Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Good questions 

Periodically, the geopolitical intelligence service Stratfor issues notices that ask its internal staff and external sources to focus on questions that it considers of great moment. Sometimes the questions are more interesting than the answers. Stratfor's most recent guidance document asks for thinking on the following topics, among others:
George W. Bush has won the election and begun reshaping his Cabinet. There is no longer a period of ambiguity and potential change in leadership. How does the world respond, both in the short term and in strategic planning for the next three or four years?

From the "trouble" states such as Iran, North Korea and Syria to the contrarian states such as Germany and France to those seeking gain from supporting Bush (or at least not causing trouble during the election) such as Russia and China, we need to look not only for their tactics and strategies to unfold, but also see how the renewed and self-assured administration deals with them.

Egypt appears to be a sleeping volcano, and the longevity of President Hosni Mubarak could be nearing an end. Has the president locked down a clear line of succession, are the internal Islamist forces building enough steam to strike out during any moment of confusion should Mubarak die, and has al Qaeda turned its sights on the North African nation as the best target for regime change? If Mubarak dies, will it be simply steam and ash like Mount Saint Helens in 2004, or a massive explosion like Mount Saint Helens in 1980?

Unrest appears to be on the rise in China (or the media is finally paying more attention). Beijing has been unable to contain or control the economy, the banking system remains seriously flawed and bubbles are growing throughout the economy. What is the breaking point for Beijing? Will the country's economic collapse follow the Japanese model of slow burn? Does China have the underlying social stability to withstand a long, drawn out economic decline?

Al Fallujah was seen as going quickly and smoothly, significant resistance was not encountered as expected and insurgent risings in other key cities have thus far proven manageable. What is the state of the insurgency in Iraq? What is the mindset of the Sunni tribal and religious leadership? Where do the foreign jihadists stand? Iraq will never be completely peaceful, but is it headed toward a more sustainable level of chaos?

Saudi Arabia managed to avoid a significant resurgence of internal al Qaeda activity at the end of the summer. Is this a reflection of a shift in tactics by al Qaeda, the effectiveness of the Saudi security apparatus or just the calm before the storm?

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf is engaged in negotiations with the Islamist and secular opposition groups over their threat to launch a movement against his retaining dual offices. At the same time there are a few indications that a joint U.S.-Pakistani move against al Qaeda might be getting closer. Where is Washington with the plans for a "Get Osama et al" operation, especially given the leadership change in Washington? When it happens, will Musharraf be able to keep the opposition from creating problems? Will this strengthen Islamist forces in the country?

Many Arab/Muslim leaders were relieved to see Bush returned to the White House on Nov 2. These include those in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria the Palestinian National Authority, Sudan and others. Are they now worried about the departure of the old Bush team, and the surge of hardliners in the Bush administration? How will the Cabinet shakeup affect the dealings that these states had with Washington? What kind of developments are we likely to see now that the softies have been purged from the U.S. State Department?

I would add, if I were Stratfor, a request for thoughts on the geopolitical impact of a steeply declining dollar, including the expected consequences of oil exporters pricing crude in Euros.


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