Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Watch on the Bosphorus

Halki Seminary on Heybeliada

I am currently reading George Friedman's The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century. His is an interesting take on what this century may hold for us. I appreciate the fact that he is a clear-eyed realist who takes a really long view of things, seemingly little concerned with any ideological presuppositions.

In short, he sees the 21st Century, not the one just past, as the "American Century." His forecasts run counter to today's conventional wisdom. Friedman does not see turmoil within the Islamic world as an existential threat to the West, nor does he believe our present contretemps to be of any great duration. Western Europe will fade, with or without Muslim immigration. He sees China's influence as limited, and ultimately waning. Russia will undergo a brief resurgence before collapsing once more. Nor does he see much influence arising out of India. I find him irritatingly matter-of-fact about the transformation of the traditional family, but even this is part and parcel of his dispassionate analytical style. Friedman attributes our continued dominance not to any sort of American exceptionalism, but rather to simple geographic, demographic, cultural and military factors. In other words, America will prevail not because we are right, or better than others, but simply because we are fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time with enough resources and a navy that controls the sea lanes. I do take issue with some bothersome sloppiness in the book. A map of the Muslim world should not include Serbia, Armenia, Ethiopia, the Philippines (as a whole) and this howler--Sri Lanka.

As they say, only time will tell. Personally, I am not at all assured that America will stride through the century as others nations stumble; nor am I convinced that it would be a particularly good thing if we did. And yet, for the most part, Friedman does not engage in wild speculations, but forecasts based on the long history of how particular nations and peoples are prone to act. Of particular interest is his prediction of the rise of new powers in this century. That Japan makes this short list is not surprising, but one does not expect the inclusion of Mexico, Turkey and Poland.

Of course, my interest lies with Turkey, and I find Friedman's prognostications to be eminently realistic. Basically, he sees Turkey resuming the role it has traditionally played in the region. The Turks will fill the gaping leadership void in the Muslim world, and act as a counterweight to Russian revanchism in the Caucusus region and the Balkans.

With this in mind, I was interested to read a recent post by Mustafa Akyol, here, on the Orthodox seminary at Halki. Akyol writes for the Hurriyat Daily News, a major Turkish newspaper, where this article first appeared. There are no breaking developments on the reopening of the seminary, though Akyol does present a good synopsis of the who and why of the Halki closure. What is of note, however, is that the issue is being publicly discussed at all. The fact that a noted Muslim writer would address the issue, and call for the reopening of this Orthodox institution, in an editorial of a major Turkish newspaper (and even quoting St. Augustine to boot) is of no little significance. He notes that "the Turkish citizens of the Greek Orthodox persuasion are our citizens, for God's sake, not the fifth column of someone else." This hearkens back to the old Ottoman approach, and not the secular Kemalist view. So maybe Friedman is onto something. At the very least, it speaks to the rapid transformation underway within this nation. Unlike Friedman, I am making no predictions here, but as my old dad used to say, "it'll do to watch" this Turkish transition into the big leagues.


Steve Hayes said...

Religious descrimination does not become a secular state, though it might be expected from a secularist one.

The closure of Halki Seminary and the exclusion of the Dalai Lama from South Africa are all of a piece -- infringements of religious freedom that have no place in a secular state.

The Scylding said...

Does he take the ownership of resources into account? The US will amount to nothing if she cannot be provided with resources, especially mineral resources. And that has to come from somewhere, and has to be bought by somebody. The same would go for China and India. The former has been stretching tentacles into Africa, but as a son of Africa, I know that outsiders tend to get hurt, very much, on that continent. Also, political instability puts a a bit of a dampening effect on a steady supply of resources. Also, I don't see Africa being content providing cheap resources to neocolonial powers, be they Chinese or American (or even Indian).

So, that considered, there are 4 other major resource economies to take into account:

Russia, Canada, Brazil and (to a lesser extent) Australia. South Africa is enigmatic in this context, as its mineral resources are strong only in 2 / 3 commodities at this stage, it is not the powerhouse, miningwise, it used to be. BTW, those commodities are Platinum and Managnese. Gold is receding, dimaonds are dissapearing, coal is ok, iron and aluminium are common elsewhere...

There are very few commodities not being produced in Canada, and it is a major exporter of oil, gas, uranium, potash and diamonds, among others. Russia has huge oil and gas deposits, and vast territories have not been explored to any great extent (actually, much is still unknown here in Canada too...)

So, to summarise: Unless I'm mistaken, and I haven't read the book, mr Friedman makes the mistake of ignoring primary sources, ie the resources needed for prosperity. This is a common mistake, but a very modern one. All wealth has its ultimate source in a primary industry, which boils down to mining and agriculture. Without those, and the ability to access them safely, it all comes to nothing....

Hilarius said...


I, too, was intrigued by Friedman's view that Turkey would be resurgent as the unifying principle in the Middle East. I've only read excerpts of his arguments on this - how does he square the reality that the other (albeit poor) center of gravity in the Middle East is Egypt and, unlike in the Ottoman period, Turkey has no easy way to 'control' Egypt because of the situation in the Levant?

John said...


Your points are well taken. Friedman does address ownership of resources, but only as a secondary consideration. He does assume that Japanese policy will be driven largely by their continued reliance on outside natural resources, forcing them once more onto the Asian continent. And he foresees a lessening of influence from the Persian Gulf, as their reserves are depleted. But one gets the idea that he assumes that the U.S. will be able to obtain resources, one way or the other, through a projection of military power if necessary. This may be a faulty assumption.

Of the 4 countries you mention, he does not deal with Canada or Australia at all. He acknowledges Russia’s rich resources, but due to their demographic implosion, they will not be able to sustain their territory as currently configured. Friedman sees Brazil as limited in influence due to being basically isolated from the rest of the continent by the Amazon basin.

While I find much of his book to be plausible, I feel he dwells too much on geopolitical issues such as military power and borders, geographic constraints, with less attention given to societal changes, as well as cultural and religious factors. And as you note, at least in the continued projection of American power, one cannot automatically assume that we will have access to the resources required.


I believe Friedman is at his best when he is making predictions based on the Chinese acting as Chinese, Russians acting as Russians, Turks acting as Turks, and Americans acting as we do. To a Huntington fan, this is reassuring and rings true. And while his forecasts further into the century regarding Turkey become a bit fanciful, Friedman is basically forecasting a return to an Ottoman-style sphere of influence. Frankly, this scenario is more believable when he projects Turkish influence through the Caucasus region and eastward into Turkic Eurasia, as well as a greater role in the Balkans. But Friedman sees continued upheaval in the Levant and Middle East, with their being no Arab unity. By the 2020s, Russia will be increasingly unable to influence events there, and the Saudi kingdom will be unstable to boot. By necessity, the Turks will have to move in. The Arabs will not particularly like it, but it will be the lesser of many evils. Once established in Syria and Iraq, they will move into Egypt when the time is ripe. As I said, much of this is fanciful, but then all predictions are. But Turkey is already the 17th largest economy in the world, growing steadily with a formidable army and navy. Friedman sees their rise as inevitable and a return to the natural order of things in that part of the world. Strangely, he has nothing at all to say about Israel.

Milton T. Burton said...

I agree that China is overrated. No natural resources to speak of. I disagree on Russia. It will come back and it will stay a major poser but not as a threat to us. I think there is some hope for Europe. A lot of talent and brains there. I note that he seems to neglect Latin America which I predict will get its act together government-wise in the next twenty-five years and be a major powerhouse in the future. Most of these "grand strategy" thinkers seem sublimely unaware of anything south of the Rio Grande save as an annoyance to us. I think this is a grave mistake on their part.

Milton T. Burton said...

I predict a major social upheaval in Saudi Arabia in the next ten years. The House of Saud is doomed.

Milton T. Burton said...

I also think he is dead wrong on families. I predict a resurgence of the traditional family. All prognosticators have to give a lick and a promise to trends growing out of the so-called "sexual revolution" else their credentials would be confiscated by the Groovy Police.

John said...


Friedman (and all of us) would do well to remember one of Niebuhr's maxims: "Nothing in history is inevitable, including the probable." But I think it useful for "doom and gloomers" such as myself to be exposed to his line of thinking, if only to remind us of other scenarios. I wish I could remember the exact quote from John Lukacs, who said something like "it's not really that bad, living at the end of an age, as long as you recognize it as such." That characterizes my slant on things much more than Friedman's views. Now to your points:

Friedman sees China has limited by both demographics and geography, and posits that they are as dependant on us and we are on them, if not more so.

I tend to agree with you about Russia. I see them as a major player in their part of the world, but not as any sort of world leader. Their demographic problems are serious, but some studies have found that it has begun to turn around, though it will take generations to right itself. I take issue with studies that take current conditions and project 30-40-50 years into the future. We see this a lot with those who project a Muslim Europe and Russia. These projections, based solely on reproduction rates, fail to consider cultural factors and the general messiness that is human history. Things don't also go according to plan. Anyway, Friedman sees a total breakup of Russia--the loss of Siberia and many other areas--with only old Muscovy left. I don't see this happening at all.

As far Europe itself, what Friedman sees is a transfer of power and energy from western Europe to central Europe--running from Poland (and the Baltic states) down through Hungary and Romania, arcing around the Balkans to the Adriatic. What he sees as precipitating this will be Germany's failure to respond to the Russian threat to the Baltic states, now in NATO. This will push Poland (and the U.S.) to the forefront. Surprisingly, Friedman devotes little space to the usual rationale for western European decline--Muslim immigration and demographic suicide.

You are right, Friedman doesn't consider Latin America, other than to dismiss it out of hand. He does see, however, the rise of Mexico as a great power, and rival of the U.S.

Friedman sees increased instability in the House of Saud--be he foresees it as creating a power vacuum into which the Turks interject themselves.

I hope you are right about the traditional family. But whether this will be societal in scope, or merely isolated hold-outs remains to be seen.

Milton T. Burton said...

One final thought on this: you would be surprised how many books like this start out as a proposal written to a publisher about something more than a nebulous idea floating around in the author's mind. But once the contract is signed and the advance in the bank, the writer has to come up with enough text to meet his contract specifications. And it is awfully easy to really believe something you are getting paid for. Just human nature---no fraud or dishonesty implied on the author's part.