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10:21AM

America’s Post-Oil Grand Strategy

[Wrote this last June as possible publication, but it was a bit beyond the pale for journal, which wanted dramatic changes. Not unusual for me - happens with every new tack I undertake (the "new map" suffered similarly). I liked it as it was, so we parted on that disagreement. I later used it in China as a written version of the presentations I gave there in Beijing and Shanghai (August 2015). I post it here now because I've recently received a number of requests based on my 2015 presentation in DC (a further iteration of my presentations in China). I also post it because these things just get lost over time if I don't.]

 

America's Post-Oil Grand Strategy
by 
Thomas P.M. Barnett

June 2015


The United States defaulted to a Middle East-centric grand strategy in the waning years of the Cold War and has remained stuck there ever since – sometimes in denial (like now) and sometimes in fervent embrace (George W. Bush and his neocons) but always in a manner that demanded some measure of White House attention.  That seemingly unbreakable focus – particularly in relation to allies Israel and Saudi Arabia – now rapidly dissipates, falling victim first to a technological curveball and ultimately to a demographic shift that leaves Americans less willing to police the world and more interested in recasting their pursuit of happiness.  

America’s political leaders have taken to describing this era as one of unprecedented uncertainty, but this is hardly the case.  Globalization is either winning or has won across all the world’s regions, leaving only the question of which global “brands” (American, Chinese, Indian, European, Russian) will dominate where.  President Obama and much of Washington now project the nation’s grand strategic ambitions in the direction of Asia, but they are mistaken.  America’s historical scheme of integrating the world “laterally” (West to East) since World War II is largely complete, meaning these United States now enter an age of “vertical” integration (North to South) in the Western Hemisphere. This latitudinal expansion of the American System once imagined by our Founding Fathers will define U.S. foreign policy across the rest of this century.

 

The technological curveball that arrives just in time

In many ways, the hybrid U.S. economic system of big firms surrounded by a sea of small, technology-innovating start-ups represents the purest real-world expression of Karl Marx’s dialectic materialism – a theory of history that tracks causality from inexorable technological advance to altered economic reality to inevitable political change. What Marx never imagined was a political system able to structure itself so that those technological waves would just keep coming over the decades, consistently “buying off” the electoral acquiescence of the lower and middle classes in the face of elite domination (oftentimes real, sometimes just imagined) of the highest levels of government.  In Marxian terminology, America’s political “superstructure” has learned how to co-evolve with its economic “base” better than any nation-state in history.

The feedback loop that has allowed that successful co-evolution is America’s sometimes stunningly permissive rule of law.  Basically, you can try or invent just about anything in America that isn’t currently prohibited by law, whose construction trails innovation sometimes for decades. In too much of the rest of the world, one’s innovation and industry is limited to what is allowed by law.  Do Americans pay for that permissiveness?  Regularly – in the form of surges in criminality, environmental damage, labor abuse and sheer greed.  But thanks to our participatory regulatory and legal systems, the “little guy” can fight back and can make those bastards pay for what they’ve done!  So while the construction of protective laws trails crimes, disasters, and tragedies of the common, it never falls so far behind that the political system fractures – save for our unique historical experience with slavery.

Thus, it is only fitting that America’s historically recent Middle East-centric grand strategy, seemingly beholden as it was to the goal of assuring the world’s access to affordable energy, now falls victim to yet the latest in a long string of U.S.-triggered technological waves – the so-called fracking revolution.  This silver bullet development, coming as it does just as two new, energy-import-dependent superpowers (China, India) rise in the East, could not be more fortuitous for extending the global moratorium on great power war begun with the invention of nuclear weapons.  It essentially introduces enough slack in the world energy system to allow both Asian giants to step into their economic primes without needing to militarily challenge either the United States or its long-nurtured global trade system.  When combined with the Western Hemisphere’s most crucial resource advantage – namely, arable land in an age of global climate change, America’s new-found energy independence fundamentally prevents any historical repeat of the structural run-ups to World Wars I or II, much less any revivification of the Cold War’s East-West destructive superpower rivalry.  Thanks to fracking, it turns out that this town is big enough for the both of us – the U.S. and China in the Pacific Rim today, and China and India in Asia tomorrow.

Think about that for a minute: amidst all the continuing expert predictions of overpopulation and rising consumption bankrupting the planet to the point of non-stop “resource wars” among “thirsty” great powers (think oil and water), American ingenuity once again comes to the world’s rescue on both energy and food (i.e., water turned into human energy).

Just a decade ago, America imported almost two-thirds of its crude oil and entertained plans for new infrastructure to facilitate imports of liquid natural gas.  Today it surpasses Saudi Arabia on crude oil production and, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, will become a net exporter of crude oil in roughly a decade’s time. Moreover, by tapping into what is estimated to be the world’s second-largest shale gas reserves (China is number one), America has re-vaulted itself to the leading ranks of world natural gas producers – soon available for export.  This sort of technological turnaround is – quite frankly – just as impressive as China’s economic rise over the similarly long gestation period of the past quarter-century.  But – again – more importantly, America’s technological achievement essentially solves the structural challenge created by China’s rapid ascension in the world power system – but only if both Washington and Beijing become smart enough to realize that.

President Barack Obama was absolutely correct in downsizing America’s “war on terror” from the Bush Administration’s focus on regime toppling to hunting down and killing bad guys.  Frankly, that’s been America’s story on military interventions going all the way back to Panama and Manuel Noriega in 1989.  We don’t take on governments anymore; we take on bad/nonstate actors (the Milosevic gang in Serbia, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, the “deck of 52” in Iraq, Qaddafi in Libya, and so on). By re-symmetricizing what has long been described as radical Islam’s asymmetrical war on the West, Obama right-sized the terror war. But to cover his soft-on-defense vulnerability as a Democrat, he coupled that wise decision with the strategically unsound declaration of America’s “pivot to Asia” – in effect, shifting from a region in which globalization’s advance is still being violently contested to one where its victory is already complete.

But here’s where the strategic irony grows stunningly disturbing: by attempting to contain rising China’s natural military expansion in East Asia, Washington inadvertently prevents what must become Beijing’s progressive embrace of the role of extra-regional security Leviathan for the Persian Gulf.  Worse, by doing this, Washington actually encourages rival India to do the same when it must eventually partner with China in providing that regional security umbrella. In other words, just as America’s technological breakthrough on energy relieves it of its unwanted role in the Persian Gulf, Washington wrongheadedly works to prevent our historical relief from moving toward those “responsible stakeholder” roles. 

 

America’s Long(itudinal) War: It only gets worse

Understand this from the start:  the Persian Gulf still matters to Europe in terms of energy flows but not to the United States.  From the five top-10 global oil exporters located in the Gulf (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, UAE, Kuwait), only negligible amounts of crude oil currently flow to the Western Hemisphere.  The vast majority of Persian Gulf oil exports (roughly four-fifths) flows into East Asia, with China and India alone accounting for half of that flow.  Anti-war protestors got it only half-right: it may have been American blood, but it was never our oil.

If you’re paying attention to Barack Obama’s second-term boldness in foreign policy, this newfound swagger clearly tracks back to a growing sense of both America’s energy independence and its ability to influence global energy markets.  The recent bottoming of global oil prices was due in no small part to rising American production.  In the case of Venezuela’s flagging financial support to Cuba, this left the Castro brothers more open to Obama’s offers of normalizing bilateral relations. In the case of Iran, this increased the White House’s confidence in moving ahead on the nuclear power deal – despite Riyadh and Israel’s obvious displeasure.  Even in the case of Russia’s ongoing squeeze of Ukraine, the Obama Administration reveals no penchant for “blinking,” and why should it?  The more Vladimir Putin isolates Russia from the West, the more Moscow is forced to sell off its vast natural resources to the world’s largest buyer of the same – those notoriously stingy and difficult Chinese.  Putin’s reward for grabbing the Crimea is pitiable: the right to sell off Russia at bargain-basement prices to Beijing.

But make no mistake: there is genuine strategic risk in Obama’s mistimed Asian “pivot.”

In Asia alone, Washington risks a number of stumbling-into-great-power-war pathways, several of which could be driven by local powers (Japan and Vietnam especially) over-reacting to Beijing’s latest – literally – dredged-up beachhead or the right shooting incident between patrol craft operating above, on, or below the disputed waters.  A rising superpower like China has wont of an appropriate whipping boy to demonstrate its growing military prowess.  When America reached that jingoist apogee late in the 19th century, it was smart enough to target the comatose Spanish Empire in the Caribbean (Cuba) and Pacific (Philippines).  For China, still nurturing regional grudges over past “humiliations,” East Asia is a sufficiently target-rich environment.  And with the Pentagon locked and loaded to prove its AirSea Battle Concept, one cannot help but worry that some Asian variant of Archduke Ferdinand is now figuratively riding through the streets with his car-top down. Granted, the resulting shooting war is more likely virtual than real, but there too we find burgeoning cyber-warfare forces on both sides of the Pacific itching to press those keys and reveal to the world the damage they’re truly capable of inflicting.

Should the United States increasingly put at risk its greatest foreign policy achievement in history – namely, the rapid and planet-wide spread of our economic source-code (aka, globalization) – with this China-centric “pivot” to East Asia?  No. In Beijing’s eyes, any U.S. effort to block their naval expansion leaves the Mainland vulnerable to military pressure from the sea – the oft employed attack vector of Western powers seeking China’s “humiliation.”  All Americans have to do to approximate the average Chinese’s nationalism on this point is to imagine Chinese aircraft carriers, submarines and aircraft patrolling just beyond America’s declared national waters.  Think of just how far Fox News could run with that.

Predictably – if not fortunately, crises in the Middle East routinely erupt to recapture America’s dangerously short strategic attention span.  Here, the Obama Administration’s modus operandi of “leading from behind” is a preview of coming distractions. With Washington locally perceived as backing out of its longtime regional Leviathan role, and with relief (China, India) nowhere in sight, we collectively enter a nobody-is-minding-the-stove period in which the region’s preeminent three-sided rivalry between Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey will come to a dangerous boil.

We’ve seen this already unfold in the Islamic State’s frighteningly rapid rise.  Fearing growing encirclement by the fabled Shia Crescent, Riyadh secretly bankrolled the group’s emergence in Syria and Iraq.  Ankara, with similar rivalrous instincts, allowed Turkey to become a smuggling sieve for foreign fighters and supplies transiting to and from ISIS.  Now, as their monstrous co-creation threatens them directly, both regimes are caught in the sort of strategic conundrum usually reserved for intervening extra-regional great powers – a truly telling development.  Iran too now faces a certain imperial “overstretch” throughout the wider region, making its determined effort to gain international recognition as a nuclear power oddly reminiscent of the Soviet Union’s efforts with the West during the Cold War, in that, the more Tehran engages in great-power meddling of its own, the more it wants to erase the threat of possible strategic retaliation against the homeland – a decidedly logical move.

But it will be in the nuclear realm where this three-sided Gulf rivalry regularly rattles the world’s nerves in coming years. With Tehran on the verge of getting the Obama Administration to implicitly recognize its nuclear breakout capacity of a year-or-less, Riyadh is strongly rumored to be readying itself to cash in Pakistan’s long-offered promise of ready-to-use nuclear weapons.  Meanwhile, Ankara, with NATO nuclear weapons already on its soil, will likely resist the temptation for now.  Still, soon enough the world will find itself managing a three-sided nuclear standoff – however latent – among Israel, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.  That prospect has to scare even the most fervent believer in the system-stabilizing effect of nuclear weapons, myself included.

Frightening as it may be for the world to re-learn the fundamental logic of mutually assured destruction – particularly in a region chock-full of End Times-embracing millenarians, I have spent the last decade proclaiming the inevitability of this pathway simply because Israel’s regional nuclear monopoly was always unsustainable and a bit spooky with its Masada complex.  Now, the technological curveball that triggers America’s new strategic distance renders this outcome virtually inescapable.  In nuclear terms, the inmates are finally running the asylum.

 

Go South, Young Man

America’s shift from a “horizontal” grand strategy (West integrating East) to a “vertical” grand strategy (North integrating South) is preordained by demographics. Any country’s economic rise stems first and foremost from an advantageous national age distribution, meaning lots of labor relative to children and old people. This “demographic dividend” is typically triggered by improvements in healthcare for mothers and young children, which allows families to eschew additional pregnancies out of the growing assurance that their first two or so children will make it into adulthood. That turning-off-the-fertility-spigot creates a welcome labor bulge that comes with a time limit of roughly a generation’s time – like the journey of America’s Boomer generation from youth to (now) old age.  If you’re lucky, your society gets rich before it gets old.

America took advantage of a fortuitous demographic dividend in the 1950s and 1960s to power the global economy with manufacturing.  Compared to all of its competitors that suffered great loss of young life, the U.S. was overloaded with labor relative to dependents – a glorious run extended somewhat by the first Boomers’ arrival in the workplace in the mid-to-late 1960s. Japan was next to ride a lifting demographic wave, rising like a rocket across the 1970s and 1980s, only to see that trajectory fizzle out since the 1990s as the nation rapidly started stockpiling old people due to stunningly low fertility.  China was next in the 1990s and 2000s, but then predictably saw its demographic dividend peak in 2010.  Now, with fertility still low (the one-child policy became a hard habit to break), China will age (mean age) three times as fast as the U.S. through the middle of the century.

Whose up next?  Southeast Asia enjoys a demographic dividend now, with India’s coming on its heels.  Beyond them lay the Middle East and Africa, the latter looking at the biggest dividend that the world has ever seen (the better part of a billion people).

Why this economic history matters: Once a nation embraces manufacturing to leverage its demographic dividend, it starts “climbing the ladder of production,” moving from cheap and assembled goods to higher-order manufacturing.  A rite of passage is seen in automobile manufacturing, which dovetails with any rising economy’s growing middle-class demand for mobility.  As it climbs that ladder, the nations in question must slough off their lower-end manufacturing to those countries coming into their own demographic dividends.  In short, these nations become inexorably bound to their successors through direct investment and integration via expanding global production chains.  In many ways, then, the shifting center of gravity in the global economy’s cheap-labor surplus is a magnificently integrating and thus pacifying historical force.  China, for example, needs Southeast Asia’s demographic dividend to work for its own long-term economic health.  In the end, that’s the biggest brake on Chinese regional militarism.

Which brings us to why America must turn its welcoming gaze southward – now.

America is the Dorian Gray of great powers.  We’ll age far more slowly than the rest of the West and even most of the advancing East over the next several decades precisely because we enjoy immigration pressures from Latin America – a far younger and faster-growing region than North America. Demographically speaking, the two most important factors in economic growth are slowing social aging and integrating one’s economy with younger and faster-growing neighboring economies.  For the U.S., that’s Latin America, which is why America’s long-standing policy of focusing its foreign policy attention everywhere else in the world but Latin America must end, along with our nation’s highly costly and destructive “war on drugs” – a process thankfully begun in terms of individual states decriminalizing marijuana use.

You may be thinking: shouldn’t America contest China’s spreading influence in places like East Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa?  The answer is no, for all the economic integration reasons cited above.  Good example: China and Africa are simultaneously engaging in a massive urbanization wave, giving Chinese construction companies clear economies-of-scale advantages in that vast building scheme.  Yes, American companies can and should be part of that build-up process, but we cannot hope to compete with the Chinese for influence brought about by progressively deeper economic integration.  America’s great accomplishment during its demographic heyday was to trigger and nurture and defend Asia’s integration into the global economy.  Now it’s Asia’s turn to extend that historical process to most of the remaining South – but not Latin America if the U.S. plays it smart.

With climate change making the planet’s middle lattitudes increasingly inhospitable over this century, migratory pressures will grow.  In choosing between heading south (Argentina, Brazil, Chile) or heading north (North America), most Latinos will continue to head north – as they should.  In terms of underutilized arable land, upper North America offers far more economic potential than South America’s southern cone.  Today America grows wheat in water-starved Texas.  By mid-century we’ll be growing it in water-rich Alaska.  No kidding.

Right now, one out of six Americans is Latino.  By mid-century, Latinos will approach a one-third share of the U.S. population – and voters.  Already, Miami is the de facto social and economic “capital” of Latin America – a sign of political integration to come.

No, adding new stars to the American flag won’t unfold as some modern, militaristic imperialism. Instead, led by its largest demographic cohort ever – those Millennials, these United States will get back in the historical business of attracting and accepting new members.  Remember, we began this journey of integration as a confederation of 13 colonies (1789), growing over the next 170 years to our current total of 50 states.  That’s averaging a new member roughly every half-decade. Then we shut that door following the admissions of Hawaii and Alaska (non-contiguous states, it must be noted) in 1959, adding nothing since.  Do you want America to stay competitive with those billion-person Asian behemoths China and India?  Well, the Western Hemisphere contains roughly a billion souls.

When America’s Founding Fathers dreamt of an American System of political, economic, social and territorial integration, they weren’t just contemplating our horizontal slice of North America.  Visionaries like Alexander Hamilton and later Henry Clay (who coined the term) imagined that system extending itself to welcome all Americans

The U.S. remade the world over the last seven decades by spreading its system of rules and economic model.  Globalization was a “conspiracy” hatched by Washington and it’s been called many things over the decades, from Teddy Roosevelt’s “open door” to Franklin Roosevelt’s “new deal for the world.”  Having successfully led that integration process from West to East, it’s now America’s duty – and self-preserving opportunity – to build out that American System across the entire Western Hemisphere.

And that process needs to begin now – as in, the next president.

3:03PM

(RESILIENT BLOG) A Troubling Start to 2016 and Global Energy Security

NBC News CRUDE OIL PRICES ARE PRESENTLY TESTING HISTORIC LOWS, WITH "NEW" IRANIAN OIL SET TO HIT THE MARKET IN 2016.  In general, that's good news for a global economy that's greatly benefited from lower energy prices thanks to the North American-led fracking revolution in tight oil and shale gas production.  That production growth has allowed the US to continue to cut its crude oil imports, thus allowing major Persian Gulf exporters to further concentrate on meeting South and East Asia's ever growing demand ...

READ THE ENTIRE POST AT:


12:35PM

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.

11:26AM

You rediscover your past when you plan on making some near-term history

It's that old Winston Churchill bit about how you can't think ahead into the future any further than you can reach back and remember your past.  It's a balancing act.

Neat NYT article on how Turkey is rediscovering its history via film ("As if the Ottoman period never ended.") Nothing says, "growing regional/global ambitions" quite like that.

The Ottoman period, particularly during the 16th and 17th centuries, was marked by geopolitical dominance and cultural prowess, during which the sultans claimed the spiritual leadership of the Muslim world, before the empire’s slow decline culminated in World War I. For years the period was underplayed in the history taught to schoolchildren, as the new Turkish Republic created by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923 sought to break with a decadent past.

Now, as Turkey is emerging as a leader in the Middle East, buoyed by strong economic growth, a new fascination with history is being reflected in everything from foreign policy to facial hair. In the arts, framed examples of Ottoman-era designs, known as Ebru and associated with the geometric Islamic motifs adorning mosques, have gained in popularity among the country’s growing Islamic bourgeoisie, adorning walls of homes and offices, jewelry and even business cards.

I know a lot of people harbor a lot of fears about Turkey, but I think it's the best thing that's happened to the Middle East in a long time.  If we didn't have a Turkey to play lead goose on the Arab Spring, we'd have to invent one.

Bring on the Gallipoli films (all four of them)!

10:07AM

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.

2:17PM

Chart of the Day: Water and Food in Mideast

Close the Straits of Hormuz, says the WSJ, and you shut down more than oil flow.  Ninety percent of food in the PG is imported.

Water is perhaps the most complex of the region's resource-security puzzles.  Gulf countries have some fo the lowest rainfall rates and smallest water resources in the world.  Gulf countries satisfy demand by desalinating seawater, but that leaves them vulnerable if their desalination plants malfunction or are attacked.

10:17AM

Chart of the Day: the oil sanctions are working on Iran

Arguably the primary reason why Israel holds off attacking - that and its modest satisfaction with the success of the combination strategy of cyber warfare attacks and assassinations of technical personnel.

You can see that the sanctions have taken about a million barrels a day - or about 40% of daily production denied in terms of sales.

That is significant - and a genuine success for Obama.

The hottest subject in oil deals today involves anybody who has been a regular buyer of Iran.  All of these states are looking to replace - now.

And no, they don't all go running to the Saudis.

This chart is a month old.  More recent news says roughly 50% drop in May-June alone.  Not sure I buy that. Lots of desperate deals happening out there involving Iran.  But clearly, the trend is downward and steep.

I honestly do believe that the Arab Spring is helping plenty.  With Syria on the ropes, the anti-Iran long knives are out.

11:15AM

Globalization and the remaking of parts of this world

Nice piece by Friedman talking about the supranational challenges foisted upon Europe by globalization and the subnational challenges foisted upon the Middle East by the same.

He makes a big deal about both happening at the same time, but in my mind, the connecting logic is not all that hard to see.

Globalization requires strong states.  It does not eliminate them as many suppose, nor particularly weaken them. Data upon data shows that the national economies most able to successfully engage globalization do so thanks to strong states (strong in power, less so in reach as they tend to be democracies).

So when globalization comes to weak/fragile/fake states, like we have in the Middle East, it tends to fracture them, revealing the subnational fissures below.  In this way, the "divorces" we're witnessing now are very much like what we saw in the Balkans in the 1990s, where we saw a fake supranational state dismembered by the heterogeniety of the players within (some were ready to take on globalization and win, others less so).

So what are we looking at in the Middle East?  A long period of nation-building done by somebody, but mostly by the locals with help of foreign investors because outside governments with their aid are so bad at encouraging such things.  Beyond that, these relatively small states must come together in supranational organizations that reward their collective strength.  Imagine the US as 50 competing states versus a supranational union, because we are lucky to be so organized (actually, luck had nothing to do with it, because, once we made our miniature version of globalization happen in North America, we successfully set about replicating it globally over the past seven decades).

So yeah, a long row to hoe in the Middle East.

Europe is far more fortunate, and it's incorrect to make it seem like it's suffering similar dynamics.  Europe is full of real states and they have all the instruments necessary for true supranational union. They just need to evolve those instruments and their rules toward that end. So, if the Middle East faces a massive evolution/transformation that stretches over decades, Europe faces nothing of the sort.  It's just a matter of political will among the richer units (Germany especially).  The legimimate solution to Europe's problems can be set in motion in a matter of weeks.  It's simply a question of whether or not Europe wants that future or still fantasizes about a world in which smaller states can do better at globalization than supranational unions.

Look around your world on the question of resources.  Check out energy and food and ask yourself: do you see far more interdependency on the horizon or far less?  If you see the latter, you say, "We'll get by on our own!"  If you see the former, you say, "We'd be safer in a larger multinational setting."

The Middle East has little hope for such solutions, except among the rich PG states, where Riyadh pushes such confederation instinctively.  Europe is in a good enough place.  It just lacks the political will to do what needs to be done. 

This is not the tragedy of the commons.  This is tragedy defined by political generations of leaders not being ready for what history has thrust upon them.  You look at Merkel.  You know her story.  You know what she's been through and what she fears.

Merkel may still be up for the challenge.  Women tend to spot these opportunities better than men.  She may also be playing the clever game of letting events deteriorate to where she gets what she wants and believes Europe needs.  I suspect that is the case.

I also suspect we are witnessing an enormous gamble.  

But, in the end, I expect Europe to pull it off.  It won't be pretty.  It'll just be enough.

Europe, after adding so many stars so fast, truly risks losing some now. America went through that under far worse circumstances.  But have no doubt, Merkel needs to become a bit Hamilton and a bit Lincoln.

9:45AM

Time's Battleland: SYRIA When Military Intervention Makes Sense

Gideon Rachman at the Financial Times says that “diplomacy is still better than bombs” and that “moral outrage is just the starting point for a decision to intervene.”  He then goes through all the major powers in his piece Tuesday and cites reasons why each one is either holding back or holding things up. It’s one of those great ass-covering op-eds that’s supposed to make you look smart when the intervention does comes and it — gasp! — leads to more death and destruction.

Let me tell you why great powers intervene:  they don’t care about moral outrage and they don’t care about stopping the killing.  Moral outrage is a headline and nothing more, while the killing is either made faster or slower but never really “prevented.”

Great powers intervene when they can.  It’s as simple as that.  Good and bad don’t play into it.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.

1:13PM

Time's Battleland: SYRIA Obama Cleverly Leading from Behind — Again

The quiet coalition has come together to reverse the decline of the opposition rebel forces in Syria, according to this nice front-pager in Wednesday’s Washington Post.  Much like in the case of Libya, the Obama Administration is hanging back and letting the local “market” determine his military response.  He simply refuses to take the strategic lead, which is frustrating to many and yet decidedly clever on his part.

To me, this is the Obama Doctrine: respond to local demand for U.S. crisis-response services rather than — in typical American fashion — pushing our way to the front of the line, bossing everyone, and then finding ourselves alone on the postwar backside.

 Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.

5:10PM

Wikistrat post @ CNN-GPS: Five countries that may rise up next

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.

 

Is the Arab Spring over? Or are there other countries that might rise up in the year ahead? Wikistrat asked its global community of analysts to consider this question. Here’s what they came up with:

Read the entire post at CNN's GPS blog.

 

8:55AM

WPR's The New Rules: Assad's Ouster Best Chance to Stave off Israel-Iran Conflict

The debate among U.S. foreign policy analysts over the wisdom of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities -- and whether or not America should allow itself to be drawn into an ensuing conflict with Iran should Israel strike -- has largely taken place parallel to the debate over whether to pursue an R2P, or responsibility to protect, intervention in Syria. It bears noting, however, that forcing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s departure may be the best near-term policy for the U.S. to avoid being sucked into an Israeli-Iranian war.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

12:20PM

Wikistrat post @ CNN-GPS: Ten Roads to Israel-Iran War

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.

Either Israel and the United States are engaged in a brilliant psychological operations campaign against Iran or the two long-time allies really are talking past each other on the subject of Tehran’s reach for a nuclear bomb. Either way, all this Bibi Netanyahu said, Leon Panetta said chatter is producing some truly jangled nerves over in Iran on the subject of Israel’s allegedly imminent attack on that country’s nuclear program facilities.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu keeps publicly implying that his nation can’t wait on Iranian events for as long as the Obama administration – with its looming embargo of Iranian oil sales to the West – would like. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta keeps tripping over his own tongue, saying one day that America is doing its best to keep Israel’s attack jets grounded and the next offhandedly remarking to reporters that Tel Aviv is inevitably going to pull that trigger sometime this spring.

Again, as psyop campaigns go, this is brilliant, because it not only keeps the Iranians nervous and guessing, it forces them out into the diplomatic open with all manner of implausible counter-threats that reveal their increasing desperation.

Stipulating all this brinkmanship - coordinated or not - this week’s Wikistrat crowd-sourced analysis exercise involves imagining the range of possible pathways to an Israel-Iran war.  We don’t offer odds here. We just try to cover a wide array of possible vectors toward the trigger-pulling point.

Read the entire post at CNN's GPS blog.

9:11AM

WPR's The New Rules: The Coming War With Iran

While the debate over whether Israel will strike Iran ebbs and flows on an almost weekly basis now, a larger collision-course trajectory is undeniably emerging. To put it most succinctly, Iran won't back down, while Israel won't back off, and America will back up its two regional allies -- Israel and Saudi Arabia -- when the shooting finally starts. There are no other credible paths in sight: There will be no diplomatic miracles, and Iran will not be permitted to achieve a genuine nuclear deterrence. But let us also be clear about what this coming war will ultimately target: regime change in Tehran, because that is the only plausible solution.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

12:12PM

Wikistrat post @ CNN/GPS: How Will It End in Syria?

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.

It’s hard to gauge just how strong the Free Syrian Army really is.  It’s clearly growing in size and in its ability to control ever-widening swaths of territory.  But at the same time, Russian and Iranian guns pour into Bashar al-Assad’s government.  And Bashar al-Assad has a steely will to power.

Given the mounting tension, it’s worth thinking through exactly how regime change may unfold and what it’s consequences would mean for the region.

Wikistrat, the world’s first massively multiplayer online consultancy ran an online simulation on what could go down in Syria. Here are the results:

Read the entire post at CNN's GPS blog.

10:06AM

Wikistrat's chief analyst quoted in Reuters piece on great-power rivalries in the Mideast

 

Here's the intro and my section:

Global "great power politics" returns to Mideast

LONDON | Tue Jan 31, 2012 7:28am EST

(Reuters) - With Russia sending warships to discourage foreign intervention in Syria, and China drawn more deeply into Iran's confrontation with the West, "great power" politics is swiftly returning to the Middle East . . .

Chinese officials might be willing to use sanctions to negotiate better oil prices from Iran, but there seems relatively little prospect that they will stop buying even if Tehran's rival Saudi Arabia makes up the difference in output.

"Each time the West tightens the leash, Beijing quietly avails itself of the slack," says Thomas Barnett, a former strategist for the U.S. Navy and now chief analyst at political risk consultancy Wikistrat. "The more explicitly Washington bases its global strategic military posture on the perceived Chinese threat, the more Beijing will welcome - and even overtly encourage - these diversions" . . . 

Read the entire article at Reuters.

8:57AM

Time's Battleland: Would Assad’s Fall Limit the Nuclear Menace in the Middle East?

As Bashar Assad looks more internationally isolated by the day — and far more vulnerable to Western economic sanctions than uber-bad boy Iran — it behooves us to think through what general advantages accrue with his eventual fall. To date, most of the thinking has focused on Iran’s loss of its right-hand proxy in transmitting terror to Israel via Hamas and Hezbollah.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.

6:05AM

China as Africa's De Facto World Bank - the Wikistrat video

This is a recorded briefing that I generated from the recent Wikistrat internal training simulation entitled, "China as Africa's de facto World Bank." It summarizes the points I gleaned from the wide-ranging simulation (dozens of wiki pages filled with all manner of brainstormed ideas, strategies, options by several dozen analysts) and summed up in an 8-page report.

This was the first major video production in the set-up I have constructed - after excruciating testing and accumulation of equipment - in our new rental home, which, in various parts, doubles as my work environment. Fortunately for me, virtually everyone else in my family is in school, with youngest Abebu starting within months. So during the day I have the house completely under control, meaning I can meticulously set up the gear, test at length, and pursue recordings and subsequent processing/production in peace.

Ah, the life of the bootstrapped start-up!

Naturally, comments and suggestions are welcomed on content, presentation choices (there are many ways to skin that cat, given the tremendous volume of ideas generated by any one simulation), and video capture.

One correction already accomplished: on this taping I set up a flatscreen for video feedback (I can see screen's content and myself in foreground) just to the right of the camera.  That gives me a slight off-camera eye orientation, which I thought was fine for simulating an audience interaction. But in retrospect, we decided that a straight-into-the-camera style would be better.  That is accomplished in an improved set-up that involves a smaller feedback screen being place just below the came - as in, within a couple of inches. That way I can look directly into the feedback and be, for all practical purposes, looking directly into the camera. The feedback screen is crucial because all of these briefs will be screen-content heavy and first-and-one-time briefs on my part, meaning I can't possibly memorize every click like I do on my regular brief. In that way, it is a LOT like doing the TV weather: lots of data/info to get through and you need to position yourself in front of the screen while not blocking it.  I do fairly well on this first try, but can obviously get smoother - trick being the feedback presents itself in a mirror image.

Another fix in the works: I lost my clip for my clip-on mike and therefore had to wear below the camera line because my substitute clip ain't so elegant.  That meant I picked up the clicking sound from my remote controller a bit too much - for my taste. New one is in the mail, so next time I'll wear the mike far higher and hopefully not pick up that sound.

Overall, pretty happy with the effort. At first, I repeat the text too much, but I warm up over time and get more extemporaneous and relaxed as I got more comfortable with moving myself around. This is far different from me being tracked by a cameraman on a big stage, because I go completely unconscious on my style and let the camera-guy deal with all that.  Here, with a fixed camera, I have to adjust my style somewhat. So a bit stiff at first, improving throughout, and clearly something I will grow more easy with it as I repeat the process.

10:53AM

Wikistrat post @ CNN/GPS: 10 strategic issues with Obama's East Asia "pivot"

 

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.

The Obama Administration recently released a military strategic guidance document, which calls for a strategic “pivot” from the Middle East to East Asia. This bold move replaces President George W. Bush’s “long war” against violent Islamic extremism with a new, ongoing effort to shape China’s military rise.

What are the strategic, military trade-offs of this historic shift? Wikistrat, the world’s first massively multiplayer online consultancy, recently tapped its global network of several hundred analysts to ponder this question. This online network offers a uniquely powerful and unprecedented strategic consulting service: the Internet's only central intelligence exchange for strategic analysis and forecasting, delivered - for the first time - in a real-time, interactive platform. Exclusive to GPS, here are Wikistrat’s top ten strategic, military issues to bear in mind as this “pivot” unfolds:

Read the entire post at CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS site.

10:37AM

WPR's The New Rules: U.S. Must Engage With World Beyond Security Threats

Thanks to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and the two wars they spawned, it seemed like the near entirety of President George W. Bush’s two terms in office were characterized by efforts to define, harness and exploit fear. Despite living in the most peaceful, prosperous and predictable period in world history, Americans became convinced that they faced an unending era of war, impoverishment and chaos. That muddled mindset put us painfully out of touch with the rest of the planet.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.