By Chet Yarbrough
The Accidental Superpower
By: Peter Zeihan
Narrated by Peter Zeihan
Peter Zeihan (Author, American geopolitical strategist)
“The Accidental Superpower” is a wild ride. Peter Zeihan is a geopolitical strategist and futurist who argues that geography is destiny. His prognosis for America is perversely positive.
Zeihan suggests America is in the “cat bird” seat for this and the next (yet to be born) generation. The “cat bird” seat implies a superior position of survival in a world headed toward crises.
“The Accidental Superpower” is a cautionary tale that suggests the tail will wag the dog.
If America’s current actions and future intent is to abandon Bretton Woods’ history, then Zeihan implies wars will continue, famine and pestilence proliferate, millions will die, and self-interest will be humanities’ only interest. In the era of Trump, Zeihan shows the reach and potential of bullies in the world.
Zeihan builds a credible and terrifying argument. The Bretton Woods Agreement was created in 1944. Its purpose was to set up a system of rules to ensure economic stability around the world. Zeihan notes that America has steadily abandoned the principle of Bretton Woods since 1973 when the U.S. suspended the gold standard for the American dollar.
It is not to suggest that the gold standard should be re-instituted but that the American dollar became the new standard for world economies. In part, because the basis for economic wealth became the American dollar.
The American dollar gives the United States an outsize influence in the world. That influence is reinforced by an unparalleled military/industrial complex.
The resources of America became a primary standard for economic stability in the world. Zeihan argues the legitimacy of Bretton Woods is replaced by the geographic existence of the United States. America is bordered by two oceans, blessed with an internal river transport system, natural energy resources (including Shale oil which makes the U.S. oil independent), a replenishing labor force (supplemented by immigration), and economic growth. Therein, Zeihan explains America is capable of ignoring the rest of the world.
This is a disturbing view of realpolitik. Zeihan infers the United States can be the bully of the world because of its military superiority. Military superiority is an illusion.
Putin and Trump are cut from the same cloth.
“Making America Great” changed the beneficent image of America as the land of the free to the land of autocratic whim. What history demonstrates is democracy and autocracy are riven with contradictions. Democracy is as subject to self-interested hegemonic geopolitical action as autocracy. America’s election of Trump shows how democracy can be as autocratic as Russia.
Empathy is an essential characteristic missing from a nationalist credo that believes it is “my way or the highway”. With a belief system based on “self-interest”, and the mantra of philosophers like Ayn Rand, the world seems destined to destroy itself.
The question is — Will President Biden’s more supportive view of American government and empathetic support for the poor and lower middle class really change Zeihan’s perverse view of the world’s future? Zeihan infers no American President, whether empathetic or uncaring, will make much difference.
Zeihan supports his future predictions with a logic borne from geographic facts, history, and philosophical belief. Zeihan’s perception of the world’s future creates fear and trembling in any who choose to believe it.
A few of Zeihan’s predictions are:
- China will not grow to be a superpower and will follow the path of Japan with an aging population that cannot maintain its economic growth. The diverse nature of its population is hidden by the false belief that the Han people are of one mind. Internal dissension will rise. China is subject to river flooding and hemmed in by mountains and narrow waterways.
- Russia will covet the land of other nations because of an economy that rests on dwindling natural resources, a harsh environment, and lack of international trading ports. The Tatar and Chechen populations will continue to plague consolidation of power in Russia.
- South African nations will suffer from starvation because of its lack of arable land. Angola is one of the few African nations that may escape that fate because of its fertile land and young population.
- The European Union will fail because of nationalism, a lack of a viable common currency, and its failure to consolidate political power.
- Great Britain will become more dependent on the U.S. for trade and survival.
- Turkey will strengthen its influence and control over the Middle East through military strength and a young and growing population.
- Uzbekistan will become a more powerful independent nation because of its relatively young population and abundant clean energy (largely from hydroelectricity).
- Australia and New Zealand will prosper because of its vibrant agricultural economies, and ocean-bound isolation.
- Saudi Arabia will fail as an economic powerhouse because of its dependence on foreign labor for all industrial development. Saudi citizens are minor participants in the labor market, and unprepared to compete in an industrialized world.
- Iran is demographically young but burdened by an arid climate. Its religious intolerance will be an impediment to economic growth.
- Spain, Portugal, and Italy are vulnerable to outside influence, inflation, high unemployment, and growing economic weakness.
- Germany may once again rise as a belligerent state because of its need to expand to continue its economic growth. Its driven and well educated population reinforces industrial and technological growth.
- Canada will become a failed nation because of its aging demographics and diverse population. Failure will only be abated by its relationship with the U.S. Zeihan suggests Alberta should consider becoming part of the U.S. because of its one industry dependence (oil).
- The relationship between Mexico and the U.S. will improve because of proximity and mutual trade benefits. The drug war will continue and perversely improve the Mexican economy. Drug war areas will be isolated to narrow parts of the country.
- Climate change is real, but its impact will be mitigated in the U.S. with hardening infrastructure in coastal cities that will mitigate or abate flooding. Most of Florida will disappear under water. Many island archipelagos will also disappear.
- Pakistan’s diverse population will continue to disrupt political control of the country. Its conflict with India will continue despite diminishing financial support from the U.S.
- India’s economy will suffer from environmental degradation.
In conclusion, Zeihan suggests America will remain a superpower with outsize influence on the success or failure of other nations.
A caveat might be America may become the bully of the world; at least until a nuclear war or accident decimates the environment.
There is good reason to have fear and trembling for this world’s future if “self-interest” is the only criteria for well-being.
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