Friedman: Turkey And Poland Are Promising
March 25, 2011
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George Friedman, founder and chief executive of the Austin, Texas-based geopolitical consultancy Stratfor, calls it like he sees it. Reading his latest book, “The Next Decade: Where We’ve Been … and Where We’re Going,” is like taking a stroll around the planet with someone like Henry Kissinger. It’s all about power, and whose is the deepest.
When IndexUniverse.com Managing Editor Olivier Ludwig caught up with Friedman recently, they talked about the turmoil in the Middle East; why Friedman thinks Turkey and Poland are poised for growth; and why the United States is still the only truly global power—even after the market meltdown in 2008.
Ludwig: What’s your immediate response regarding the unrest in the Middle East that has been unfolding for the past several weeks?
Friedman: North Africa is not very important. In Egypt, Mubarak has left, but the army remains in complete control. In fact, they probably have more power than they had before. Tunisia is a minor country. The Libya thing is very noisy, but not very significant.
Ludwig: What about Libya’s crude production—2 to 3 percent of world output?
Friedman: One, it’s not going to be cut off regardless of who wins. The only way it would be cut off is if the Europeans put an embargo in place and cut their own throats. And the second thing is that you have a much bigger issue going on in Bahrain and the Persian Gulf. That really does matter.
Ludwig: Strait of Hormuz, basically?
Friedman: The media is filled with this weird myth of a great democratic uprising in the Middle East. I’m not sure this unrest is democratic. And while everybody is focused on Libya—2 percent of the world’s production is an interesting number—the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf represents 40 percent of the world’s exported oil.
In other words, when you step back and take a look at what happened, in all these regions, it was far less than it appears. When you go to the Persian Gulf, you have a totally different disconnected issue. This is not about democracy, except in the case that the disenfranchised Shiites want more control in places like Bahrain.
Ludwig: Now this grand bargain that you talk about in your book between the U.S. and the Iranians, is that still very much in sharp focus?
Friedman: Absolutely. That’s the whole thing. The United States wants to leave Iraq. If it leaves Iraq, it puts Iran in the dominant position in the region.
Ludwig: Yes, indeed.
Friedman: The U.S. doesn’t want that. Therefore, its only option is to find some sort of diplomatic and political accommodation with the Iranians.
Ludwig: What would that look like? In reading your book, I was left with the question, “What exactly would the U.S. give up?
Friedman: What does the United States want? The United States wants a reliable supply of oil from the Persian Gulf. What do the Iranians want? Exactly the same thing, with the difference being that they want to reshape the distribution of wealth resulting from that oil. In other words, in practical terms, they want the Iranian National Oil Company participating in oil development in the Iranian Peninsula, Saudi investment flowing into the Iranian fields, different OPEC quotas, a whole range of things.
Iran has the largest military force in the region, but it’s always been thwarted, first by the Ottomans, then by the British, then by the Americans. And for the first time in 100 years, really an opening is there, because the Americans are leaving. So what they want to do is create this new reality. At the same time, they’re frightened of the United States because the Iranians view the United States as extremely powerful and very crazy. The United States is unpredictable in what it will do. And that’s the American advantage.
The Iranians know they have the domination. At the same time, the Iranians are not certain that the United States won’t do something unpredictable.