for The Globe and Mail on April 14, 2010
Turkish President Abdullah Gul.
In mid-March, Turkish President Abdullah Gul travelled to Cameroon for his country's first trade mission to a central African nation. He got a warm welcome, The Economist reported. "Turkey must reclaim its mantle," one Islamic cleric told him, "as leader of the Islamic world." In this context, you're not talking restoration of the Ottoman Empire - you're talking expansion. Although the Ottoman Empire embraced Egypt, Libya, Algeria and Sudan, it never reached central Africa. For its part, The Economist recognized the credibility of resurrected Turkish ambitions. African countries have bitter memories of Western colonialists and Arab slave traders, the magazine noted. In contrast, they regard Turks as enlightened and humane.
Read political scientist George Friedman's The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century and you find yourself pondering - almost against your will - the apparent implications of otherwise insignificant news events. You'll be skeptical, for instance, of Mr. Friedman's assertion that Turkey will put together an Ottoman alliance before 2050 - with Ankara the capital of a Muslim brotherhood of nations that stretches from Bosnia-Herzegovina to Saudi Arabia, from Morocco to Afghanistan. Yet, Mr. Friedman presents his geopolitical analysis with a stern and, in many ways, compelling logic.
Why would Turkey emerge as the leader of the Muslim world? Mr. Friedman notes that Turkey is the richest Muslim country - the only Muslim country with "a modern economy." Turkey is the 17th-largest economy in the world with GDP of $600-billion (U.S.). Iran is 29th (GDP: $300-billion). Egypt is 52nd (GDP: $125-billion). Think of Turkey as a European country and it ranks seventh. Further, Iran is too erratic and too radical to assume regional leadership, and Pakistan is too unstable.
When the next global war breaks out, Mr. Friedman guesstimates, Turkey will join Japan to drive the United States out of the Middle East and the Pacific. He says the war is most apt to begin at 5 p.m. on Nov. 24, 2050 - American Thanksgiving - when Japan, mimicking its Second World War success at Pearl Harbor, launches a sneak attack on U.S. space-based communications satellites.
As bizarre as this prediction sounds, Mr. Friedman is no crank. Author or co-author of six books on war and peace, he is an academic who founded Stratfor, a private intelligence consulting company based in Austin, Tex. He holds a doctorate in government from Cornell University. Born in Hungary, son of Holocaust survivors, his family was a classic example of refugees who "made it" in America.
Mr. Friedman's Next 100 Years became a New York Times bestseller when it was published a year ago. However contrary to conventional expectations (in asserting, for example, that China and Russia will both falter economically in the next two decades), this book warrants the reading time. Even where and when it's wrong (or most apt to be wrong), Mr. Friedman's analysis is instructive.
As with the First World War, Mr. Friedman argues, the next global conflict will be a war that no one wanted. Driven by demographic decline, Japan will feel compelled to acquire a captive work force on the Chinese mainland. Driven by the collapse of Russia, Turkey will feel compelled to bring order to anarchic neighbouring states. The U.S. will feel obliged to restrain these countries - by force.
History doesn't necessarily repeat itself, Mr. Friedman says. But it often mimics itself. Each war creates the conditions for the next - and the perceptive observer can rationally anticipate the rise and fall of empires. The conflict that begins midway through the 21st century, he says, will be primarily a space war between Japan and the U.S. and a land war between Turkey and U.S.-allied Poland, the two countries that will seek to fill the vacuum when Russia implodes. Because most of the war will take place in space, there'll be few civilian casualties - and perhaps only 50,000 soldiers killed in four years of war.
Who wins? Mr. Friedman says the U.S. never goes to war to achieve something, only to prevent something. For this reason, it doesn't need to win to accomplish its objectives. This makes an American victory in war almost axiomatic. Further, the U.S. is so powerful that the rest of the world combined can't defeat it. Mr. Friedman notes that no vessel sails anywhere in the world without the implicit protection - some would say the implicit permission - of the U.S. Navy. Like it or not, the 21st century belongs to the United States.
Incidentally, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan travelled to Sarajevo last week for the country's first state visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina - a country that thrived as a client state of the Ottoman Empire for 400 years.