George Friedman-CEO of Stratfor (Strategic Forecasting, Inc.), sometimes called "the Shadow CIA"-may be the most brilliant writer on foreign policy since Niccolo Machiavelli. His new book, The Next Decade, which Doubleday plans to publish on Jan. 25, lucidly lays out the international challenges that U.S. presidents face. I've read Friedman books and Stratfor reports, dined with him half a dozen times, and see him as a genius "under the sun," as Ecclesiastes would put it-but he doesn't account for the Son.
Let's begin comparing a Christian view of the world to Friedman's by starting where Friedman starts: theater. He lifts the curtain on The Next Decade with a quotation from Ronald Reagan: "We cannot play innocents abroad in a world that is not innocent." He notes that the 40th president was decisively shrewd in his battle with the Soviet empire but content to let his liberal opponents characterize him as an amiable dunce: Reagan's best acting role came in the White House, and Friedman contends that every president needs to be a thespian.
Friedman argues that current American debate about "whether the United States should be an empire is meaningless. It is an empire"-and on that he's right. Friedman's understanding of the previous world empire, the British one, is also acute: "Old-school imperialists didn't rule by main force. Instead, they maintained their dominance by setting regional players against each other. . . . The lesson we should have learned from the British is that there are far more effective, if cynical, ways to manage wars in Asia and Europe. One is by diverting the resources of potential enemies away from the United States and toward a neighbor."
Let me state that proposition more nastily than any support-seeking president or author ever would, publicly: The goal of U.S. foreign policy should be to have ambitious leaders, and their human puppets, kill each other so they don't kill Americans. For that purpose a president should work to "create alliances in which the United States maneuvers other countries into bearing the major burden of confrontation or conflict."
Friedman says the "Machiavellian president" we need should be "a master at managing illusions," able to "conduct a ruthless, unsentimental foreign policy" by playing "to the public's sentimentality while moving policy beyond it." Friedman criticizes both Presidents Bush and Obama not for speaking in high-minded ways-that's part of their job description-but for engaging in "ad hoc adventures . . . as if they believed their own rhetoric."
An effective president, Friedman argues, maintains "a ruthless sense of proportion while keeping the coldness of his calculations to himself." Is he immoral? No, Friedman says: "The realities of geopolitics do not give presidents the luxury of exercising virtue in the way we think of it when applied to ordinary citizens."
Friedman proposes "a definition of virtue that violates our common notions of what virtue is." Truth-telling? The virtuous president will lie. Loyalty to those who have trusted us? "The United States made promises to Georgia [the ex-Soviet republic in the Caucasus] that it now isn't going to keep. But when we look at the broader picture, this betrayal increases America's ability to keep other commitments." Compassion toward the suffering in places such as Africa? Fine for some to be charitable if they give intelligently, but Friedman's chapter heading is "AFRICA: A PLACE TO LEAVE ALONE. . . . Ultimately, the United States has no overwhelming interest in Africa."
Friedman's ideal president seems a little like the Empress Jadis and Uncle Andrew (in C.S. Lewis' The Magician's Nephew) justifying their selfishness by saying, "Ours is a high and lonely destiny"-except that a U.S. president really is high and lonely. Friedman is not lustily advocating immorality: He writes, "The moral compass must be there, but it points in many directions." He's advocating the morality of a general who sacrifices some soldiers so that others may live. He's advocating the morality of Abraham Lincoln who spoke of binding up the nation's wounds but in 1864 was "doing the arithmetic" of wounding and killing: If thousands of Union soldiers (who could be replaced) die and take into their graves thousands of Confederates (who could not be), the North wins.
Friedman loves America, the country that gave him shelter at age 3 after his parents, Holocaust survivors, escaped from Hungary in 1949 (see "Shadow wonk," WORLD, Jan. 31, 2009). Like Lincoln, he wants the United States to act forcefully to survive: "During war, understanding power means that crushing the enemy quickly and thoroughly is kinder than either extending the war through scruples or losing the war through sentimentality." The United States must unblinkingly do what it should do to survive and thrive: "The unsentimental approach means breaking free of the entire Cold War system of alliances and institutions, including NATO, the International Monetary Fund, and the United Nations."
And, lest we think that it's wrong for a U.S. president to be a posing actor, Friedman stipulates that leaders of other countries regularly lie. For example, Friedman argues that drug money is crucial to the Mexican economy, and drug violence is concentrated along the border, not in the populated heartland of Mexico. On balance, Mexico benefits from the drug traffic, so Mexican leaders "give the appearance of trying to stop the drug trade while making certain that all significant efforts fail. This keeps the U.S. mollified while making certain that the money continues to pour in."
Theater, theater, theater. Friedman's revision of morality presents a profound challenge to a Christian view of the world: If the Christian understanding is that our lives are both worse and better than we normally suspect-we're both more sinful and more loved than we imagine-then Friedman has the sinful part right. With many of his relatives killed in the Holocaust, he does not see any reason to be honest when Nazis come to the door asking if Jews are hiding inside. He wants to kill them before they kill the relatives-or better yet, maneuver evildoers (and that's much of the world) into killing each other.
Friedman, in his single New Testament reference within The Next Decade, quotes part of the famous chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians: "When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways." He does not quote another part: "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends."
What does that mean, applied to international relations? It doesn't mean nonviolence: Another chapter 13, of the book of Romans, gives rulers a sword to carry out God's "wrath on the wrongdoer." But it also doesn't mean that patience and kindness are childish things, with love to be treated as one four-letter word among others: Granted, evil dictators deserve their comeuppance, yet their wars kill many who are innocent. It's not easy to say how Christian presidents should act-Friedman rightly notes that "two presidents who attempted to pursue virtue directly, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush, failed spectacularly"-but they will be aware of a deeper drama.
Friedman and I both grew up reading Isaac Asimov's Foundation novels, frequently named the best science fiction series ever. In it the prognostications of a brilliant social scientist are torn asunder by the emergence of the Mule, a telepathic freak with the ability to reach into the minds of others and "adjust" their emotions: The Mule, emerging from a miserable childhood and out to take revenge on humanity, conquers much of the galaxy.
Friedman is right to think of the world as a theater, but he does not understand that it is a theater of God. Throughout the Old Testament God regularly raises up kings and smashes empires, sometimes using evil rulers-such as the Syrian king Hazael-to do His bidding. In the New Testament someone far greater than the Mule takes center stage: The Lamb, Jesus, is able to "turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers."
The coming of Christ means that the world is not a Hobbesian struggle of all against all with no supernatural intervention possible, war without end, amen. Friedman does not mention the way that Christ has turned tens of millions of Chinese hearts toward their Father in heaven: If more and more Chinese turn to Christ, they will change that country and the future of the world. Perhaps our official foreign policy should ignore Africa, but another foreign policy is going on simultaneously, led by missionaries, evangelists, entrepreneurs, and compassionate helpers-and that, within God's plan, may tell us more about the long-range future.
Friedman's sensational work takes us part of the way to understanding the theater of international politics and letting us see the harsh reality behind honeyed words. In Isaac Asimov's fiction the Mule dies in his 30s, and his empire disintegrates. In God's reality the Lamb dies in his 30s and lives forever, creating a different and deeper reality.
A simplified (sometimes oversimplified) version of Friedman's analysis:
Afghanistan: The Taliban will rule it once again.
Baltic countries: Use them as bargaining chips with Russia.
Brazil & Argentina: Ideally, they are counterweights to each other.
China & Japan: Ditto.
Germany & Russia: Ditto.
India & Pakistan: Ditto.
Iraq & Iran: Ditto, but for now develop a détente with Iran.
Israel: Disengage (Israel no longer needs U.S. aid, anyway).
Jordan, Egypt: They function in effect as allies of Israel.
Most of Latin America: Largely ignore.
Poland: Support it as "a bone in the throat of both Germany and Russia."
Saudi Arabia: Use Iran to scare its rulers.
Turkey: Make sure it and Iran do not form an alliance.
Georgia: Throw it under the Russian train.