Posts filed under “War/Defense”
I always look forward the beginning of a new quarter, because it gives me a chance to read STRATFOR’s update of their annual forecast, which I shared with you in January. Their quarterly forecast explores developing geopolitical trends in each region of the world. In recent months and quarters I’ve noticed a much wider recognition in published discussions of “geopolitical risk” as it relates to investments. Of course geopolitical risk is nothing new to my long-time readers who’ve been plugged into STRATFOR for years.
This Q2 forecast is a long read, but it addresses everything from China’s battle with inflation, to Russia’s economic opportunity, to the stalemate in Libya’s civil war. They do a fantastic, and usually spot-on, job of telling you what to look out for. (And when they aren’t spot-on, they’re up-front about what they missed and why).
I hope you enjoy the forecast below, and take advantage of STRATFOR’s current special offer – a free copy of my book, Endgame, to any of my readers who <<subscribe to their intelligence service here>> at a steeply discounted price. I suggest you check it out.
John Mauldin, Editor
Outside the Box
STRATFOR’s 2011 Second Quarter Forecast
In our 2011 annual forecast, we highlighted three predominant issues for the year: complications with Iran surrounding the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, the struggle of the Chinese leadership to maintain stability amid economic troubles, and a shift in Russian behavior to appear more conciliatory, or to match assertiveness with conciliation. While we see these trends remaining significant and in play, we did not anticipate the unrest that spread across North Africa to the Persian Gulf region.
In the first quarter of 2011, we saw what appeared to be a series of dominoes falling, triggered by social unrest in Tunisia. In some sense, there have been common threads to many of the uprisings: high youth unemployment, rising commodity prices, high levels of crony capitalism, illegitimate succession planning, overdrawn emergency laws, the lack of political and media freedoms and so on. But despite the surface similarities, each has also had its own unique and individual characteristics, and in the Persian Gulf region, a competition between regional powers is playing out.
When the Tunisian leadership began to fall, we were surprised at the speed with which similar unrest spread to Egypt. Once in Egypt, however, it quickly became apparent that what we were seeing was not simply a spontaneous uprising of democracy-minded youth (though there was certainly an element of that), but rather a move by the military to exploit the protests to remove Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whose succession plans were causing rifts within the establishment and opening up opportunities for groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.
As we noted in our annual forecast; “While the various elements that make up the state will be busy trying to reach a consensus on how best to navigate the succession issue, several political and militant forces active in Egypt will be trying to take advantage of the historic opportunity the transition presents.” In this quarter, we see the military working to consolidate its control, balance the lingering elements of the pro-democracy movement, and keep the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist forces in check. Cairo is watching Israel very carefully in this respect, as Israeli military actions against the Palestinians or against southern Lebanon could force the Egyptian leadership to reassess the peace treaty with Israel, and give the Islamist forces in Egypt a political boost.
In Bahrain, we saw Iran seeking to take advantage of the general regional discontent to challenge Saudi interests. The Saudis intervened militarily, and for now appear to have things locked down in their smaller neighbor. Tehran is looking throughout the region to see which levers it is willing or capable of pulling to keep Saudi Arabia unbalanced while not going so far as to convince the United States it should keep a large force structure in Iraq. Countering Iran is Turkey, which has become more active in the region. The balancing between these two regional powers will be a major element shaping the second quarter and beyond.
We are entering a very dynamic quarter. The Persian Gulf region is the center of gravity, and the center of a rising regional power competition. A war in or with Israel is a major wild card that could destabilize the area further. Amid this, the United States continues to seek ways to disengage while not leaving the region significantly unbalanced. Off to the side is China, more intensely focused on domestic instability and facing rising economic pressures from high oil prices and inflation. Russia, perhaps, is in the best position this quarter, as Europe and Japan look for additional sources of energy, and Moscow can pack away some cash for later days.
Regional Trend: Iran’s Confrontation with the Arab World
The instability in the Middle East carrying the most strategic weight is centered on the Persian Gulf, where Bahrain has become a proxy battleground between Iran and its Sunni Arab rivals. Iran appears to have used its influence and networks to encourage or exploit rising unrest in Bahrain as part of a covert destabilization campaign in eastern Arabia, relying on a Shiite uprising in Bahrain to attempt to produce a cascade of unrest that would spill into the Shiite-heavy areas of Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province. Saudi Arabia responded by sending military forces into its island neighbor.
Continued crackdowns and delays in political reforms will quietly fuel tensions between the United States and many of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states as Washington struggles between its need to complete the withdrawal from Iraq and to find a way to counterbalance Iran. The Iranians hope to exploit this dilemma by fomenting enough instability in the region to compel the United States and Saudi Arabia to come to Tehran for a settlement on Iranian terms or to fracture U.S.-Saudi ties, thereby drawing Washington into negotiations to end the unrest and thus obtain the opportunity to withdraw from Iraq. So far, that appears unlikely. Iran has successfully spread alarm throughout the GCC states, but it will face a much more difficult time in sustaining unrest in eastern Arabia in the face of intensifying GCC crackdowns.
Iran probably will have to resort to other arenas to exploit the Arab uprisings. In each of these arenas, Iran also will face considerable constraints. In Iraq, for example, Iran has a number of covert assets at its disposal to raise sectarian tensions, but in doing so, it risks upsetting the U.S. timetable for withdrawal and undermining the security of Iran’s western flank in the long term.
In the Levant, Iran could look to its militant proxy relationships with Hezbollah in Lebanon and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Palestinian territories to provoke Israel into a military confrontation on at least one front, and possibly on two. An Israeli military intervention in the Gaza Strip would put pressure on the military-led regime in Egypt as it attempts to constrain domestic Islamist political forces. Syria, which carries influence over the actions of the principal Palestinian militant factions, can be swayed by regional players like Turkey to keep this theater contained, but calm in the Levant is not assured for the second quarter given the broader regional dynamic.
In the Arabian Peninsula, Iran can look to the Yemeni-Saudi borderland, where it can fuel an already-active al-Houthi rebellion with the intent of inciting the Ismaili Muslim communities in Saudi Arabia’s southern provinces in hopes of sparking Shiite unrest in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province. This represents a much more roundabout method for trying to threaten the Saudi kingdom, but the current instability in Yemen affords Iran the opportunity to meddle amid the chaos.
Washington’s Blog strives to provide real-time, well-researched and actionable information. George – the head writer at Washington’s Blog – is a busy professional and a former adjunct professor. ~~~ Gaddafi is a lying psychopath who is slaughtering his own people. So is the imposition of a no-fly zone a good thing? Perhaps. The Arab League…Read More
All eyes are on Saudi Arabia right now, especially on Wall Street, as an upcoming planned protest there could send shockwaves through global markets. Here are some items for investors to be aware of: 1. There are actually two planned protests being organized on Facebook in Saudi Arabia – one on March 11th followed by…Read More
As a democratic revolution led by tech-empowered young people sweeps the Arab world, Wadah Khanfar, the head of Al Jazeera, shares a profoundly optimistic view of what’s happening in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and beyond — at this powerful moment when people realized they could step out of their houses and ask for change.
About Wadah Khanfar
As Director General of Al Jazeera, the only international TV network based in the developing world, Wadah Khanfar works to bring rare liberties like information, transparency and dissenting voices. Full bio
The Pentagon is paying contractors to claim that it was foreign financial terrorists – instead of fraud by American financial executives – which caused the 2008 financial crisis.
While a Pentagon contractor said, “This is the equivalent of box cutters on an airplane,” Paul Backen – a Yale University professor who has studied economic warfare – said he saw “no convincing evidence that ‘outside forces’ colluded to bring about the 2008 crisis.”
Indeed, the claim that terrorism caused the financial crisis is about as believable as Gaddafi trying to blame the Libyan protests on Osama Bin Laden, or al-Maliki blaming Al Qaeda for the Iraqi protests.
But it’s not an isolated incident. In fact, the government is trying in many ways to convince us that financial fraud is isolated, not systemic, and – most of all – not important to rein in.
For example, the U.S State Department’s website says (click on link entitled “economic”)”
Economic conspiracy theories are often based on the false, but popular, idea that powerful individuals are motivated overwhelmingly by their desire for wealth, rather than the wide variety of human motivations we all experience.
This one-dimensional, cartoonish view of human nature is at the heart of Marxist ideology, which once held hundreds of millions under its sway.)
If I didn’t know better, I would say that the State Department is implying that anyone that questions the intent behind even one particular powerful individual’s actions is a conspiracy theorist or a Marxist.
Similarly, Obama’s current head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs – and a favored pick for the Supreme Court (Cass Sunstein) – previously:
Defined a conspiracy theory as “an effort to explain some event or practice by reference to the machinations of powerful people, who have also managed to conceal their role.”
William K. Black – professor of economics and law, and the senior regulator who put 1,000 top executives in jail during the S & L crisis – says that that the government’s entire strategy now – as during the S&L crisis – is to cover up how bad things are: “the entire strategy is to keep people from getting the facts”.
Similarly , 7 out of the 8 giant, money center banks went bankrupt in the 1980′s during the “Latin American Crisis”, and the government’s response was to cover up their insolvency.
So powerful people have conspired to try to downplay the severity of various economic crises.
And – as Matt Taibbi notes that the government is doing more to protect them than to prosecute them:
Federal regulators and prosecutors have let the banks and finance companies that tried to burn the world economy to the ground get off with carefully orchestrated settlements — whitewash jobs that involve the firms paying pathetically small fines without even being required to admit wrongdoing. To add insult to injury, the people who actually committed the crimes almost never pay the fines themselves; banks caught defrauding their shareholders often use shareholder money to foot the tab of justice.
A veritable mountain of evidence indicates that when it comes to Wall Street, the justice system not only sucks at punishing financial criminals, it has actually evolved into a highly effective mechanism for protecting financial criminals. This institutional reality has absolutely nothing to do with politics or ideology — it takes place no matter who’s in office or which party’s in power. To understand how the machinery functions, you have to start back at least a decade ago, as case after case of financial malfeasance was pursued too slowly or not at all, fumbled by a government bureaucracy that too often is on a first-name basis with its targets. Indeed, the shocking pattern of nonenforcement with regard to Wall Street is so deeply ingrained in Washington that it raises a profound and difficult question about the very nature of our society: whether we have created a class of people whose misdeeds are no longer perceived as crimes, almost no matter what those misdeeds are. The SEC and the Justice Department have evolved into a bizarre species of social surgeon serving this nonjailable class, expert not at administering punishment and justice, but at finding and removing criminal responsibility from the bodies of the accused.
The systematic lack of regulation has left even the country’s top regulators frustrated. Lynn Turner, a former chief accountant for the SEC, laughs darkly at the idea that the criminal justice system is broken when it comes to Wall Street. “I think you’ve got a wrong assumption — that we even have a law-enforcement agency when it comes to Wall Street,” he says.
A wild conspiracy theory?
Kansas City Fed President Thomas Hoenig doesn’t think so. He recommends Taibbi’s article.
Indeed, Bill Gross, Nouriel Roubini, Laurence Kotlikoff, Steve Keen, Michel Chossudovsky, the Wall Street Journal and Bernie Madoff all say that the U.S. economy is a giant Ponzi scheme.
They Didn’t MEAN to Cause a Depression
Leading Indicators of Revolt in the Middle East and Northern Africa: Corruption, Unemployment and Percentage of Household Money Spent on Food
What determines which Middle Eastern or North African (MENA) countries will face revolt?
On February 3rd, the Economist came up with a list of “vulnerable” countries based upon the amount of democracy, corruption and press freedom:
But the Economist index doesn’t take unemployment into account unemployment.
As Alternet notes:
Arab Labour Organisation (ALO) figures show that Arab countries have among the highest unemployment rates in the world — an average of 14.5 percent in fiscal year 2007/08 compared with the international average of 5.7 percent. The rates may even be higher if one accepts unofficial estimates.
Global risk specialist Mi2g notes:
There are a lot of “orphans” and most are young – 65 percent of the population of the Arab League is under the age of 30. Youth unemployment rates are exorbitantly high – as high as 75 percent in some countries like Algeria. While the informal economy provides partial compensation, this does not provide security; the Jasmine Revolution was triggered by the self-immolation of a young man, Mohamed Bouazizi, unemployed after police confiscated his wheelbarrow, used to make ends meet by selling fruits and vegetables.
On February 2nd, Nomura published a report written by Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations, arguing that youth unemployment and underemployment – along with a large proportion of youth – are primary factors driving revolt in the Middle East:
In both Tunisia and Egypt factors were at play which are also to be found in other economies in the region, notably:–An autocratic and corrupt regime [and] A significant―youth bulge and related unemployment and under-employment….
In other words, when there alot of young, unemployed (or under-employed) people, they might revolt.
Here are statistics from Nomura showing the percentage of youth under 15 years old and median age in years in the Middle East and Northern Africa:
|Country||Population Aged <15>||Median Age (2010)|
|Saudi Arabia||32.0 %||24.6%|
The index gives a 35% weighting for the share of the population that is under 25; 15% for the number of years the government has been in power; 15% for both corruption and lack of democracy as measured by existing indices; 10% for GDP per person; 5% for an index of censorship and 5% for the absolute number of people younger than 25:
Nowhere Near Over David R. Kotok February 23, 2011 www.cumber.com > This is nowhere near over. By “This”, we mean the regional contagion, spreading violence and rising geopolitical risk in the Middle East and North Africa. Reports say that Libya has stopped producing oil and that pipeline delivery to Europe (Italy) is interrupted. Libya seems…Read More