Saturday, August 12, 2017

What is the Center of Gravity?

How do we defend a decent world that could rearrange in ways we don't like?

It's a long read but worth it for thinking about going on offense for a better world based on Western values. Rule of law, as I've droned on about, gets a good mention.

The speaker says that while there is a defensive value in our current war on jihadis, it is the portion of the struggle for a better world that could become undone in a systemic crisis if we fail to go on offense to create more defenders of a better world.

I've certainly noted that aspect in regard to the Moslem world that must use the space we provide with the military struggle against jihadis to suppress the Islamist ideology that breeds jihadis. But the concept applies to the wider world, too.

And I've mentioned I'd be less worried about jihadis if the West had more confidence in itself and had more pride in what the West has built.

Our job, the speaker says, is to figure out what the key players are in creating a better and more stable world system that upholds Western values; and helping them make the choices that will make that better world.

It's well worth your time to read.

As a lark, let me review my off-the-cuff vision of 2040 that I wrote in 2008. I'm not standing on the walls defending this prediction, which is already veering away (for better and for worse) from trends I thought I saw in 2008.

But in my defense, President Obama--who was almost quite literally elected as the anti-trend candidate--happened and it is still quite some time before 2040.

Rather than try to revise that vision, I'll let it stand. But let me look at the main players I saw and perhaps these are the key players that we should focus on for the better future.

In the East Asia/Pacific region, China* is clearly the power to watch. But I don't know if we can influence China that much. My ultimate hope is that China decentralizes to reduce the threat the Chinese state poses, and that perhaps it will look inward again. Engaging and guarding seems the best course.

But let me add another country as key and one which we could influence and help more directly. Indonesia is the large state I see the main powers competing for. So let me call the populous, strategically located state with a Moslem population generally not prone to the Arabian peninsula fanaticism that is so problematic these days the key player in Asia.

In the Western Hemisphere, I assume America remains standing so let's skip by us as a key player since if we go down this exercise is moot. Brazil is our most important regional ally in this vision. I know the joke is that Brazil is the country of the future--and always will be--but this seems like the best bet as the key player in the Americas.

In Africa I see a continent that while improving is mostly acted upon rather than one that acts. Yet within those limits, I'd say South Africa is the key country that could be an engine of progress for Western values.

For Europe, I see the European Union* as the future empire that rules all. Like China, my view of the EU is that it is something to be contained, but in the hope it does not centralize and that Europe remains separate nations who can be our friends and allies. I don't see political Europe--the EU--being a part of the West as it descends into a multi-ethnic autocratic empire that suppresses openness and freedom.

I suppose I'd add Britain because in that 2040 vision I noted with deep regret that Britain was absorbed by the Brussels imperial project. Britain may be the key player in preventing this prediction for Europe from coming true, if it escapes the EU and becomes an example of what rejecting the imperial order can help you build in the areas of prosperity and freedom.

And I'm far more bullish on NATO now, thanks to Russia. I wrote that survey before Ukraine and before Georgia, recall.

For the Middle East, I'll also pick two: Turkey and Iraq.

Turkey because it is a potential power and because it was once a reliable member of the West (in aspiration if not in all areas--certainly it was better than Turkey today) and could again be that if the Islamist yearnings of so many can be reversed. It could be an anchor of stability in the region if not a driver of transformative events given it is Turk and not Arab.

Iraq because it remains the best hope of changing a major Arab state from despotism to democracy and rule of law. We've expended a lot of effort in Iraq (1990-1991, 2003-2011, and 2014-today) and it is unlikely that we could start over elsewhere and get to the same place we are now with Iraq. So we should build on Iraq.

Iraq is not good yet, but it is better than it was 15 years ago. It is in the heart of the Arab world with education, oil, and a divided population that if unified could provide the basis for functioning democracy and rule of law as those factions operate within political processes to make decisions--with American and Western help to repel the Iranians and jihadis (and keep the Kurds within Iraq). A democratic and rule of law-based Iraq could become an example for an alternative to autocracy or Islamism as models for governance in the Arab world. Indeed, because of its Shia majority, Iraq could influence Persian Iran to throw off the mullahs. There is a long way to go but this process has to start somewhere. Iraq is the best bet.

In the Indian Ocean region, India is the only candidate for key player.

And given the impact of India fully in the West on China, Indonesia, the Middle East, and eastern and southern Africa (and with residual but historic ties to Russia), I think you can make the case that of all the key players, India is the most important key state.

Not that other countries in these areas aren't key in their way. But they are also mostly states that I see as largely remaining in the Western community. Since we are speaking of changing the world to make it better, I did not focus on playing defense even in key states (although one could argue that Britain is sort of a defensive key, although I see it as the key to making a gain in Europe that I see as sliding away). Although if we don't hold those key states the key list changes, of course. Losing Japan as a key defender of the West, for example, would be catastrophic.

And if any important but not quite key country goes really wrong, they become the key player by default in order to remedy their role in pushing a systemic crisis--as radical Islam is now.

I do not mention Russia as a key state despite its obvious importance.  Short of conquering it and de-paranoiaing the place as Japan was occupied and de-militarized, as Italy was de-Fascified (?) and as Germany was de-Nazified, how can we influence them? They have nukes and are large, and the West has no stomach for such a project even if Russia had no nukes. They seem immune to being Westernized and are fully capable of creating enemies out of nowhere perhaps to feed a deep-seated psychological need to either be dominated or to dominate with nothing in between.

I'm not sure we can do anything about Russia, and I don't know if we can hope to have even some influence as I hope we can do with China which I hope will decentralize and with the EU which I hope can be prevented from centralizing at best or weakened and decentralized at worst if the EU empire is built. Russia is a force to be coped with, contained to keep them from doing too much harm and cooperating with them when it suits both of us, but without delusions that they will join the West other than as a temporary alliance (see China should it not evolve to a better outlook). I once hoped that once past the former Soviet elites Russia would be better. I'm not as hopeful as I once was. But who knows? But it is up to Russia.

So that's my view on the key states needed to hold off a systemic crisis and advance the cause of the free and open West: Indonesia, Brazil, Britain, Turkey, Iraq, South Africa, and head and shoulders above them all, India.

China and the European Union are imperial states to be nudged so they are not foes of a free and open West, but I don't see them--especially the EU--as potential pillars of a better future any time soon. That's why I give them asterisks. As decentralized geographic regions rather than political entities, Europe and China would have key states within them for that role, I think, but first things first.

Russia is just there, doing its own thing whether as a strong or weak enemy or frenemy. Perhaps it can change. I don't count on it. And I wouldn't waste resources trying. Although if they want to join the West, I'd certainly welcome them.

How the Hell you work from the inside of those key states to make them forces for good is mostly out of my lane, I freely admit.

And I have a quiet but nagging worry that the only key state we should really worry about keeping a strong member of the West is America itself.

UPDATE: In recommending that article, I even overlook his citing of Fareed Zakaria, who could not find his own buttocks with both hands and a GPS signal.