One of the more provocative strategic affairs experts in the United States today is George Friedman, founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Austin, Texas-based forecasting group called Stratfor. In a new book, Friedman takes a look at the decade ahead and, he sees the U.S. presidency as the key factor in determining how things turn out.
In his last book, published two years ago, George Friedman took on the next 100 years, providing broad outlines of how the fortunes of various countries might rise and fall. In his latest work, titled The Next Decade, he focuses on more immediate concerns and says the course of events will likely depend on the leadership provided by whoever holds the office of U.S. President.
Friedman says the leadership that is needed is based on idealism as well as a firm understanding of the U.S. role in the world as the lone superpower. He compares the United States to ancient Rome, where the republic was lost as the empire expanded. Friedman says most Americans would rather focus on concerns at home and leave the world alone, but he says it is too late for that.
"The world appears to be a burden and an ungrateful burden at that," he said. "There is a sense that we can keep everything we have right now and not get involved with them, but the problem with that is that it is impossible to withdraw."
There is much discussion these days about the rise of China, a country that holds much of the U.S. debt. But Friedman dismisses the notion that China will soon displace the United States as world leader.
"Let us remember that the Chinese are happy to lend us the money or, to be more precise, they would rather put their money in American T-bills [Treasury bills] collecting almost no interest rather than invest in China," he said. "China is a deeply troubled country."
George Friedman says a large percentage of China's huge population lives in poverty and argues that the large Asian nation will be engulfed in domestic crisis in the years ahead.
One country Friedman thinks could pose a problem for the United States is neighboring Mexico, which is currently in the midst of a violent drug war that has claimed more than 30,000 lives in the past few years. But while some analysts question whether Mexico will become a failed state, Friedman sees narcotics money as a boon to the nation's economy.
"I see the drug money strengthening Mexico, not weakening it," said Friedman. "About $40 billion a year is passing into Mexico or into Mexican hands and that is creating a stronger economy, dramatically, from what would have been the case the other way."
Of course, both U.S. and Mexican officials would object to that assertion and some estimates of drug profits are much lower than the figure Friedman uses. The United States is backing Mexican government efforts to fight the powerful drug cartels with $1.4 billion in training and material support.
Friedman's view of U.S. history may not appeal to many history buffs. In The Next Decade he says the best leadership has been shown by presidents who have, at times, violated the Constitution they were sworn to protect and defend, and that honesty has not always been the best policy.
The Stratfor CEO says Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan all succeeded by utilizing the pragmatic, but often ruthless techniques outlined by Italian Renaissance author Niccolo Machiavelli.
"A Machiavellian president is someone who has at his core a moral intention and fully understands that it is much easier to talk about morality than to exercise power in pursuit of morality," he said. "Each of them were able to pet the tiger, if you will, and get away with it. They were superb presidents, but none of them could be called honest, straightforward or even particularly legal."
While some critics question aspects of the Friedman analysis, his book is likely to be well read among foreign policy experts and others who rely on Friedman and his team at Stratfor to provide guidance in a dangerous world.