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If you can keep your head when all about you ...

Reuters at WAPO

Great WAPO piece on US intell community surging a response to growing evidence of Kremlin-directed hacking of our election infrastructure.

The key bit of description:

U.S. intelligence officials described the covert influence campaign here as “ambitious” and said it is also designed to counter U.S. leadership and influence in international affairs.

Ambition to counter US leadership in the world ... Damn straight and we must get used to it - whether or not we continue with Obama's hands-off global leadership style.

Russia, like China, wants to reshape both global agendas and rules, having watched the US blithely dominate both since Cold War's end.

This is natural and thus to be expected, particularly as we have signaled to both that we prefer our old allies to accommodating them as our new and inevitable partners in managing this world (understanding that, if we take the long view, it's China first, then India, then Russia et al. in terms of combined economic-military heft and thus strategic importance).

But, for now, with both China and India still feeling their way toward superpower-dom, Putin is the cream of the leadership crop, arguably matched only by Merkel in savvy, boldness, and vision.

Why Trump scares me: he simply isn't smart enough to play at that level, as he is embarrassingly easy to manipulate. My God, would Putin enjoy abusing him for four years.

With Clinton, the fear has to be: will she be embroiled in controversy and scandal all the time (some real, mostly manufactured by her opponents - again a venue where Putin will find many useful American idiots)? Or does she prove to be Merkel's match?  We can only hope.

But back to the point here: this is exactly the sort of influence/agenda-setting/rule-setting-and-bending competition to which we must grow accustomed, not in the sense that we're new to it (we do it in our sleep - please), but that we haven't had any serious direct competitors for a long time (really, a solid quarter-century).

You will say, "But Russia is messing with our process in a manner that we would never dare to pursue with them."

Well, yes and no. 

It all depends on perceptions. America would never try anything that direct, but our indirect methods of supporting democratization are often interpreted by autocratic regimes like China and Russia as direct meddling. That is simply a reflection of the robustness of our political system and the brittleness of theirs. To autocrats, who fear their own people far more than outside forces, even the most indirect sort of pressuring in the direction of democratization comes off as a direct challenge to the rule. That's not to say that we shouldn't engage in such activities, because we most definitely should. Rather, it is to say that, when we do engage in such activities, we can't become upset when those regimes push back in similar - if asymmetric - ways. 

As always, the key is to remember that time is on the side of democracy - as is technology (Orwell continues to be wrong).

So what I really like about this article is the calm and matter-of-fact manner that our political system - for now - is displaying in its reactions to Putin's dirty tricks (putting aside Harry Reid's cited fear factor). In many ways, this is the cyber struggle of the future: not as a precursor to great power war or strategic conflict, but rather as a day-to-day tool of influencing other systems and shaping the international rules to one's own advantage. If we come to accept this as an inescapable reality, while avoiding the temptation for hyperbole and freaking out, then we'll continue to be just fine.

Do I think Clinton can manage that? Yes.

But Trump? Far too risky a proposition. He'd just be in way over his head.

Thomas P.M. Barnett
Sent from my iPhone


What Does Russia/Putin Seek?

Putin's Russia is becoming the Trump of international security: dominating the news cycle with a constant stream of bold moves (Syria, for example) and often outrageous affronts (Russian hackers just did what?!?!). Just like Clinton will win the White House while The Donald is named Time's Person of the Year (bet on it), Obama's "long game" (see Chollet's new book) may be sound, even as it's seemingly trumped (that word again) on every strategic front by Putin's nonstop shenanigans.

So what does Putin seek for Russia?

The obvious answer is: as much reconstruction of the old Soviet empire (however virtually achieved by various Finlandizations) as possible, combining that sometimes actual revanchism with a successful dismemberment of the EU and NATO, leaving Germany once again living in complete fear of its intentions (Russia has ALWAYS been just that into Germany).

Not by a long shot does that constitute an attempted overturning of the world order. It is far better described as a leapfrogging by a resurgent Russia over the faltering "West" (retreating US, freaking-out Europe, aging Japan [where adult-diaper sales now trump baby-diaper sales]) into the Trumpian position of Initiator-in-Chief (a role once clearly held - and abused - by the Bush Administration but clearly abandoned by Lead-From-Behind Obama).

So what does Putin seek for Russia? He wants Russia to be #1 on everybody's speed dial, search engine, and worry list.

And he's readily achieving it.

That's the thing about an essentially US-constructed (and typically led) world order: when we step back to stare at the horizon, others will step in. Ultimately those others will be China and India, but neither is ready for that now. India hasn't hit its demographic/industrialization inflection point yet and China is too obsessed with its front-yard "pond" (their strategic equivalent of staring at one's bellybutton and muttering, Mine! All mine!).  

So we get Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey running the show in the Center (see map above), while America focuses more on home (and the West Hemisphere) and China looks to lock down the East.

In my old vernacular, the "Gap-shrinking" continues, it is just more obviously and geographically divvied up, with Asian great powers (China, India, Japan) nonetheless forced into some competitive thrusts into the Center (particularly Africa) for reasons both immediate (resource access) and long term (tomorrow's biggest cheap-labor - and consumer - pool).

America, secure in both its energy and food/water (and increasingly Latinized and Millennialized), continues to turn inward for a lengthy Progressive Era that it desperately needs.

Still, we have to play both the Home and Away games, and here is where it gets particularly challenging for the West: imagine Hillary, May (UK), and Merkel (Germany( leading the West's pushback against Putin's many international micro-aggressions. You just know that that macho Vlad will assume he's got the upper hand. One can almost see the misogynystic cartoon: Vlad, in wife-beater shirt, daring  the cowering women to take in the "gun show" (hat tip, Ron Burgundy) as he holds his backhand above his head, poised in bitch-slap-delivery mode.

So yes, expect Vlad to keep pushing things until the West (and specifically America) pushes back, and expect him to continuously elevate his game with little fear of long-term cost.

Putin has seen enough of Obama's "long game" (where America often punted on early downs) to know that, absent a serious course change, the Center field (Europe-writ large, Muddle East, Africa) is his for the reshaping right now (much as Xi Jinping views the East).

This is why any President-Elect Clinton needs to move fast and project an image of a serious housecleaning both internally and - eventually abroad.

But again, none of this signals an existential threat to the system, because, quite frankly, all our great power competitors (not enemies) find it all too much to their liking.

Was this phase of globalization inevitable?

Yes. Nothing moves ever upward in a straight line. It's more Dora's bit about just keep swimming.

America built something so amazing, transformative, beneficial, and enriching that there was zero chance we could control globalization ad nauseum - anymore than we could rule the Internet forever.

Remember: globalization comes with rules but no ruler (a wise man once wrote that).

A dozen years ago I penned a piece for WAPO stating that America's prime partners of tomorrow would be China, Russia, and India (Turkey also mentioned), and that, yes, we'd end up uncomfortably accommodating each in that pathway.  [I soon after added Iran to that group.]  My goal in that piece was simply to signal that the days of America, Europe and Japan constituting a quorum of great powers was over.

At that time, the notion was laughed off.

Not so funny now, is it? I mean, look who's running the Middle East?  China and India are the biggest buyers, while Turkey, Iran, and Russia have all ascended as security actors. I never said we'd be close with any of them, just that we'd have to work with all of them.

Having said all this (again), we need to avoid our usual freak-out response pattern regarding all these powers. Yes, America enjoyed and exploited its post-Cold War unipolar moment to ram globalization down everyone's throats (I approved whole-heartedly), triggering the best set of problems the world has ever known. But that thrust, while an amazing gift to humanity (all that wealth creation, hundreds of millions lifted out of poverty, percentage of extreme poverty less than 10% of human population for first time in history, and a majority global middle class for the first time in history) was unsustainable for the US (or, more accurately, the US consumer and all the personal debt we took one).

Now we move dumbfoundedly into the period where the world's most dynamic great powers seek to consolidate rule-set spheres of influence ("This is how things work around here!"). This period was always inevitable, but keep in mind that we are not looking at the resurrection of great power war (no matter how many hard-talking security types sell you that every night on the news). MAD remains in force with no "offset" required.

What we face now is an extended clash not of civilizations but of great-power rule-sets.

What should America do?

We should persistently and pointedly defend our national interests while not pushing our norms as the only acceptable answer. We tend toward the opposite tack - a habit long ingrained by our "global cop" burden. But that burden has been overtaken by events and developments that we have long sought - a genuine multi-polarity that respects the international structure we've created even as each great power seeks to rule its individual roost (to expect otherwise is naive in the worst way).

So we should stay calm and carry on with our necessarily transformative regrading of our political (less distance between leaders and led) and economic (less tilted toward rich) landscapes. In short, we need to proceed with the next great progressive American era that redefines 21st century capitalism in light of globalization's swift conquering of the planet - finally (with a hat tip to K. Marx) but only under America's tutelage (none of those thieving European empires came even close).

Again, these are the best problems humanity has ever faced - problems of success and not failure.

So, chin up as this US election gets even nastier and more weird - and as daily revelations emerge concerning Moscow's (or Beijing's or Tehran's or Ankara's) latest transgression.

The world system we built remains secure, even as virtually every state now faces very hard choices between open and closed, connected or disconnected, or drawbridges up or down (per the Economist). These are natural reactions and we were all certain to confront these as a result of the Great Recession. What matters now is what we as Americans choose and how we lead - as always - by example.

Make no mistake: I'd gladly take our path and our fundamentals and our challenges over those of any other great power out there - yet another reason to keep all such frenemies in perspective. Neither they nor our true enemies (violent extremist organizations, plus those just-plain-nutty North Koreans) pose any existential threat to either us or our amazingly sturdy world order.

Simply put, don't believe the hype, even as we keep an eye on Russia's Trump.


Iraq at ten years

Cartoon found here (in an FT op-ed that fits this post nicely - if orthogonally).

Read through a variety of the tenth-year anniversary reviews, and I thought Thomas Friedman's was the best - despite the weird title (Democrats, Dragons or Drones?).

His basic notion that it takes the next generation to create and shape the subsequent reality is correct.  Friedman pegs it at "9 months and 21 years to develop."

Fair enough. But the question (as he also notes) hinges on that generation's journey.  Done well, it works.  Done badly enough and a vicious spiral ensues.  In truth, the jury remains out on that score.

We won the war - no doubt, and then took a pass on the postwar.  If we hadn't, then questions of "why?" fade away.  In the post-9/11 mood, America possessed the desire to reshape the region and Saddam was the obvious target. Direct causality was not the issue, although Dick Cheney tried to sell that.  Nor was direct threat, referring to the late and frantic oversell of the WMD to Congress.  The purpose - all along - was structural retribution: as in, you reshaped our world, now we reshape yours.  Americans are just deeply uncomfortable admitting that, so we needed a clear and present storyline to drive our revenge-flick dynamics.

The resulting strategic "pre-emption" was oddly symmetrical in ambition but certainly not in cost (and why should it be so between a superpower and a non-state actor?).

So when we take that pass on the aftermath of the war, and basically pretend that what comes next doesn't really matter, we abort the entire regional restructuring ambition (which, if you remember, was on a nice roll for 2-3 years there) and we allow ourselves to be swallowed up (in terms of strategic effort and attention) by an insurgency that was completely foreseeable and completely manageable - if we had bothered to embrace that inevitability.

But instead of embracing it, we did what we always do and called the postwar another war.  And wars yield a singular answer in US military history - called, more firepower.  And then we found that made things worse (go figure).

And then the White House, chastened finally by the 2006 midterms, relabeled the conflict and rebranded the mission - and then we succeeded again.  

But by then the public narrative had already been cast (Bush lied, too many deaths, too much cost).

So ultimately the Bush administration pays the legacy cost for its mistakes, which mostly had to do with stubbornness.  They had their narrative of a successful war and stuck to it - until it hurt so bad that they had to change.

So what are we left with?

In structural terms, I like what the Middle East has become.  The inevitabilities are being processed and Iran is more isolated than ever.  And thanks to larger structural changes in the global economy, the area is coming under new superpower management - inexorably.  None of it is nice, but it was never going to be anything but painful and violent.  The Arab world has an enormous amount of catching up to do WRT globalization, and it will be awful in execution (and with Africa leaping ahead on many fronts, the Middle East and North Africa - or large portions of it - risk becoming globalization's long-term basket case).

If the US had handed off the region still encased in its many dictatorships, China would have a much easier time over the next two decades.  Now, it faces challenges that are likely to alter its own political structure significantly - just like it did to the US.  Some naturally see the "defeat of American empire" in the region, but since empire was never America's goal, that judgment is meaningless.

All that matters is the relative evolutions of the three superpowers of the 21st century:  China, India and America.

America did, per my original Esquire piece, take strategic ownership of the Middle East in a big way.  That ambition was both debilitating and liberating:  we took our shot (badly) and now we're done "owning" things there (besides Iran's nukes).  In that way, Iraq processed our inevitable post-9/11 over-reaching response (we are a democracy) and hurried us along the exhaustion-collapse-rock bottom-recovery-resurrection dynamic that was always slated for us in the post-Cold War world (our inability to handle the success of the "end of history" - aka, the globalization of our economic connectivity model).  We had gotten used to running things, and we weren't going to stop until something made us stop - an unpleasant journey but a necesssary one.

Now, in grand structural terms, the race among my C-I-A trio is well underway.  The Obama administration, needing a switch-over target, sells its Asian pivot.  This is not a good answer, as I have noted frequently - but rather a red herring.  The real struggle in Asia doesn't involve us except in an off-shore balancing role.

Instead, the real struggles of the future involve the very same frontier integration I've been talking about for a decade now.  On that score, we are looking fine enough in our ongoing restructuring of our portfolio, while China's grows frighteningly larger relative to its ability to deliver and manage regions distant from its shores. India is just begining to recognize what responsibilities lie ahead.

You'll say that China will do it differently, but the structure of the system will force the same responses: China cannot afford to lose its growing overseas dependencies (much greater than any borne by the US), and so the responses will be mounted.  And when they don't go well (whoever gets it right - right off the bat?), change will double back upon China - to its general benefit (along with the world's).

Iraq was always a means to an end (when in history has great power war ever been anything else?).  During the real-time execution, it seems like everything - as does every war throughout history.  But half a century later?  It looks very different.  It's a stepping stone for superpowers:  some step up and some step down, some step away and some step in.  None of it is exactly what it appears to be in the light of present-day reporting.  Per Zhou Enlai's take on the French Revolution, we will be witnessing the downstream consequences across the century.


American withdrawal: this time it is different


Eliot Cohen sounding very scared in the WSJ:

The arguments against far-flung American strategic commitments take many forms. So-called foreign policy realists, particularly in the academic world, believe that the competing interests of states tend automatically toward balance and require no statesmanlike action by the U.S. To them, the old language of force in international politics has become as obsolete as that of the "code duello," which regulated individual honor fights through the early 19th century. We hear that international institutions and agreements can replace national strength. It is also said—covertly but significantly—that the U.S. is too dumb and inept to play the role of security guarantor.

Perhaps the clever political scientists, complacent humanists, Spenglerian declinists, right and left neo-isolationists, and simple doubters that the U.S. can do anything right are correct. Perhaps the president should concentrate on nation-building at home while pressing abroad only for climate-change agreements, nuclear disarmament and an unfettered right to pick off bad guys (including Americans) as he sees fit.

But if history is any guide, foreign policy as a political-science field experiment or what-me-worryism will yield some ugly results. Syria is a harbinger of things to come. In that case, the dislocation, torture and death have first afflicted the locals. But it will not end there, as incidents on Syria's borders and rumors of the movement of chemical weapons suggest.

A world in which the U.S. abnegates its leadership will be a world of unrestricted self-help in which China sets the rules of politics and trade in Asia, mayhem and chaos is the order of the day in the Middle East, and timidity and appeasement paralyze the free European states. A world, in short, where the strong do what they will, the weak suffer what they must, and those with an option hurry up and get nuclear weapons.

Not a pleasant thought.

But the point I would make is, this time history isn't a guide.

During WWII, the US made the conscious decision to seek to remake the world in its rule-set image, and it succeeded beyond its wildest dreams in the phenomenon we now label globalization.  That process was most definitely undergirded by a US security guarantee, which we generally provided to a wonderful degree with definite lapses in execution and - almost as importantly - explanation.

Now we live in a different world thanks to that world-reshaping effort. Plenty of European powers had their shot at this brass ring, and those eras all ended in large scale warfare and decimation of both conquered and conquering.

But notice how the world now enjoys more wealth-creation and order and peace than ever before in history. This is no coincidence.  People will claim all sorts of meaningless variables (like the UN - a true laugher if ever there was one), but the reality remains:  the US showed up, took charge, and we got this world.

But the success we experienced in this amazing venture (the greatest gift any power has ever given this planet and humanity) means we enter new territory.  So no, history isn't any guide.  What we do now in some measure of withdrawal is highly unlikely to unleash the tide of misery that Cohen predicts.  We've simply incentivized too much of humanity in preserving this global system, meaning it is self-maintaining on many levels (easy to join and hard to upset, as they say).  

So why do experts like Cohen keep putting it in such Manichean terms?

We got used to thinking of ourselves as the savior of the world, but that's a been there, done that dynamic now. We came, we saw, we rearranged the rules.  Now the system does just fine on its own - for the most part.  

Yes, put the world economy in extreme crisis like 2008 and Obama's role suddenly looms incredibly large. Honestly, I think he deserved the Nobel for that - simply doing his best to defeat the widespread expectation that the worst global economic crisis since the Great Depression would result in massive instability and warfare - none of which appeared (proving the realists antiquated yet again).

So what do we do now?

We learn to manage the world with the risers - plain and simple.  They have the money and the need and the fear and the willingess to kill to protect their interests.  In normal terms, those attributes = a genuine ally versus the free-loaders.

The two key players going forward are China and India.  America needs to work that trilateral-global-order-in-the-making.  Everything else is ancillary - remembering my recent admonitions that positive co-evolution on progressivism is the way to go on the transatlantic relationship.

But our experts and leaders still have light years to travel on such understanding.  We still imagine it's our way or the WORLD OF CHAOS!  This fear-mongering is, of course, rather silly.

But this is the state of strategic debate in the US.


WPR Briefing: Trans-Atlantic Ties Still Key to Renewing U.S. Global Leadership

For roughly a decade now, I’ve been advocating that America needs to be unsentimental in choosing its military allies for the 21st century. Europe and Japan are aging and seem increasingly less willing to protect their interests abroad, while India and China are becoming budding superpowers with global interests that, to a stunning degree, overlap with America’s. Most pointedly, we live in an age of “frontier integration” triggered by globalization’s rapid advance, a process in which China and India, and not the “old” West, are the two rising pillars. So it makes sense for America to focus future alliance-building efforts in their direction.

Read the entire article at World Politics Review.


Does Obama let the transatlantic bond fade too casually?


I have been preaching for well over a decade now that America needs to realize that it's most productive allies going forward, when it comes to security affairs, are going to be different from those upon whom it relied in the past.

It's a simple logic that fits global trends:  Europe was incentivized big-time before, it's far less so now.  America feels a different responsibility on a global scale.  China and India rise, their global interests expand, and they display more and more interest and capacity to defend those interests.

So not a hard leap:  you work with those most similarly incentivized in the era that you're in right now.  You don't hold to nostalgia.  You want allies with big (and growing) militaries), growing interests, and a clear willingness to go place and kill people to protect those interests.  Crudely put, but there it is.

We are currently in an age of transition from a familiarity and comfort-zone with Europe to one in which we are inevitably drawn into cooperation with India and China to manage this world from a security perspective.

And yet, there is a part of me that says, what matters most going forward is who gets to the shared future in the best shape.  And that means, who processes (as I've said in the brief for a while now) the widespread populist anger and pursues a sufficiently progressive agenda to clean things up and get their countries in shape for the economic competitions still to come.  By that last part, I mean, we see a global middle class rise now, and we face an era of extreme technological change as a result.  Why?  The compelling global need to disconnect standard of living from consumption - plain and simple.

For now, I like the path America is going to have to go down regarding painful reforms and improvements better than I like those of India or China (also a staple of my brief).  We've engaged in such progressive eras before and we're well suited to that task.  We simply lack the political leadership now.

And here's the rub that creates the doubt.  

If we run off too seriously in our strategic "pivot," I fear we engage in the usual escapism ("Look Ma!  I'm fixing the future!") instead of looking within and making the necessary changes happen.

Europe faces many of the same advanced challenges.  We unconsciously model ourselves on them, and they on us, far more than either cares to admit.  Read the Economist if you don't believe me.

So my concern is this:  are we missing the great opportunity for co-evolutionary dynamics if America turns too swiftly and deterministically on this pivot?

Obama is an arrogant man and an even more arrogant president.  Not as bad as Bush, but still.  

I fear this strategic "pivot" is one of the most poorly considered shifts the US has ever made.  I usually cite the foolishness of picking fights with one's banker, and there are many more, but this time I think we're losing our center of gravity some inside globalization.

I also fear we're missing a chance to reform ourselves as needed.  We'll find no answers in China and India on this score.  And - again - the sense of geo-political escapism is palpable regarding the Arab Spring, Africa's churn, our need to integrate more with LATAM.

Don't get me wrong: I don't see scarier worlds out there that need more US military operations.  I see a world of small threats, small wars and small - networked - efforts.

And then I see a president with this grand notion of boxing China in - no matter what fine words he's using - and I see a narrow vision arrogantly pursued.


Indian women and the push against gender violence

NYT story on widespread protests in New Dehli over the apparent gang rape and (eventual) murder of a young female student (23) on a bus.  The woman died from her wounds, which included penetration by a metal rod.

Gruesome stuff, to say the least.

The nature of the violence isn't what catches my sense of historical timing.  Men in packs will do the most atricious things.  

What's interesting here (and it corresponds to a scenario proposed by a Wikistrat analyst at a recent sim we ran) are sociologists linking this growing pack violence against Indian women to a growing disparity in gender numbers - i.e., excess males after years and years of discarding female fetuses.  The result is an age cohort where there are too many guys, too few females to court, and a budding social anger among the males that translates into violence against women and implicit attacks on their rights and standing.  In short, too few women relative to men = social devaluation of females, making them "fair game" in the minds of angry young men.

I will tell you, I buy excess males turning against governments when jobs are not there, and I buy this too.  I've never bought, in the modern context, the bit about having to place excess males in the military and then going to war.  That's applying old logic to modern situations.

But the "war" does come, is the point.  It's just a war against women.

The upside?  It forces women to fight harder and more pervasively for their rights in society, and here the historical timing reminds me of the US in the 1960s and 1970s - a time of seismic and permanent change for women in American society.  I was born (1962) into one world regarding the role of women, but by the time I was a young male courting (1982, when I met my wife and started dating her), it was a very different universe. My wife was the only daughter of a woman who divorced her husband and left to pursue her PhD - I mean, really radical stuff in the early 1970s.  That experience made my spouse a very different person, and thus forced a different relationship (trivial but telling example:  my second middle initial comes from my taking my wife's maiden name of Meussling, thus rendering, in the eyes of the USG, my original name (Thomas Patrick Barnett) as my "maiden name" for all time).

It's a tiny example of how much change happened in the US on womens' issues across the short timespan of my first 25 years of life.  I can't possibly guess at the rate of change that older civilizations like India and China will enjoy/suffer.  I can just speculate that this awakening is coming, and that it's going to be huge.


Nice post (full of data) about India in Africa

Find it here.

Posted by old friend (or is it demon?) Tyler Durden at Zero Hedge.

Best bit:

Parallels are often drawn between India and China’s African “safaris.” Indeed, their trade with Africa has grown at similar rates; India’s at a compounded annual growth rate of 24.8% and China’s at 26.3%. More importantly, access to natural resources and especially oil is the main driver of both Asian giants’ engagement of the continent.

There are important differences though.  For one, India’s footprint in Africa is small compared with that of China. Take their role in Africa’s trade for instance. In 2011, India accounted for 5.2% of Africa’s global trade compared with China’s 16.9%. Besides, unlike China’s investment in Africa, which is led by state-owned companies, Indian investment is mainly driven by the private sector. In another contrast with Chinese companies, India hires local laborers while many Chinese companies bring Chinese laborers to their projects in Africa.

Indian officials admit that China’s aid-for-oil strategy, which involves extension of soft loans for massive infrastructure projects in return for African oil, used to impress them as it helped Beijing secure deals in its favor, according to the MEA official. This prompted India to follow the Chinese strategy in some countries where it was seeking oil deals.  However, India was unable to match the aid the Chinese offered. It underscored the need for an approach that built on India’s strengths, which ultimately resulted in India focusing on capacity building in Africa.

Worth reading.  

Obtained from Craig Nordin.  He got it from Sudha Ramachandran at The Diplomat.


Charts of the day: Saudi Arabia's options

Nice full-page analysis at FT on how the Saudis have worked hard to give themselves a response option if Iran attempts to close Hormuz (far harder than imagined).

The relevant bit:

Earlier this year, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi opened new pipelines that will increase the ability of countries to bypass the strait. Fully operational, 6.5m barrels per day, or about 40 per cent of total flows, will now be able to take alternative routes. “The Middle East is much better prepared now than a year ago to cushion the impact of a disruption in the Strait of Hormuz,” says Edward Morse, head of commodities research at Citigroup and former US deputy assistant secretary of state for international energy policy.

The key number is the Saudi one.  The kingdom has managed to siphon off half their exports to other vectors.

Then look at who's at risk.  US imports only 42% of its oil, and only 16% of that comes through straits, so only about 7% of US imported oil comes through straits, or roughly 3% of total US oil usage comes through straits. Of total US energy usage, that's just under 1.5%.

So no, the US won't be crippled when Hormuz gets shut down - as unlikely as that feat would be for Iran.


India: a nice signpost of the - necessarily - coming progressive era

Nice WSJ weekend piece that chronicles the recent media rise of a sort of muckraking Phil Donahue (the original US avatar of the wave of "truth" exposing shows that blossomed in his wake - Sally Jesse, Oprah, and so on) in India:

The format of "Truth Alone Prevails" is simple. (The show airs on the Star network, which, like The Wall Street Journal, is owned by News Corp.) Mr. Khan introduces the issue of the day to a live studio audience; a short video is shown, featuring a real-world case of hardship or injustice; and then, with only a modest amount of television wizardry, the lights come up and the person from the video is on stage, seated opposite Mr. Khan. And they begin to talk. Mr. Khan does not dazzle the audience with his star power; for the most part, he just listens. It is his guests, often heartbreakingly ordinary, who do the talking.

What emerges from their stories is a creeping horror, a vision of modern India that is stark and deeply unsettling: the family whose mother's life is snatched away, they say, in a botched and unauthorized organ transplant; the 12-year-old girl who accuses a 55-year-old family friend of sexual abuse; the call-center worker who tells of the forced abortion of her female fetuses—six times in eight years—at the hands of her husband's family. Mr. Khan's style is wry and laid back, but occasionally the stories are too much for him, and his eyes well with tears.

Though all manner of cruelty and casual violence are on display, the show is essentially uplifting.

India has not always been comfortable looking this hard at itself. Mr. Khan's show indicates a new candor and boldness, and the response has been staggering. As he told me, "We used to sit back, my team and I, and discuss how people would react, what they would feel. And the kind of response we dreamed of, and hoped for, that is exactly what we're getting." He admits to being emotionally drained by the show at times: "There's a lot of trauma, a lot of distress, a lot of injustice" out there, he said, and he has yet to commit to a second season. But he also says that he encountered an "equal number of examples of courage, high levels of integrity and deeply honed values."

Critics have accused Mr. Khan of being far less reliable on scientific issues than he is on social ones. Some also say that the show is preachy, even messianic, and that its research is not always up to scratch. 

This, and the rise of "bureacratic lit" (obliquely critical books on Chinese officialdom), are signposts - in my mind - of the inevitable progressive wave (lasting decades in length) that both India and China are doomed to "suffer." It's just what comes next . . . after such tumultuous rises where so much of society is exposed to opportunity in which many succeed, some take cruel advantage (nothing succeeds like excess), and plenty feel screwed over (the populist anger impulse).

The end of the WSJ says it all:

What gives "Truth Alone Prevails" its optimism is the voice of India's new middle class, which is increasingly politically and socially aware, though still unsure of itself and its newfound wealth and security. If the old India of my childhood [writer is an Indian part-time expat] - which was a far bleaker place - is to be superseded, it will depend on this new class' ability to understand and defend the freedoms that have enriched it.

Beautifully written and very perceptive piece, and a genuine signpost for analysts who track strategic trends.


India's exploding energy requirements

Good article start, which, in true inverted pyramid fashion, gets all the work done right up front.

India is facing an energy crisis that is slowing economic growth in the world's largest democracy.

At stake is India's ability to bring electricity to 400 million rural residents—a third of the population—as well as keep the lights on at corporate office towers and provide enough fuel for 1.5 million new vehicles added to the roads each month.

Shortages of coal, oil and natural gas will require India to import increasing amounts of high-cost fossil fuels, say energy experts, risking inflation and putting the country in stepped-up competition with China, Japan and South Korea. Buying oil from Iran, one of India's biggest suppliers, is tougher because of U.S. and European sanctions aimed at curbing Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

With annual demand expected to more than double in the next two decades to the equivalent of six billion barrels of oil, the energy crunch threatens to knock India off its growth path. The national economy has already slowed amid paltry business investment and stalled reforms. It tallied just 5.3% growth in the quarter that ended March 31, the lowest level in almost a decade and well shy of the country's 9% goal.

With annual demand expected to more than double in the next two decades to the equivalent of six billion barrels of oil, the energy crunch threatens to knock India off its growth path. The national economy has already slowed amid paltry business investment and stalled reforms. It tallied just 5.3% growth in the quarter that ended March 31, the lowest level in almost a decade and well shy of the country's 9% goal.

The charts above lay out the problem:  Electricity growth is pretty much a proxy for GDP growth.  If you want to grow your economy fast, you have to grow your grid capacity similarly.  China is getting it done. India is not.

The oil imports stuff is pretty classic for the trajectory: roughly a 5-fold increase since just 2004.  I see this growing demand expressed in deals I'm structuring.

But the one that jumped out at me, per the recent Wikistrat sim on "North America's Energy Export Boom," was the coal shortfall now covered by imports.  Our sim was mostly about natural gas, of course, but the displacement effect in electricity generation means we have a lot of stranded coal capacity emerging here in the US - coal that could go abroad effectively because it's energy quotient is world class.  The story describes recently constructed coal-burning electricity-generation plants that are operating below capacity - or worse, are idled - for lack of coal.

I've seen industry estimates by US coal experts that say India will be a prime source of export growth over the next couple of decades.  This article makes clear the "why."


Time's Battleland: (CYBER) Cyber Warfare Treaty: DOA, Thanks to President and Pentagon

Misha Glenny making a smart case in the New York Times for a cyber arms control treaty, but it won’t happen.


For the same reason why the U.S. has refused – for many years now – to engage other great powers on a treaty banning space weaponry: our Pentagon wants to dominate that imagine conflict space like any other. This fantasy lives on despite the great private-sector forays into space transport and travel.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.


Time's Battleland: NATIONAL SECURITY - What the Wisconsin Recall Says About the Future of the U.S. Military

Governor Scott Walker survives his nasty recall vote earlier this month, a dynamic triggered by his brutal reshaping of Wisconsin’s public sector unions.  Pundits are interpreting all this in terms of November and what it means for President Obama’s chances in that crucial swing state, but I see a bellwether for the future of U.S. national security.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.


Chart of the day: remittance "corridors"

From the Economist.

I just love global maps indicating flows - naturally.

What do we see here?

Per my vernacular, in sheer volumen we see New Core being fed remittances by expats living in Old Core.  But when it comes to countries relying heavily on remittances as percentage of GDP, it tends to be mostly Old/some New Core and it all pretty much goes to Gap countries.

Per my flow concept:  whatever the resource, it flows from regions where it is plentiful (here, earning opportunities) to where it is less so.  Yes, we think of India, China, Mexico as New Core and thus "made," but all share the reality of significant numbers of rural poor.  In truth, in most New Core countries, there is massive internal remittances flows.

What I love about this:  this is the best foreign aid there is, because people use it as they see fit.  

You may say to yourself:  What a drain on Core - especially US!

Studies have shown, however, that expats living in new countries spend something like 90% of their earnings in-country, sending about 1/10th home.  It's just that those flows still number in the billions, swamping anything we do on official developmental aid.


Final column at World Politics Review

The New Rules: Globalization's Future Depends on Stable U.S.-China-India Order


Editor's note: This will be the final appearance of Thomas P.M. Barnett's "The New Rules" column at World Politics Review. We'd like to take this opportunity to thank Tom for the insightful, compelling analysis he has offered WPR readers each week for the past three years, as well as for the support he has shown for WPR over that time. We wish him continued success.  

Amid all our current fears regarding the global economy’s potential “double dip” back into deep recession, a longer-term question stands out: How can a supposedly declining America protect the golden goose that is globalization while managing the rise of twin economic superpowers in the East -- namely, China and India? History says that three is a crowd when it comes to system stability. Invariably, some conflict will arise to trigger a two-against-one dynamic that must yield to either the stable stand-off of bipolarity, as during the Cold War, or the emergence through decisive conflict of an acknowledged unipolar hegemon, as in the early post-Cold War period.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.


Wikistrat post @ CNN-GPS: New global sources of demand

Editor’s Note: The following piece, exclusive to GPS, comes from Wikistrat, the world's first massively multiplayer online consultancy.  It leverages a global network of subject-matter experts via a crowd-sourcing methodology to provide unique insights.

When Americans are warned that the “era of cheap credit is over,” we’re really being told that the inherent advantage of owning the world’s reserve currency is coming to an end. No, it won’t happen overnight, because China’s renminbi is still far from becoming a serious rival.

But the end is coming all right, and it’ll make all that Thomas Friedman hyperbole about a “flat world” a whole lot more real. America simply won’t have the advantage of being able to float debt - of all kinds - as easily as we did in the past, which means we’ll need to compete more intensely on the price and quality of our goods.

The primary driver here is China’s need to shift from a super-saving economy to a super-consuming economy. It’s gone about as far as it can go with export-driven growth, and now it needs to turn on its domestic consumption big-time, but doing that means China’s willingness to finance the debts of others will decrease - thus the end of cheap credit.

So, accepting all that, what can America anticipate when it comes to new sources of demand in the global economy?  What are some of the hot goods and services of the coming years?  We asked Wikistrat's global community of strategists for some ideas, and here’s what they chose to highlight:

Read the entire post at CNN's GPS blog.


Chart of the day: Flat-liners versus climbers on L.T. energy demand

From an otherwise regurgitating Economist special report on state capitalism, a wonderfully clear chart on primary energy demand, aggregated as billion tons of oil equivalent.

Not amazing: semi-flat growth for Russia, given its demographic slide.

Impressive for US and EU: the efficiency angle keeping growth flat, despite modest economic growth and significant demographic growth for US.

Curious is Brazil's capacity to keep its curve semi-flat.

So that leaves only the two great risers as demand climbers: China's stunning trajectory and India's late-blooming-but-likely-to-skyrocket-from-that-point-on curve (India surpasses China in labor around 2030 and then grows 50% larger, suggesting it will replicate China's trajectory on some level, understanding that its energy profile could be dramatically different in those future decades).

To me, this is a great example of why the military containment strategy (keep the PLA boxed-in in East Asia is dangerous - and counterproductive.  China needs to go so incredibly global due to its energy demand that it's only natural that it build up power projection and become more contentious on the issue of energy security. America can address all that or go super-unimaginative and make it all about an arms race in East Asia, believing that we'll temper China's behavior by doing the same things we did with the Sovs in the Cold War.

But making China feel nervous at home makes it harder for it to address its growing overseas dependencies in the very same regions where the U.S. is becoming less interested in providing stability and more focused on just killing bad guys. Conceivably, our willingness to go anywhere we want, when we want, to kill anybody we want, would make the Chinese feel better about their interests in these regions. But this thin-green-line approach, augmented with the transparent encirclement strategy in East Asia, essentially works to keep China nervous on both scores by insinuating that growing Chinese military capacity is automatically bad - both at home and extra-regionally, unless, of course, the Chinese become "transparent" in the direction of the very same superpower that threatens them in their home region with its world-class military (the same one that's just declared China to be its primary force-sizing threat from here on out).

Bit much, huh?



WPR's The New Rules: India's Pastoral Ideal an Obstacle to Globalized Future

When most people think of revolutions, they imagine the overthrow of political orders. By contrast, most of what we see today in globalization’s continued expansion is not violent political revolution, but rather unsettling socio-economic revolution. Yes, when existing political orders cannot process that change -- and the angry populism that typically accompanies it -- they can most definitely fall. This is what we have seen in the Arab Spring to date. But more often this populism leads to political paralysis in countries both democratic and authoritarian. A case in point is the recent controversy in India over Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s plan, since scrapped, to allow multinational retail chains like Wal-Mart, Carrefour and Tesco to mount joint ventures with local firms in direct retail sales operations. The public uproar showed that at times, globalization is simply too much change, too fast..

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.


India matches China's $3B investment in copper by investing $14B in iron ore

WSJ story from 30 Nov.

India consortium of firms makes winning $14B investment bid on Afghanistan's largest iron-ore deposit, called by experts the crown "jewel" of the country's estimated $1T in minerals.

Supposed to take five years to get mine up and running.  Canadian firm got the fifth block, as the Indian crew won the other four.

This award comes just a couple months after New Delhi and Kabul signed a strategic cooperation agreement.

Article makes the usual noises about Pakistan getting unnerved, but I think this is great - and totally natural. China and India making big investments and ultimately owning the security responsibility surrounding those investments.

To date, China's done nothing with the Aynak copper site, it is reported, due to security concerns.  Chinese companies now projecting a 2014 start date.  

Bet that gets moved up once NATO troops move out sooner.


WPR's The New Rules: How to Stop Worrying and Live with the Iranian Bomb

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest report on Iran’s nuclear programsurprised no one, even as it created the usual flurry of op-eds championing preventative “next steps.” As I’ve been saying for the past half-decade, there are none. Once the U.S. went into both Iraq and Afghanistan, the question went from being, “How do we prevent Iran from getting the Bomb?” to “How do we handle Iran’s Bomb?” That shift represents neither defeatism nor appeasement. Rather, it reflects a realistic analysis of America’s strategic options. With that in mind, here are 20 reasons why Iran’s successful pursuit of the Bomb is not the system-changing event so many analysts are keen to portray.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.