Foreign Policy: What is Romney Reading?
Earlier we posted a video clip in which Mitt Romney was asked what he's reading. Romney gave two titles, a Vince Flynn novel the name of which he couldn't recall and The Next 100 Years, A Forecast for the 21st Century by George Friedman. Does the choice of Friedman's book offer any insight into a potential Romney foreign policy?
Friedman is the founder and editor of Stratfor, an intelligence newsletter supported by subscriptions. As he explains in the introduction to his book, The Next 100 Years is meant not as a science fiction future history but as something to be taken somewhat more seriously based on Friedman's grasp of geopolitics:
Geopolitics applies the concept of the invisible hand to the behavior of nations and other international actors. The pursuit of short-term self-interest by nations and by their leaders leads, in not to the wealth of nations, then at least to predictable behavior and, therefore, the ability to forecast the shape of the future international system.
So what does Friedman predict for the coming century? He offered a Cliff's Notes version in a 2010 interview with The European Institute:
What will matter?
First, the U.S. will dominate the century because of its military and economic power and its favorable geography with Atlantic and Pacific coasts. No power will rise to challenge successful U.S. dominance.
Second, the population explosion of the past century will end and populations will begin to shrink, creating profound changes, including the positive importance of attracting immigrants.
Third, advanced countries will develop technologies to deal with shrinking populations, including harnessing solar power and new computer and robotic technologies.
What will NOT matter?
Neither Europe nor China will be major players in the 21st Century.
Not mentioned above is Russia, which Friedman predicts will be a short-term antagonist to the U.S. over the next decade. Could this help explain Romney's recent reference to Russia as a "geopolitical foe?"
"The nation which consistently opposes our actions at the United Nations has been Russia," Romney said. "We're of course not enemies. We're not fighting each other. There's no Cold War, but Russia is a geopolitical foe in that regard."
It is interesting that Romney specifically rules out a "Cold War" given that this is very much what Friedman predicts in the next decade. But while it's possible Friedman's work has colored Romney's thinking, it seems just as likely that Romney is simply looking around, particularly at the current conflict over Syria. For a year, Russia has been the most vocal opponent of intervention, reportedly sending warships, soldiers and weapons to the country.
In any case, Friedman predicts any dreams of a resurgent USSR will fade by 2020. In the long run, Russia is brought down by its shift from manufacturing to commodity sales. As already mentioned, Friedman is even less bullish on China and Europe. China he believes can not overcome the poverty of its massive nation or its dependence on the United States which purchases most of the goods it produces. Europe will be hampered by internal divisions which prevent it from speaking authoritatively on the international stage.
If there's any sense of why Romney might be attracted to the book, perhaps it's the author's optimism about the United States. In his epilogue, Friedman offers a much humbler assessment of his own predictive powers, but there is one thing about which he is certain:
My mission, as I see it, is to provide you with a sense of what the twenty-first century will look and feel like. I will be wrong about many details. Indeed, I may be wrong about which countries will be great powers and how they will resist the United States. But what I am confident about is that the position of the United States in the international system will be the key issue of the twenty-first century and that other countries will be grappling with its rise. In the end, if there is a single point I have to make in this book, it is that the United States--far from being on the verge of decline--has actually just begun its ascent.
Obviously we won't know if Friedman is right about any of this for several decades, but this sunny view of the U.S.'s future is certainly the kind of thing one hopes an American President would believe about his country.