Part V: Watch Mattis, Not Flynn

While the news focuses on the Flynn scandal, Mattis puts NATO – and the global system – on notice.

So apparently whenever I go on vacation the rest of the world has a busy week.

Let’s focus on the United States.

While I was kayaking in Milford Sound, National Security Advisor Lt. General Michael Flynn was excused from his 24-day-old job. Flynn has a reputation for being a bit…volatile and monochromatic, so his departure from what I consider to be the job in the U.S. government that requires the most calm, far-reaching and level-headed thinking isn’t something I consider to be all that bad.

The political issue surrounding Flynn’s dismissal is that he allegedly discussed national security matters with the Russian ambassador, and then lied to now-Vice President Mike Pence about it. If Flynn indeed told the Russians that a Trump administration would take a softer line on all things Russian over the course of a series of conversations, then this may indeed have altered the Kremlin’s response to the Obama administration’s sanctions. Among Democrats in general and more national-security-minded Republicans, this is certainly the biggest foreign policy issue of the new President’s term.

Under normal circumstances I’d agree wholeheartedly, but as I’m sure everyone with a pulse has noticed, we’re not exactly in normal circumstances these days. Instead, a far more critical evolution is taking place.

A personality I take much more seriously than Flynn is the Defense Secretary, General James Mattis. At a NATO defense minister’s summit the day after Flynn’s dismissal (when I was hiking the Kepler Track near Te Anau), the good general put the entire alliance on notice. He flatly warned the allies that they must raise their defense spending – quickly and sharply – or face the Americans backing away from their alliance commitments. Specifically he noted with a degree of subtlety that only a Marine general could muster: “No longer can the American taxpayer carry a disproportionate share of the defense of Western values. Americans cannot care more for your children’s future security than you do.”

In my opinion, Mattis is deadly serious – hell, in my opinion Flynn was deadly serious – and both were/are executing policy not only with the full knowledge of President Trump, but are doing so because it is policy, not because of some quid pro quo with the Kremlin. The Americans are getting out of the global management business, and a rationalization of its alliance commitments – Europe included – is simply par for the course. All that remains is to see how quick and how deep the changes will be.

We might not have to wait long.

It was also reported in the past days that the Russians have deployed the SSC-8 medium-range missiles in violation of the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (or INF) signed between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The creatively-named treaty bans all short-to-intermediate range (500-1000 km, or roughly 300-600 miles) nuclear and conventional missiles by either party. The agreement served as a stepping stone to more aggressive nuclear arms reductions, and in no way is it an understatement to say that the INF remains the lynchpin of all post-Cold War U.S.-Russian relations.

Looking at a map, it’s easy to see why. The primary beneficiary is Russia (and its predecessor state, the USSR). After the agreement, U.S. military bases sprinkled throughout NATO countries can not serve as launching pads for missiles designed, essentially, to reach Russia; similarly, the removal of such missiles from Russia’s arsenal directly impacts the security of the United States’ European allies. But these missiles simply cannot reach the continental U.S.

While slight mention was made within American media about the Russian’s violation of the INF, the message is being heard loud and clear by NATO. But for all of the prodding and threats by Mattis and the White House, the reality is clear: as the United States remains determined to reduce its global military footprint, Europe faces a Russia already well into its operational mobilization while most of Europe remains functionally disarmed to respond to such a threat.

This weekend is the Munich security conference. The Munich conference involves leading defense and foreign policy thinkers from both the NATO and greater European communities. It has no direct, formal impact – it’s  just a talk shop – but it has a reputation for not only candid discussions, but being a place where top government leaderships announce fairly startling policy changes. In the past German, American and Russian leaders have indicate shifts that fairly dramatically adjusted the regional centers of power.

And this weekend Vice President Mike Pence will be in attendance.

Part IV: Bribes, Trade and the European Union

Some countries are adapting to Trump and some don’t know the rules of the global system have changed. 

The Japanese government leaked a provisional policy document to Reuters late Jan 31 titled “U.S.-Japan Growth and Employment Initiative,” which noodles over how Japan can invest more heavily into the United States in a variety of economic sectors. The policy was supposedly read out loud to Reuters staff, and it is very clearly in the under-development stage with a great many gaps.It is expressly meant to pave the way for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s upcoming summit with Donald Trump on Feb. 10. Among the document’s noodling includes possible investments into various infrastructure projects and the shale sector. The leaker indicated that the investment would be on a scale that could generate “hundreds of thousands” of American jobs.

(Before you discount that “figure” as ludicrous, keep in mind that the Japanese economy has been so moribund for so long thatthe Japanese regularly force the near-entirety of their pension system — with a huge dose of flat-out printed money — to invest in Japanese government debt, an asset with a zero percent return. It is well within the BOJ’s purview to instead purchase foreign assets if that serves Tokyo’s purposes, and to do so in a volume that quite literally reaches the high hundreds of billions of dollars.)

If this feels like a bribe, you’re thinking about things the right way.

The United States is backing away from the world writ large, a development that spells utter disaster for the many countries that designed their economic, political and military systems around the central concept of American engagement. Every bi- and multi-lateral relationship that the Americans have is in the process of being obviated. That includes everything from the UN to the WTO to NATO … to the Japanese alliance.

In Accidental Superpower I noted that in the coming Disorder there would only be a very short list of countries with which the Americans would choose to remain entangled, largely because the Americans perceive unmitigated benefits. If your country isn’t on that list, and you want to retain American engagement, you have to come to Washington and plead your case. And if you come empty handed the answer will almost certainly be “no”.

Abe apparently intends to try and flat out purchase American involvement. A bit crass for my tastes, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work.

The Japanese understand what’s happening. They know full well that their exposure to global energy markets and the fragility of their manufacturing supply chains makes them vulnerable. The Brits get it as well. The Canadians are desperately hoping that they are on the “unmitigated benefits” list (they probably are). The Mexicans are twisting in the wind, unsure if what’s coming out of the White House is rhetoric, policy or a negotiating strategy (it’s probably the latter). The Chinese are having problems coming to grips with just how bad things are about to get for them.

And the mainland Europeans are in flat-out denial.

American security involvement and American trade access are what ended the European civil war of roughly 1800 thru 1945, and generated the past 70 yoears of peace and prosperity. Europe is only able to import raw materials and export finished products because of American global overwatch, to say nothing for Europe’s (in)ability to defend itself (or in general get along with itself). In fact, without swap lines and loans from the Federal Reserve, it isn’t much of a stretch to assert that the Euro would have failed already. Without express U.S. involvement and strategic sponsorship, there is no European Union.

Rather than start tweaking themselves towards a system that might be sustainable without American overwatch and largess, most European politicians right up to the German and French premiers are engaging in a (not entirely) diplomatic back-and-forth with the Trump administration. It isn’t that I’m taking Trump’s side on any particular ethical, legal, constitutional, economic, strategic or practical issue, but instead that continental Europeans are acting as if the old rules still applied.

And unlike a week ago when the issues at stake didn’t hold immediate implications for the EU, now they do.

Apparently I was wrong. National Trade Council chair Peter Navarro is indeed aware of the existence of countries that are not China. Specifically, he knows where Germany is. On the same day the Japanese were testing the waters with their…consulting fee suggestion, Navarro laid into German trade policy. Specifically, he noted that the euro in essence functions as means of depressing the cost of German exports, constituting an unfair trade advantage.

Navarro is both wrong and right. Wrong in that the German intent for the euro isn’t to facilitate exports outside of the eurozone, but instead to induce economic convergence among the eurozone’s members and thus bulwark all of them against international volatility, and strengthen all of them as an internal trade bloc

But that’s not what has happened. The Europeans have proven completely incapable of grinding down financial, fiscal and political barriers within the bloc, so instead of helping everyone converge, the euro has instead established a dependency system in which Germany is the indisputable center of gravity. Since this is done in the context of a currency union, the weaker members have the effect of dragging the currency’s value down. And here’s where Navarro is dead-on correct: the failure of Europe to federalized has devolved the euro into an “implicit deutschemark that is grossly undervalued”. That was never the Germans’ intent, but it is most definitely the outcome — and will remain so until Portugal and Greece look more like the Frankfurt (which isn’t going to happen in our lifetimes).

It is highly unlikely that the Trump administration will be impressed with a “U.S.-Germany Growth and Employment Initiative”, even if Berlin had the political and economic bandwidth to fashion one. The accruing nature of everything threatening Europe is simply so multi-vectored, entrenched and damning that the Continent is now exactly the sort of commitment that the Americans are not interested in.

Yet if anything, that understates the challenge that Europe now faces.

The primary responsibility of the National Trade Council that Navarro leads is to prosecute trade wars. Which means it isn’t just that the European Union cannot exist without express U.S. support, but now also that the United States seems about to actively kick out the Union’s scaffolding.

Part III: Corporate Tax Reform and Global Trade

The simple tariff being discussed in D.C. might spell the end for global trade and security as we know it.

The Trump administration has requested that Congress focus on two major policies during the next few months. One is Obamacare, as excising Barack Obama’s legacy remains a core issue for Trump’s diehard supporters. The second is tax policy reform, specifically corporate tax reform. Trump has indicated that he wants the process to be more or less revenue-neutral, but he also wants the corporate tax rate to shift from today’s 35 percent (among the world’s highest) to 20 percent (among the world’s lowest). While undoubtedly such a cut would massively expand corporate activity and thus tax receipts, such a lower rate would still require replacement income to come from a new source.

From what I’ve heard from DC of late, it seems that Democrats and Republicans alike (not to mention the Trump team) are zeroing in on a common approach — a tariff system.

Administrating a tariff system can be somewhat tricky. The easiest way to manage one is to simply slap on a “border” tax and tax absolutely everything a set percentage as it comes across. The problem with this, however, is that if you have any manufacturing supply chains that cross the border more than once — like, say, everything Ford and Chevy do — things can get taxed multiple times. Such a turnover tax drastically increases the cost — and diminishes the competitiveness — of goods and smashes any supply chains the U.S. has that rely upon the NAFTA partners. That would — at a minimum — trigger an economic depression in places like Michigan and Texas.

A less disruptive option is to implement some sort of content-origin rule, so only the percentage of value of the product that isn’t American gets taxed, and that only once. This requires a more involved detection and labelling system and requires a degree of trust with your close trading partners, but within the NAFTA system something more or less like this already exists. You’d just need to layer in a new bureaucracy atop what’s already there.

This method has some interesting advantages.

In addition to very strongly encouraging American firms to keep their businesses within the U.S., this sort of tariff system is also fairly modular. Since you are already collecting product origin data you can adjust the tariff country-by-country and product-by-product, for example having tariff levels that favor trade with Honduras but disfavor trade with South Africa. Tariffs and trade access very quickly become a tool of state power. As the U.S. has the world’s largest consumer market, that’s no small factor. The biggest losers from such systems would be countries and industries whose supply chains are almost wholly non-North American in nature. China Inc’s gangly East Asian industries would wither, as would Germany’s fully Central European ones. From the Trump White House’s point of view, these are probably viewed more as features than bugs.

There are, however, two far-from-insignificant problems. First, such a system is flat out illegal under the rules of the World Trade Organization. The whole concept of tariffs are one that the U.S. has been browbeating out of the international system since 1944 as part of the move to globalized free trade. Going the tariff route by definition means either facing a fleet of international lawsuits (which the U.S. would almost certainly lose), or simply walking out of the WTO completely. The ability of the U.S. to export to anyone that it didn’t have a side deal with would almost certainly collapse.

The second major problem is that anything that has such a crushing effect on globalized trade will gut the export-led industries of every country that happens to have an export-led economy. Roughly two-thirds of the world’s population almost certainly would face economic depression.

The United States would definitely feel the pain of this, but it would be manageable. Only 8 percent of U.S. GDP is from merchandise exports, and one-third of that is to Canada and Mexico. Only the United States has a demography that’s full of consuming 20- and 30-somethings, and so only the U.S. has the necessary end-market that makes export-led economies around the world work. If Washington and Mexico City and Ottawa can find a way to forge a non-WTO way forward (three guesses what my next topic will be), then the U.S. would likely only suffer a mild recession.

 

For everyone outside of North America, however, the near-future would hold economic disaster.

The U.S. may be the least involved country in international trade from a trading perspective, but it is the most involved country from a trade-management perspective. Without unfettered access to America’s consumer market, the global market shrinks by about one-third. Without the only global navy providing freedom of access and freedom of the seas, maritime trade — the way four-fifths of global trade moves — is endangered if not outright impossible. That isn’t just a problem for computers and furniture, but for iron ore and, oh yeah, oil too. Like it or not, the U.S. is the indispensable country for the global order in its current form.

Remove the U.S. and we don’t get a new global order, we get disorder because there is no country or coalition of countries that can replace the United States in financial, consumptive or military terms. The world’s rising powers — most notably China — see trade as a plank of security policy that is most definitely a zero-sum game. Any attempt by them to impose their own global (or even regional) preferences would quickly lead to conflict with other powers that would lose out under Chinese management. In China’s case that’s a lengthy list that would involve everyone from Japan to Taiwan to Indonesia to India to Saudi Arabia to the United Kingdom.

The reason the U.S.-based system works is that U.S. has global reach but no global needs. It has been willing to sublimate its economic needs in order to build and preserve a global system. China is the opposite. It has global needs but no global reach. It wouldn’t be willing to sublimate anything for its economic goals, and so no one has any interest in deferring to Beijing.

This tax shift under discussion in Washington very well might be how the whole global structure comes crashing down.

Part II: The End of Europe

EU’s institutions are rearranging the Titanic’s deck chairs during a Godzilla attack with a tsunami on the horizon.

President Donald Trump entertained his first foreign dignitary Friday, January 27: UK Prime Minister Theresa May. The primary outcome of their trip? The two pledged to work towards the formalization of a “quick trade deal.”

This takes us all kinds of interesting places.

First, from a strategic point of view anything that binds the United Kingdom closer to the United States is phenomenal for U.S. power. Britain maintains the world’s third-most powerful navy, and soon will float the only functional supercarriers in the world not in the U.S. fleets. London is the world’s second-largest financial hub, and the chief route out for capital fleeing Continental Europe. London has centuries of bred-in experience manipulating political and economic systems the world over. Add in a wealth of preexisting bilateral political, economic and cultural ties, and if there is one country that is a natural complement to American power projection, it is Britain.

Second, the EU is spotlighting the path to its own end with a bizarre sort of enthusiasm. Technically, the May-Trump summit is illegal; under EU law only the European Commission — the EU’s executive — can engage in trade talks on behalf of its members, and the UK’s exit negotiations haven’t yet begun. Just to be sure that the Europeans know that this isn’t an accidental oversight, May has also announced the commencement of trade talks with Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Turkey and India.

 

 

The Commission and EU Parliament are bubbling with fury about how this won’t be allowed to stand, will poison the UK’s pending Brexit talks with the EU, and that Britain will be punished for it. But considering May has indicated that she prefers simply walking away from the EU to any sort of divorce deal that doesn’t serve London’s interest, the EU is absolutely bereft of leverage.

If there was an issue that could prove that the EU had some flexibility, a flat-out Brexit negotiation was it. It will be a negotiation that is predominantly economic in which the EU has lots of leverage and for which the EU has lots of options to choose from. This should be easy.

Guess not.

Such obstinacy pretty much dooms the EU in its grappling with its far larger problems: the EU faces a demographic implosion, a sovereign debt crisis that only increases by the year, anemic-at-best economic growth, a rising banking crisis, an aggressive Russia, an increasingly belligerent Turkey, waves of refugees as Mideast countries crumble, and so on. Rather that start reimagining the Union or getting on with the very real work ahead, the EU’s institutions are doing the equivalent of rearranging the Titanic’s deck chairs during a Godzilla attack with a tsunami on the horizon. Britain is already moving on, yet it looks like Brexit will consume all the EU’s emotional bandwidth for months (years?). Such ossification makes it scarily easy to predict how this will all go: everything that happens in the EU is now an institutional crisis.

Third, after decades of Continental military downsizing, the UK and U.S. are Europe’s security policy. May still went through the motions of pledging her support for NATO, which literally earned no more than a curt nod from the new American president — a man that, since his election, has made no secret of his belief that the alliance is already over. So long as Europe cannot come to terms with Brexit, it is a mighty reach to assume that the UK will continue going to bat with Trump for the sake of the Continent. Expect American drawdowns of its warfighting capabilities in Europe to begin in the not-too-distant future. The only question now is whether this is done in league with evolutions in U.S.-Russian relations or not.

 

 

Where does this leave Europe? Trump probably put it best by calling the EU a “vehicle for Germany.” That may sound harsh. After all, the EU is nothing if not a constant multi-lateral tug of war among all the EU’s 28 members. But consider what’s happened in the past year: The Brits are leaving. NATO is all-but-gone. There’s political stall — if not outright breakdown — in Italy, Spain, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands. Poland and Hungary are wallowing in their moves away from democracy. Like it or not, planned or not, Germany is the center that holds.

And a quick glance through history indicates that a German center to Europe never holds for long.

Part I: Executive Action, Obamacare, Regulation and the Obama Legacy

 

Trump’s method for non-enforcement of Obamacare has big implications and may tear apart Obama’s legacy in weeks. 

I’ve spoken before of the danger of Obama choosing to not enforce laws that he did not agree with, in large part because of the dangerous precedent it set as regards not simply to civil liberties, but to the rule of law itself. What good is Congress, after all, if its constitutionally-granted powers of legislation can simply be bypassed by a recalcitrant or capricious executive? I don’t bring this up to forecast that is what Trump will do, although the thought has certainly crossed my mind (repeatedly) in recent weeks.

Instead, Trump seems to have found an… elegant way around my concern. Rather than following Obama’s precedent of simply ignoring preexisting laws he found distasteful, on his first day Trump instead tinkered with executive flexibility in a starkly different way. In his Day One executive action on Obamacare, Trump directed the IRS that whenever it has any discretion with respect to any aspect of enforcement on Obamacare, that it is to exercise that discretion in favor of individuals and not in favor of the government. (Keep in mind that come Tax Day, it is up to the IRS to impose penalties upon anyone who has failed to purchase health care insurance.)

The impact of such an approach is potentially wide ranging to say the least.

First, it does an end-run around Obama’s signature achievement. The IRS already possesses wide latitude at enforcing tax law. For example, when the IRS was having a spat with House Republicans in 2015 which resulted in Congress cutting the IRS’ budget, the IRS responded by using its regulatory latitude to simply not answer its phones. With Trump’s new executive order, the IRS will almost certainly not even bother checking if 22-year-olds have indeed purchased their Obamacare-mandated health insurance because the income from the penalties wouldn’t be worth collection. Such “enforcement” in effect kills Obamacare without even resubmitting the issue to Congress. (Of course, it does not replace Obamacare; that’s a far thornier topic for another time.)

 

Washington, D.C.

 

Second, the new approach potentially signals a very easily-replicable pattern for regulation writ large. Regulatory agencies often use their executive latitude to pick fights with prominent personalities or companies or institutions as a means to induce compliance across the board from folks who would normally resist (think back to how the prosecution of high-profile personalities like Martha Stewart did wonders for dissuading insider trading). If executive orders force the bureaucracy to begin with a presumption against the government, then many existing regulations cease to hold much weight. This holds triply so for regulations rooted in executive privilege as opposed to Congressional law. I anticipate EPA-related regulations — which haven’t had a lick of Congressional law added to them in six years — to face particularly harsh gutting.

And perhaps most importantly, unlike Obama’s preferred method of non-enforcement of laws he disagreed with, there is zero legal recourse for Trump’s enforcement-lite. You could sue the government should the executive agencies not be enforcing the law or magicking up their own regulations and reinterpretations, but you cannot sue the government for implementing laws within Congressionally allowed ranges.

Agencies will still have to go through the motions of formally repealing Obama-era regs, but considering how few laws Obama got through Congress and how heavily he relied upon re-interpretation and executive-originated regulations, this approach could eliminate Obama’s entire legacy in functional terms in a matter of weeks.

Many — including me — arched an eyebrow at Trump’s earlier assertion that he would reduce the federal government’s regulatory burden by three-quarters within a year. Now my other eyebrow has moved up as well.

The Absent Superpower

It’s finally arrived!

I’m happy to announce that The Absent Superpower: The Shale Revolution and a World Without America is finally in print and in stock. Here is a link to the purchase page on Zeihan.com. We will have a digital version ready by February 1st. Additionally, book format issues limit me in terms of graphics capacity to only black & white images but many of the topics I write about are in screaming color, so here is the map room for The Absent Superpower.

Which brings me to my next announcement: the Zeihan on Geopolitics website has had a face lift for the New Year. We’ll be populating it with more material during the next few weeks, particularly as the Know Your World section expands. Feel free to explore.

And if all that wasn’t tease enough, in lieu of a New Year’s newsletter, we’ve instead opted to share the introduction for The Absent Superpower

Absent-Super-Power-book

INTRODUCTION


The Journey to The Absent Superpower

EVERYTHING IS CHAOS!

At least, that’s what it seems like every time you turn on your TV, radio, computer, or smart phone.

The European Union is falling apart, Syria is in meltdown, cybercrime is an hourly occurrence, the Chinese economy is gyrating wildly, Russia is on the march, the election of Donald Trump has Americans of all political stripes wondering what comes next, and the Kardashians get more press time than Congress. It’s enough to give anyone a panic attack.

Well, not quite anyone. Unlike the average person, all this craziness puts me in my happy place. Where most see the world turning itself upside down and inside out, I see a long-overdue shift in the global order. New trends emerging. New possibilities unfolding. For me, change is good for business.

That’s because my job is a bit…different than the standard. You see, I’m a geopolitical strategist. That’s a fancy way of saying I help organizations understand what challenges and opportunities they will be grappling with across the world in the years to come. As such I’m sort of a professional apprentice, rarely a master of any particular craft but needing to be able to hold my own in conversations about manufacturing and transport and health care and finance and agriculture and metals and electricity and education and defense and such. Preferably without pissing off anyone whose living is based off of manufacturing or transport or health care or finance or agriculture or metals or electricity or education or defense.

In many ways those conversations make me who I am. From the Air Force to the Pickle Packers, every interaction gives me a good hard view of the world, yet each of these interactions originates from a radically different perspective. Combine all those angles and interactions and perspectives and the unique information that comes from them with my private intelligence experience, and I’m granted the privilege of seeing something approximating the full picture — how the world’s myriad pieces interlock — and catch some telling future glimpses to boot. More than anything else, what I sell is context.

That picture and those glimpses and that context formed the bones of my first book, The Accidental Superpower, which was published in November 2014. In Accidental I made the case that the world we knew was at a moment of change: The Americans who had created, nurtured, enabled, maintained and protected the post-WWII global order were losing interest. As they stepped back the world we know was about to fall to pieces.

At any time in history such a shift would have had monumental consequences, but the American retrenchment is but one of three massive shifts in the global the order. The second is the rapid greying of the entire global population. Fewer people of working age translates directly into anemic, decaying economies — enervating global trade just as the Americans stop guaranteeing it. Third and finally, the American shale revolution has changed the mechanics — if not yet the mood — of how the Americans interact with the energy sector. Surging petroleum output within the Lower 48 is pushing North America toward outright oil independence; in the past decade the total continental shortfall has narrowed from roughly 10 million barrels of oil per day (mbpd) to about 2mbpd.

In the two years since Accidental published, I’ve had ample opportunity to re-examine every aspect of my work — some of my critics have been (over) eager to assist in such endeavors — and I fear that I may have been off the mark on a couple of points.

First, the American shale sector has matured far faster and more holistically than I could have ever expected.

Despite a price crash in oil markets, despite ongoing opposition to shale among a far from insignificant portion of the population, despite broad scale ignorance about what shale is and what shale is not, shale has already overhauled American energy.

In 2006 total American oil production had dropped to 8.3mbpd while demand was touching 20.7mpbd, forcing the United States to import 12.4mpbd, more than Japan and China and Germany combined. By 2016 U.S. oil output had breached 15mbpd. Factor in the Canadians and Mexicans, and total American imports of non-North American oil had plunged to about 2mbpd — and that in the teeth of an oil price war. And that’s just oil specifically. Take a more comprehensive view and include everything from bunker fuel to propane, and the continent is less than 0.8mbpd from being a net energy exporter.

The end of American dependence upon extra-continental energy sources does more than sever the largest of the remaining ties that bind America’s fate to the wider world, it sets into motion a veritable cavalcade of trends: the re-industrialization of the United States, the accelerated breakdown of the global order, and a series of wide-ranging military conflicts that will shape the next two decades.

This book’s opening section contains the long and the short of this Shale New World, the greatest evolution of the American industrial space since at least 1970. For the financiers and accountants and policy wonks out there, this was written with your geeky brains specifically in mind.

Second, the isolationist trickle I detected in American politics has deepened and expanded into a raging river. Of the two dozen men and women who entered the 2016 presidential race, only one — Ohio Governor John Kasich — advocated for a continuation of America’s role in maintaining the global security and trade order that the Americans installed and have maintained since 1945. The most anti-trade candidate on the right won his party’s nomination, while the most anti-trade candidate on the left finished a close second in the Democratic primaries to the Clinton political machine. Last night (now President) Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton met in New York to debate economic policy. What struck me as self-gratifying and horrifying in equal measure was that their core disagreement on trade issues wasn’t whether trade was good or bad for the United States, but how much to pare it back and which reasons for paring cut it the most with the electorate. (The pair of them obviously disagreed — colorfully, vehemently and often — on other issues.)

The world has had seven decades to become inured to a world in which the Americans do the heavy lifting to maintain a system that economically benefits all. The world has had three decades to become inured to a world in which the Americans do not expect anything of substance in return. As the Americans back away, very few players have any inkling of how to operate in a world where markets are not open, transport is not safe, and energy cannot be secured easily.

The stage is set for a global tailspin of epic proportions. Just as the global economy tips into deflation, just as global energy is becoming dangerous, just as global demographics catastrophically reduce global consumption, just as the world really needs the Americans to be engaged, the United States will be…absent. We stand on the very edge of the Disorder.

The Disorder’s defining characteristic is, well, its lack of order. Remove the comfortable, smothering American presence in the world and the rest of humanity has to look out for its own interests. As many of those interests clash, expect devolutions that are deeply-felt and disastrous in equal measure. Part II breaks down the breakdown. I’m equally proud and terrified to report that some of the darker shades in Accidental are happening sooner rather than later. For generals — armchair or otherwise — who prefer jumping directly into the fight, Part II is what you’re after.

In the final section we will circle back at take a good hard look at the United States. Energy independent, economically robust, physically secure, and — above all — strategically unfettered, the United States will be taking a break from the world writ large for the most part.

Yet “for the most part” is a far cry from a full divorce from all things international. The Yanks will still find bits of the world worth their time, effort, money and ammunition. Section III explores the American Play: where the Americans will still be found, why they will be there, how they’ll act, and what they’ll be up to.

It may be small comfort, but the acceleration of the shale revolution as well as the American political shift towards populism has illuminated a great deal, sharpening my view of the future. The various glimpses that made up Accidental have somewhat merged, lingering to the point that they now constitute a bit of a roadmap.

That roadmap is the core of this book.

Peter Zeihan
September 27, 2016
Somewhere over Kentucky

>>BUY THE ABSENT SUPOWER POWER NOW<<

Europe’s Next Crisis

The world got a harsh reminder last week that the European financial crisis, about to enter its eleventh year (that’s right, it started before the 2007 subprime meltdown) has yet to get truly serious.

After failing to find new strategic investors, the Italian government announced its intention to nationalize (read: bailout) the major bank Monte dei Paschi.

Ok, so this leaves most people asking, so what? It’s just one bank, and it isn’t like Monte dei Paschi is a globally systemic institution like the Royal Bank of Scotland or Bank of America. So bad for Italy and not great for Europe, but why should anyone else care?

The real problem is that Monte dei Paschi is hardly an outlier in the Italian banking sector, or even the broader European banking sector. There is no shortage of reasons why Europe’s banks are doomed.

First, the euro. When the euro became the European Union’s common currency at the turn of the century, a number of countries with weaker financial and economic systems (read: Italy) were allowed to join when they probably shouldn’t have been. This enabled consumers in these countries to borrow at rates that in most cases were one-third (or less) the previous rates. Consumption skyrocketed, and growth with it, but that consumption was driven by debt — not by increases in production or productivity. After a few years these countries suffered debt hangovers that they couldn’t possibly repay, and they’ve barely had any economic growth since. All that debt is held by banks like Monte dei Paschi.


Second, the debt binge wasn’t limited to consumers. The banks themselves took part, particularly secondary financial players in the European markets like Sweden, Austria, Greece, and Italy. With the major markets of Germany, France, and Spain already controlled by local institutions, banks in these secondary states sought market share on the frontier: the Baltics, Hungary, Albania, and the former Yugoslavia. Such locations were hit particularly hard in the 2007 global financial crisis, souring massive holdings and serving as deadweight on the banks’ balance sheets to the current day. A fair chunk of Monte dei Paschi’s borrowing went to … Serbia.

Third, foreign currency lending. Banks in these secondary countries often borrowed from stronger banks in euros, U.S. dollars, or even Japanese yen and then made loans in those currencies into countries with independent currencies. The bet was that the weaker currencies (the Hungarian forint, Polish zloty and such) would appreciate over time, reducing the relative weight of the retail loans and increasing the locals’ purchasing power. Unfortunately, currency movements are not always one-way. When local currencies crashed, those loans immediately soured because the lendees couldn’t pay. Local governments often intervened with regulations expressly designed to help their citizens and stick the foreign banks with the bill. Monte dei Paschi was known to dabble in loans denominated in Swiss francs — a currency that has since strongly appreciated against pretty much everyone else because it is a top destination for capital flight out of Europe.

Fourth, subprime was hardly limited to the United States. Europe had its own that was far more serious, in part because Europe cannot assimilate migrants as well as America. In the United States nationality is largely defined by the migrant (I choose to be American) and so the American dream, upward mobility, societal inclusion, and home ownership are more or less standard. In Europe nationality is largely defined by the dominant ethnicity (we choose to accept you as French), erecting a massive cultural and even legal barrier to inclusion. One, among many, results is low home ownership among immigrants into Europe. With that potential demand removed, any housing boom has to get by with far less demand, which often leaves speculation driving things. In the United States, new homeowners (read: migrants) have helped eat through the surplus housing stock and restored balance. In Europe surplus housing sits empty. Italy had a housing boom in the early 2000s, but migrants into Italy tend to be of the poorer sort.

Fifth, European banks are not free agents like American banks, but are instead beholden to government interest. The United States is a common financial space because of its geography. Trade happens on rivers and banks process that trade; and since the American river system is interconnected, the banking system isn’t divvied up by the states but is truly national. Not politically beholden, American banks can focus on risk management and making money. In contrast, most of Europe’s rivers are national affairs, home to a specific people and a specific government. Europe’s banks reflect this structure, and as a rule don’t do much business outside of their home markets. This results in a small fleet of problems:

  • Most governments lean on the banks to invest in government debt in order to fund the government budget. That’s somewhat ok during normal years, but during recession (when government funding needs balloon) it means the banks lack the capacity to lend to the private sector. Growth pretty much dies.
  • National bailouts become problematic, if not impossible. Should a government try and bailout a failing bank, it must either find money from beyond the banking sector (which would normally lend the government money) or convince its European partners the bailout isn’t a subsidy (which, by definition, it is).
  • EU-level bailouts are even more problematic, and not simply because no one wants to pay for a bailout in another state. In a “normal” system the state takes control of a damaged bank until that bank can be rehabilitated, and then releases it back to the wild. In essence the government buys low and sells high. You can’t do that when the bailout funds come from another country. Part of the rehabilitation often means rationalizing the books, a process that tends to gut the bank’s original investors (the government) and even depositors (the citizens).

The Monte dei Paschi is expected to run at least 20 billion euro, and that’s just to hold things steady, not actually rehabilitate the lender.

The only long-term solution to this sort of ingrained dysfunction is to grow out of the problem by making healthy loans over a decade of time. But that is now flat out impossible. Banks make money on the spread between the cost of their funds and the cost of their loans, and most loans are taken out by people under 40 — such young people are the source of most of the car loans, house loans, and college loans that drive a modern economy. Europe is at negative interest rates and Europe faces demographic collapse. That’s less income per loan on a smaller volume of potential loans.

The collapse in Europe’s birth rate is now 40 years strong, with Italy in particular having aged past the point of any possible demographic recovery.

Officially, over 18% of the loans held by Italy’s banks are non-performing, but because all a bank has to do to push a loan into the “performing” category is show that it received a partial payment within the past three months, that real figure is undoubtedly far higher. As a point of comparison, U.S. regulatory authorities close down banks when non-performing rates breach 5%.

Bottom line? The Greek sovereign debt crisis was only the warm up. The Europeans could — and did — build a financial wall around the place to block it off from the rest of the Union. The cost of that wall has already been about $500 billion for an economy whose GDP is but $200 billion. Italy’s sovereign debt is six times that of Greece. Italy’s economy is nine times, and its banking sector something like twenty times.

Greece could only kill Europe if there was gross mismanagement on Europe’s part (although it was touch-and-go there for awhile). Italy can only not kill Europe if there is a miracle.

Gasoline on the Trade War Fire

Something happened yesterday with the Trump transition that worried me. By “worry” I mean it is great for me personally, but as I’m a bit of a purveyor of doom and gloom, everyone else should perhaps be a bit concerned.

It is probably not what most of you are thinking.

Many assert that Trump’s push for a deep bench of billionaires in his cabinet is generating the most serious conflicts of interest in modern history. (I find it adorable that some folks think self-interest is new to Washington.) Just look at it in context. Obama’s first cabinet had a combined 122 years in government experience and only five in the private sector. Un-shockingly, the Obama administration proved rather inept when it came to having conversations with people, while proving a champ at enacting regulations. Trump is simply the inverse. We’ve had a change in rulership, which will mean a change in policy and a change in approach. No biggie from my point of view.

No, I’m more concerned about something that was almost glossed over. President-elect Donald Trump announced Peter Navarro, a professor at the University of California (Irvine), would be in charge of trade policy. Specifically Navarro will run a new office called the National Trade Council.

Now I don’t have major concerns about Navarro in general. To put him in what I hope is not an unfair nutshell, Navarro is an anti-China agitator whose most notable book is “Death by China.” He advocates, among other things, a broad-scale economic, strategic, and political confrontation to sever exploitive economic exposure to China completely and, if need be, forcibly break the entire Chinese political and economic system. (Like I said, doom and gloom = good for Peter.)

My concern isn’t so much about his views as his likely style.

Shanghai, People’s Republic of China

Putting an academic in a policy position bears risks. Unlike bureaucrats, they don’t know how systems work. Unlike military officers, they think “chain of command” simply means everyone does what they say. Unlike business people, they have no practical experience in making decisions or compromises or making things happen with limited resources. What sounds great in the classroom sometimes shatters upon contact with hard realities, and it is far from unheard of for academics to then look for what’s wrong with the world rather than reevaluate their theories. As such academics’ record in government service is unsurprisingly patchy. A couple of examples:

Robert McNamara brought in a bunch of quantitative analysis professors to put numbers into the planning of the Vietnam war. The idea was to be able to have metrics for assessing how pacification was progressing, and how hearts and minds could be won. Unfortunately, the methods of the “whiz kids” couldn’t be reconciled with the facts in the jungle, and the profs were unwilling to admit that their formulas were unworkable. The war ended up being far more brutal and bloodier than it needed to be.

More recently, President Barack Obama put Stanford professor Michael McFaul in charge of Russia policy. McFaul’s views of Russian society and governance offended everyone in the Kremlin with breathtaking efficiency, effectively walling off the entire American diplomatic apparatus from Russia.  The result was the fastest, deepest slide in any two countries’ relations in recent history that did not end in war, contributing to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Russia’s participation in the Syria war. Geopolitics may all but dictate Russia’s efforts, but (bad) diplomacy certainly sets the course and timing. Reset indeed.

My goal here isn’t to crap on academics. Lord knows I know plenty of academics who are utterly essential to many in and out of government, myself included. I’m simply pointing out that the culture of academia often does not necessarily mesh well with the culture of governance … and we now have a vehemently anti-China academic overseeing America’s primary interface with the rest of the global system. Combine that with Trump’s statements on Taiwan and I think it is pretty clear that a broad-scale competition with the Chinese is now not just baked into the system, but that on the American side it will be incredibly visceral, aggressive and fueled by personal vitriol. And thats before one considers the President-elect’s personality. Things are about to get decidedly lively (again, good for Peter).

If I’m right on this, an uber tradewar with the Chinese is just around the corner. I’ve dealt with many of the likely futures for China in previous newsletters and in The Accidental Superpower so I’ll just hit the highlights here and spend most of my typing on follow-on effects:

  • China faces an internal political crisis. Southern China is far more economically viable than the rest of China, far more exposed to foreign trade, and far more culturally willing to work with foreigners. The portions of China that will suffer the most also are the most likely to not look to Beijing for leadership. Traditionally, secession threats are a very big deal in China. They are about to be once again.
  • Foreign investors in China — especially U.S. investors or investors in interior China — stand to lose everything. The rough translation of “joint venture” in Mandarin is “you pay for everything and we’ll steal all your tech.” Anyone who still has any trade secrets left is about to lose them all, and the Chinese will confiscate your entire physical plant in the name of national security. Time to work on those exit contingencies and shareholder explanations. Might want to start with plans for any key employees of Chinese ethnicity as Beijing doesn’t consider foreign citizenship a barrier to arrest on charges of sedition.
  • Northeast Asia faces massive upsets. Fully half of the world’s manufacturing supply chain steps are in the region, with most of those dependent upon Chinese links. Any meaningful Chinese-American trade conflict breaks many (if not most) of them. The country likely to get the worst of it is Taiwan, since the country’s companies are on the small side (most sell into a single supply chain) and the local market is but 23 million people.
  • The inverse is true for North America’s I35 corridor — in particular from Mexico City to Oklahoma City — which is the piece of the world most likely to pick up manufacturing capacity that will need to relocate. Easy regulation, the large Texas population, good infrastructure, cheap land, underpriced but high-skilled labor, and cheap and reliable energy all add up to short- and long-term manufacturing booms. (Navarro is not known to have particularly blistering opinions on Mexico.)
  • The biggest loser beyond the immediate region likely will be Australia. The Aussies have bet the farm on the Chinese industrialization process and their raw materials exports will flatly collapse. This is hardly the end of Australia, but their golden generation of economic growth is about to go into screeching reverse — and they have a lot of fat to cut.
  • The oil exporters of the Persian Gulf are also about to get hit hard. Anything that crimps Northeast Asian economic activity is going to prove crushing to them, since Northeast Asia takes more than half of the Persian Gulf’s collective oil exports.
  • It is unthinkable that the Americans will take the Chinese to task in a spat of statism, protectionism, and populism; and the far more statist, protectionist, and populist Europeans will not pile on. Expect France and Italy to lead the charge for broad-scale European trade sanctions on China.

Turkish Turning Point?

Today, Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, was giving a speech at the opening ceremony of a photo exhibit when an assailant, who has since been identified as a standing police officer, opened fire, killing Karlov. Karlov had served in his ambassadorial role to Turkey since July 2013. He previously served as Russia’s ambassador to North Korea.

There are two relevant bits here. First, Russian politics.

I don’t mean to sound trite here, but politics in Russia are nothing like politics in the United States. In the United States there are dozens of routes to political power. The Clintons came out of local government. The Bushes out of business. Carter out of agriculture. Obama out of academia. Reagan out of Hollywood. An economically rich geography fosters a strong civil society which provides myriad paths to political power.

That’s not how things fly in Russia. The geography and political system are so hostile there is only one way to national leadership: first be a senior intelligence officer. These folks are the only ones who have a sufficiently accurate and complete view of the country that they can even attempt a national role. This makes Russia’s leadership much more intelligent and competent than the American leadership, but it also makes the Russian leadership thin and brittle. (Technically, Karlov was a career diplomat, but mere functionaries aren’t appointed ambassador to countries as politically prickly and strategically sensitive as North Korea.)

The American political class probably has around two million people. The Russian political class has but 200. With the death of Karlov they have one less. This would be bad enough under normal circumstances, but circumstances in Russia are far from normal.

Red Square in Moscow, Russia

Between the Soviet breakup and the subsequent collapse of the Russian healthcare system, the Russian population is one of the fastest aging and most diseased in the world. By 2050 the Russian population will have shrunk by one-quarter, with ethnic Russians no longer the majority. For a country where oppression of minorities is the cultural equivalent of baseball, this will prove a swampy problem.

Back to the issue of the moment, replacing skilled diplomats is hard enough. Skill sets like Karlov’s which include language competency in Russian, English, Korean and Turkish are hard to develop. Factor in Russia’s demographic hollowing out and Karlov is utterly irreplaceable.

The second issue regards Russia’s relationship with Turkey.

According to initial reports, Karlov’s assassin shouted condemnations of Russia’s policy in Syria in general and Aleppo in specific. It was just the sort of high-profile action that puts a spotlight on political policies and inspires militants of various stripes. (Imagine the fallout had a Mountie killed the American ambassador to Canada during the Iraq War.)

As regards the Turks, Turkey has been in a bit of a geopolitical deepfreeze since its catastrophic defeat in World War One. For most of the time since, the Turks farmed out control of their foreign policy to the United States in exchange for economic access and strategic cover. Of late the Turkish government has begun emerging from its self-imposed shell and started to form opinions as to what its independent strategic posture should be.

At first Ankara assumed that everyone in its neighborhood would do whatever it wanted because Turkey is so inherently awesome. This included expectations that the Israelis would pay for a fully independent Palestinian state, that revolutionary Egypt would model its government after Turkey’s ruling party, that Baghdad would subjugate its foreign and civil policy to Turkish norms, that the Syrian government would overthrow itself, and that U.S. troops would deploy to Syria to carry out Turkish desires. Needless to say, things didn’t exactly work out as the Turks predicted.

Istanbul, Turkey

Instead, Turkey found itself in a panicked argument with the Russians when a Turkish air defense battery shot down a Russian jet operating in Syria. After an initial bout of Turkish bombast, Ankara was faced with the harsh reality that they were diplomatically out of practice, utterly bereft of meaningful allies, and on the verge of a very real war with the Russians.

Enter Karlov, who has a record of successfully manipulating people as testy as North Korea’s Kim Il Sung. The result was Turkey’s ignoble Karlov-managed climbdown. Part of that climbdown was admitting (unofficially) that the Russians owned Syria and any meaningful Turkish policy there required Russian sign-off. After all, the Russians were willing to bomb anyone they thought needed bombing, and the Turks were not.

Karlov’s assassination drags Turkey’s capitulation, Turkey’s (non-)position in the Syrian war, and the broader Turkish-Russian relationship all back into the spotlight. All these things and more are now back at the top of the Turks’ internal to-debate list. It also creates a rare window. With Russia’s man in Turkey gone, the Turks have a moment to have these debates with less outside interference.

Which way will the Turks go? No idea. The Balkans hold more economic opportunity but expansion there would clash with Europe. The Caucasus hold more cultural opportunity but expansion there would clash with Russia. Syria holds more immediate military and political opportunity but expansion there means wading into a thankless civil war.

Turkey’s neighborhood is messy. For 70 years, Turkey’s quiescence has kept the region’s biggest and most capable power from participating. Don’t bet on that continuing.

At the Edge of Disorder

Last week, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump shook the global diplomatic community to its bedrock by throwing the One China policy into doubt, specifically noting, “I don’t know why we have to be bound by a One China policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade.” He expressly linked One China to possible negotiations over the South China Sea and the North Korean nuclear program.

The One China concept is that meaningful, positive relations with the Chinese are predicated on public proclamations that mainland China and island Taiwan are one and the same country, and that Beijing oversees the whole thing. American acceptance of One China is not something that was agreed to lightly, but is instead part of a deeper strategy.

In the aftermath of the Normandy invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe, the Americans drew their Western allies and their major colonies together at Bretton Woods to prepare for the post-World War II (WWII) world. Pre-WWII global commerce was fiercely competitive with all countries using all levers of power to maximize their overall strategic position. Trade, finance, culture, employment, and war were all simultaneously tools and vulnerabilities. Successful states/empires would use all of them to maximize their gains in others. One result was the all-against-all nature of pre-1945 international affairs, ultimately leading to WWII.

Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire

At Bretton Woods the Americans changed the nature of the game. From now on the U.S. Navy would guard oceanic commerce for all participants, while the American economy would be opened to all participants. There was, of course, a catch — you had to join the Americans in their Cold War.

As the Cold War took shape new countries were admitted into the Bretton Woods system. Former Axis. Former neutrals. Developing countries. And finally, China. Unsurprisingly, Beijing insisted the Americans adhere to One China. Under Henry Kissinger’s guidance, the United States willingly and knowingly swallowed One China hook, line, and sinker. Bolstered by China, the Bretton Woods system now presented the Soviets with hostility in all directions. It was quite the strategic coup, and contributed heavily to Soviet overextension and eventually, collapse.

Yet the key factor to remember is that Bretton Woods firmly limited how the Americans could pursue trade. American market access was extended to allies for strategic reasons. Anyone could dump products on the American market, so long as they maintained their position in the anti-Soviet wall.

But the Cold War is over. Bretton Woods has outlived America’s strategic needs, and American trade policy is now evolving to serve America’s economic needs. Trump’s statement on One China is (probably) not an off-the-cuff comment, but instead a true pivot away from Bretton Woods and towards a fundamentally new strategic posture. If the American government no longer views trade as a means to an end, but instead an end in its own right, it can and will begin using issues such as trade access, maritime security, and political positions on issues such as One China to cut different deals. That changes the global strategic picture radically.

China is wildly unprepared for such a shift. Everything about the modern Chinese system was designed expressly for the Bretton Woods system. The economy is export-led. Efforts to drive domestic consumption have largely ended in ignoble failure. The economy is driven by an Enronesque flooding of the industrial sector with subsidized capital. Such growth comes at the cost of sustainability and a functional banking system. China’s strategic position is completely dependent upon the United States offering market access and guaranteeing freedom of the seas for China’s merchandise exports and raw material and energy imports. Remove the economic and strategic cover of Bretton Woods, and it all comes crashing down.

Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China

Even mentally the Chinese are not prepared for change. Since the election, the only American that Beijing has reached out to is none other than Henry Kissinger himself, the only statesman the Chinese respect and trust. But while Kissinger remains strategically brilliant, his connections and advice are firmly rooted — critics might say mired in — the Bretton Woods age. Beijing is so in love with its China Rising mantra — again, made possible by Bretton Woods — that it just cannot come to grips with the fact that the Americans might now have other plans.

Or that the Americans hold most of the cards. No surprise that Chinese state media’s response to Trump’s offhand statement could best be described as a seizure.

The Chinese are not alone:

  • Like China, modern Germany was expressly designed to maximize exports to the Bretton Woods system to the point that nearly half of German GDP is export-driven. In fact, the entire EU project relies upon the United States market as well as U.S. military protection for commodity import supply lines. Other countries heavily dependent upon global trade include — but are far from limited to — South, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Japan, the oil producers of the Persian Gulf, Egypt, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Algeria, South Africa, and Israel. If these countries — or any others dependent upon trade — are going to retain market access and maritime trade opportunities, they will need to offer the Americans something in return.
  • A whole host of countries are utterly dependent upon implicit or explicit U.S. security guarantees. A partial list includes Estonia, Latvia, Kuwait, Lithuania, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Finland, South Korea, Germany, Romania, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Taiwan, Japan, Sweden, Singapore, Croatia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Turkey, and Israel. If these countries are going to retain that strategic cover, they must give the Americans something the Americans find useful.
  • Part and parcel of the Bretton Woods system is the guarding of energy flows, in particular those out of the Persian Gulf. Remove American guarantees and the countries of the Gulf have to resolve their security issues themselves. That endangers energy flows at the point of production, within the Gulf, at the Strait of Hormuz, and even globally as importers must take supply protection into their own hands.

Of course, there is still a lot of wiggle room in all of this. And regardless it won’t all change (or fall apart) overnight. Some relations (like U.S.-Japan) have more ballast. Others (like U.S.-Australia) are so rooted in cultural, strategic, economic, financial, and political fundaments that they’ll likely survive on their own merits. But for every relationship that looks solid, there are a half-dozen others that just don’t make much sense outside of the Cold War rubric.

A few specific calls on the countries that are not likely to make the cut:

  • South Korea is too exposed (and expensive to maintain) for the Americans to continue a deep relationship.
  • The United States has been fighting a war of zero strategic relevance in the Philippines for a half century (anyone remember Mindanao?); that’s pointless except as a hedge against China.
  • Egypt’s descent into impoverished, dysfunctional tyranny means that it no longer is a threat to anyone, much less nuclear-armed Israel.
  • Syria’s civil war eliminates Damascus as a concern, eliminating any rational for ongoing alignment with Jordan.
  • Relations with Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates have long been dominated by the concern of oil availability. Because of the shale revolution, the Americans only need that oil to fuel their alliance — an alliance that now is largely strategically irrelevant.
  • Subsidizing German, Polish, Baltic, and Romanian economic and physical security only makes sense if the United States wants to risk a ground war with an increasingly insecure (and yet still nuclear-armed) Russia.
  • Pakistan is nothing more than a giant pain in the ass.

What’s coming can only be described as the opposite of a global order — a Disorder.

Want to know more about what that looks like? Our next book — The Absent Superpower: The Shale Revolution and a World Without America — went to the printer today. It should be available in about two weeks. : )