or not.
Contemporary history is learned on the fly; it is not about inherited skills; it is about shaping skills appropriate to one’s age and with an old one ending a new one opening we shall see if we are up to the challenge.