This video is making the rounds on the Web. Here, Mr. George Friedman speaks of strategic matters in Europe and argues that the objective of the United States is to contain Russia in order to maintain their world empire. (
What is that motivates governments in taking decisions that so often turn out to be tragically wrong? The problem is that we have no data on the inner functioning of most governments; that is, we don't know what leaders say to each other when discussing in private. We can, however, have some idea on the way of thinking of governments if we look at the public pronouncements of that category of "experts" that go under the name of "strategic advisers".
I have no direct experience in military matters, but I do in a field that is just as strategic; that of the energy supply and, more in general, the supply of mineral commodities that makes a country's economy function. In this field, I have encountered several specimens of the category of the "policy advisers" who
I have already reported how someone who advised the Spanish government described the world's oil market in purely narrative terms; giving roles to each major producer and having them play in the great theater of the world. And his narration was totally unencumbered by facts and data. The clip shown at the beginning of this post has a very similar style. Mr. Friedman's epistemology of international matters seems to be based on a basic narrative concept: major world governments are given roles and then they are described as playing these roles in the world theater. The resulting play is not encumbered by
What led the Italian government to take this disastrous decision? I think it can be explained in terms of the narrative models that they had in their minds. The documents we
Do you think this example is an exception? I don't think so. Imagine a reunion of the Japanese government, also in 1941, with someone standing up and stating: "gentlemen, it is obvious that if we attack the Americans at Pearl Harbor, they will surrender to us immediately afterward.." Their
There are several more recent examples of
Mr. Friedman's speech is a good example of a narrative (unencumbered by data) that could shape the strategic thought of a government. It cannot be understood simply from the clip which is making the rounds on the Web. The complete speech is not just about warmongering, it is not simply an imperial advocacy speech (in part it is, though). It is a fascinating speech that deserves to be listened at. The problem with this kind of speeches that the fascination of story telling hides the ugly details of reality. There is no mention in the speech about the fact that not even an empire can plan wars without worrying about where it can find the resources needed. To be fair, Friedman does mention that if Germany and Russia were to form an alliance, they would have the resources to challenge the American Empire. But he never seems to wonder where the resources that created and maintain the American Empire are coming from right now and for how long they can keep coming. For instance, when he mentions oil prices, he says that low prices are "the new normal". And that, I think, says a lot the limits of storytelling as a guide to understand the world. (To say nothing about the lack of any mention about the grim reaper character waiting to go on stage: climate change).
In the end, these narrative models for leaders are just somewhat more sophisticated versions of the ones used by the media for "consensus building". These are based on the simplest and most primitive narrative device we know: "we are the good guys and they are the bad guys". In their public declarations, high level government officers will often follow the media narrative. Occasionally, however, as with these declarations by Mr. Friedman, their inner mental models briefly surface up from the depth of cabinet reunions. Do some governments know what they are doing? Probably yes, but, from the historical record of humankind, it must be a rare condition.
Our curse as human beings seems to be that we keep trying to force the world to behave according to mental models that were developed by our ancestors of long, long ago. Role playing models were probably working well when we were living in tribes of a few hundred individuals. They don't work anymore with those entities we call "states" or "nations", encompassing tens or hundreds of millions of people. Will we ever understand that we have to base our decisions on reality? Maybe, but we'll have to be taught some more harsh lessons by the real world before we learn.