We live in a world that is both peaceful and turmoiled at the same time. One moment we hear about a great technological breakthrough in a part of the world and the next moment we hear about a catastrophe in the vicinity of the same area. World’s political landscape changes its facade very abruptly. As soon as one tires to catch up with the details of one event, another incident happens to conceal the details of the previous one under the mist of massive information. In order to keep us up with the pace of swiftly changing geopolitical scene, members of StratFor provide us with their geopolitical weekly reports. In what follows is a reflection of various of StratFor’s geopolitical weekly articles that were published over the last decade. The primary reason to write this article is to try to understand the basis of political dynamics of our world.
Around six years ago (possibly in 2007 or 2008), StratFor published an article concerning developments in Russia, China and Iraq. Precisely at that time the US troops were busy in trying to conquer a territory in Iraq. It was possibly a part of their exit strategy. At the same time Russia was gauging up itself to see if it could halt the oil and gas supply to the central Europe (possibly through Belarus) to see if it could achieve any political leverage from such a move. It was possibly a part of Russia’s never ending desire, and inherent necessity, to be an expansive hegemony. At the same time Chinese had invented a sort of a thing by which they could destroy shuttles in the outer space. This sort of a thing could be useful in space warfare and could also possibly threaten US domination of world’s oceans by challenging them in the space. The article was detailed and in a way provoked a reader loyal to the US to lament its futile and aimless struggles in Iraq and Afghanistan. The article ended in a very nice way, as it normally does, with a catchy phrase from George Friedman, the founder and CEO of StratFor. That was possibly like: In six years the US would regret that while it was fighting for a few streets in Baghdad, it must have thought about its higher stakes. We are probably living in that part of the history now.
Through StratFor we can learn many interesting things about many interesting places, events and phenomena. Through StratFor we learn that why geography necessitates some countries to be expansive and allows a few others to be conveniently adventurous. Russia is an interesting example of an expansive land that is not necessarily so due to its vanity and lust for power, but also due to its geographical constraints. In order to protect itself from foreign intruders it has to expand its borders closer to other countries so that, in time of need, it can fight wars with them in their own territories, closer to their capitals.
Through StratFor we also learn that why the US is actually not only not an expansive country but also that it does not need to be. It is possibly detrimental for the US to be expansive. The US philosophy is to invade a country, keep it conquered for a while, disrupt its critical infrastructure, such as communications infrastructure, grab the resources and try to get the hell out of the place as soon as the things begin to look bad. Good examples of this are Vietnam and possibly Iraq.
But these are not the only things we learn from StratFor. It offers us a lot more interesting perspectives and rationale for stimulus various nations have in doing whatever they are doing. The recent US decision to not intervene in Syria is a very good case in this regard. It is quite important to understand the US perspective in this regard.
The traditional impression in the Muslim world has always been that the US is out to get them. This is so possibly since the early 80s when the US was in a cold war with Russia and had Pakistan and Afghanistan allied to it. The jihad was alright and the relationships were cozy. But there was an air of distrust at least on the Pakistani side. In the Muslim world the US has always been perceived as a villain who is out there to grab resources of technologically impoverished countries no matter what it costed. Incidentally many Muslim countries rich in oil and petroleum resources such as gulf and Arab countries. This explained reasons for keen US interest in those countries and also stimulus for invading Iraq. It is worth emphasizing that the invasion of Iraq was always seen as an attempt to grab Iraqi oil reserves all over the Muslim world.
Recently the US decided to not to intervene in Syria in wake of the chemical attacks by the Assad regime. It is interesting to see what could have prohibited the US from intervening in Syria this time.
What happened was that president Obama had announced at some point that it would not interfere directly in Syria until chemical weapons were used. In saying this what he had actually done was that he had raised the bar for its involvement in such a matter. Despite this announcement chemical weapons were allegedly used by the Assad regime. This was possibly an attempt to lure the US into the conflict. And despite some international pressure, particularly from Russia, the US managed to keep away from getting involved in Syria.
The question is that why did it do this? The answer is provided by StratFor’s geopolitical weekly article Obama’s tightrope walk, and a series of related reports on Syria. In this article the binary choice that US had in either getting involved or staying away from the conflict in Syria is presented as a moral problem. Use of chemical weapons was a morally bad idea and to stay quiet on this was morally bad on part of the US so something had to be done about this. This is interesting to see as a matter of looking at the American moral landscape. This is also important to understand. The other choice, that is not to interfere in the Syrian conflict, is complicated to look at from an American perspective. However, this has also had a moral perspective. The simplest explanation of this is that the US have been very deeply involved with the Muslim world for more than over a decade. Although they have tried very hard to reform them (for good, from their vantage point) but their efforts have not borne much fruition. As a result a choice was to leave the Syrians on their own and let them evolve while they try to handle their problems themselves. In the article it is also stated very clearly that if the US had gotten involved there would definitely be at least a few deaths and atrocities, as it was inevitable, and that the US would have to bear the blame for all that in the media and elsewhere. As a conclusion, the US abandoned a position of higher morality to choose a position of weaker morality with fewer political consequences and did not get involved in the action.
This is extremely important to understand and to analyze. Understanding this could have collateral intellectual advantages, even if there weren’t any monetary rewards. Specially if the problem of this binary choice is presented to a congregation of Muslims and tell them that the US had to ponder over it for a while to decide which way to go, either no one would believe that the US looked at it from a moral perspective, or people would be disinterested. On the other hand, if you ask people on as to who is messing up Syria, Libya or Egypt, chances are that a large number of Muslims would point to the usual suspect, the US. That is why it is important to at least prolong this discourse a little bit so as to develop a better reflection for the people and also to provide them with more light to reflect upon. It could be good for you to read on irrespective of which part of the world you are from.
Any idea that the US can act morally in handling conflicts or solving wars in nearly incomprehensible in the Muslim world at least. Moreover, Muslims believe in the superiority of the morality of war of Islam as well as they believe in the superiorities of moralities of other aspects of Islam. But a theological discussion is beyond the scope of this article. The truth is that the US has acted a lot more responsibly in dealing with the episode concerning the chemical weapon attack this time specially as compared to its all the previous interactions and interventions in the Muslim world. This must be appreciated. This precedent could also set a trend that could be better for the future of the whole world. President Barrack Obama and his cabinet must be applauded for this decision.
The question is that why does the US have to intervene and find an intervention morally binding? Good intentions, if any, always get diminished under the smog of negative criticism and the potential animosity that the US invites as a result. This has been answered more comprehensively by George Friedman that there is a moral camp in the US too that finds it imperative to intervene and deal with issues in which oppression is involved and atrocities are inflicted. Irrespective of whether this camp of humanists belongs to the civil society or elsewhere, the camp is important and interesting in its own right. That this camp of humanists is actually humane should be taken for granted on the face value. And this camp should be kept engaged for better appreciating various cultural ideas. Such camps can be useful in bringing about meaningful changes in the overall political climate of our world.
StratFor teaches us many other things too. It is a stated policy of StratFor that they are non-partisan and unbiased in preparing and presenting geopolitical intelligence. They also state that they pledge to do this despite the fact that pure non-partisanship and objectivity are impossible. Of course, if you are a Cuban then most of your loyalties will be Cuba, no matter how much you tend to favor a party that is in conflict with Cuba. This is a decent expectation as well. National pride, patriotism and loyalty are emotions worth cherishing. To this end, StratFor lives up to its stated objectives as much as possible as well. Recently StratFor republished a 2005 article that it published in 2005 concerning possible Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and its permanent dilemma. The article was reposted in light of the recent death of Ariel Sharon. It is a very detailed and indeed enlightening article. In this article George Friedman admits that jews encroached the lands of Palestinians as an aftermath of the holocaust. George also throws considerable light on aspects such as the Israeli methods of reducing Palestinian presence in Israel, Gaza and elsewhere. This is commendable in its own right. It is commendable specially given that the US has almost unanimously been believed to be a backer of Israel in almost all of the Muslim world. Any acknowledgement from a mainstream American think tank that uses words like “encroachment” to state the nature of, well, encroachment of Palestinian lands by Israelis is not only commendable but also extremely surprising. It would be additionally very nice of StratFor to find a better word for the struggle of Palestinians for this type of extreme oppression. StratFor continues to use the word terrorism to color all sorts of actions of Muslims. Or either the term terrorism should be described more broadly. I think that this comment of mine is self explanatory and does not need any further explanation apart from the fact that I am not advocating terrorism but only asking for its application to be limited to contexts in which it is actually terrorism that is being referred to. Where the oppression against a group of human beings is so extreme that they have to retaliate with unusual means to express their discomfort, the word terrorism should either not be used or it should be stated that it is being used with slightly different connotation. That no matter how minute that difference in connotations is intended would be less meaningful than the expression of the gesture itself.
StratFor teaches us many more things than geopolitics of conflict, or merely geopolitics itself. Elections don’t matter, institutions do is a very enlightening article written by Robert D. Kaplan. Apart from learning that the author knows that prevalence of widespread bribery in countries where institutions are poorly administered, it is nice to know that how the various Western institutions work. It is indeed a very liberating personal experience to have lived in the European countries and to have interacted with their bureaucrats in various offices such as police stations and passport offices. In the Western countries if the state owes you a right, it delivers it you immediately without any further mention or hint of an extraordinary favor that has been done, possibly by going out of the way. Whatever is your right is yours and the personnel feel naturally obliged to deliver it to you irrespective of whether you are affluent or destitute, an orphan or a son of an influential bureaucrat does not matter at all. This is a beauty of the organization of the Western countries and their institution that no amount of admiration can do justice to its elegance. Honesty comes for free in the European countries with a smiling face. We should hope that this remains like this forever. We also hope that it would change in countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and India as well.
Another relevant article is about American Public’s Indifference to Foreign Affairs. It is a pity to learn that an average American does not even know how to locate various countries on the world map. Michael Moore covered this to some extent in his Fahrenheit 9/11. This article also depicts the same. That americans are merely bothered about what is happening in the world unless it really starts to bother them. As a matter of fact it is a good thing that they do start getting bothered when it needs to be bothered. Otherwise, rest of the world would be at complete and isolated mercy of American foreign policy.
One of the very interesting things about the above mentioned article is that american foreign policy is now bent on taking a more hands-off approach to overseas conflicts. This is incredible.
StratFor also does not shy away from writing about seemingly minor issues that apparently have no relevance with geopolitics. Have you ever considered that what is the role of a calendar, that possibly only has an aesthetic value at best in our daily life, with the grand geopolitical schemes? StratFor thinks that it does. Read geopolitics of the Gregorian calendar to find the appeal of one calendar system over the others.
In Asian status quo one learns about the nature of conflict between the Japanese and the Chinese. For many people of the world this would be an altogether new thing. They resemble a lot and it is hard to tell apart a Japanese from a Chinese. Their languages also possibly sound similar to the novice. Why then a conflict? But don’t Indians and Pakistanis look alike and speak almost the same language?
I shall bounce back to where I started this discourse. In the beginning we were talking about StratFor and its prediction of Russia’s resurgence as a regional hegemony. Reports Ukraine’s Increasing Polarization and the Western Challenge and Ukraine and the Little Cold War talk about how Russia is playing its hand in Ukraine. It is also worth noticing that how it affects the Western European countries. It is also quite interesting to read that how the US is shaping its behavior relative to it.
George Friedman used to write very well. He still maintains his tradition. Now StraFor has a whole team of seasoned writers with it. Robert D. Kaplan’s articles are very enlightening and shows a picture from different perspectives.