A series of erupting international crises may force the presidential candidates to change the focus of their campaigns this fall. There are so many developing situations that a sort of geopolitical “perfect storm” could hit them when they would rather be talking about economic and social issues. Weather phenomena rarely combine in predictable harmony: geopolitical events are more predictable.
The forces behind a 2008 perfect storm would likely be terrorists or foreign governments creating a mass of challenges that overwhelm the candidates and place the debate squarely on how the Bush White House is dealing with the world in the president’s final months.
A major terrorist attack at home, the start of another war and the emergence of a threatening nuclear enemy are examples of geopolitical crises that could occur simultaneously. Such a confluence of events would severely stretch our government’s resources, torpedo the political rhetoric of the presidential campaigns and, thereby, expose the country to dangers that have kept us at war since 2001.
A peaceful fall campaign bodes well for the Democrats but a series of geopolitical crises could help Senator John McCain due to his extensive national security experience. The question is how many crises our government can juggle simultaneously without impairing our national security.
Some crises are planned to influence politics. Terrorist attacks are purely political events. And sometimes they succeed in overthrowing governments. The terrorists that struck the Spanish rail system in 2004 timed that event to occur just prior to national elections in order to influence Spain’s decision to abandon Iraq. They succeeded in causing the defeat of incumbent Jose Maria Aznar. The victor, Jose Luis Zapatero, lost no time in deciding to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq.
Our fall elections also offer opportunity for terrorists to have an influence. The American response to the 9-11 attacks was to rally around the president and aggressively pursue al-Queda in Afghanistan. Another attack could stir the same sort of response. But after five years of war in Iraq, the same response is not certain.
Some crises are created to serve foreign goals that don’t immediately affect the United States. Recently, Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez, mobilized his army in reaction to Colombia’s pursuit of terrorists into neighboring Ecuador. Chavez has hegemonic ambitions that could ignite a regional war and draw American forces into defending its ally, Colombia.
Iran creates crises with its nuclear and terror programs. For years Tehran has argued that it only has peaceful intentions. Last week, however, the United Nations revealed that the Islamic Republic has nuclear weapons performance data and information for fitting a nuclear weapon to a missile.
Tehran’s nuclear ambitions create crises when combined with President Ahmadinejad’s hate speech calling the Jewish state “filthy bacteria” and threatens “Israel must be wiped off the map.”
Tehran also uses its homegrown terrorists the Revolutionary Guards to harass ships in the the Persian Gulf’s strategic oil waterway, to train Iraqi insurgents to kill American GIs and to equip Lebanon’s Shiite terror group Hezbollah to attack Israel.
Pakistan is another powder keg that could create a crisis for America. Last month, parliamentary elections enshrined President Musharraf’s enemies who threaten to impeach him. Most troubling is the question of who controls Pakistan’s estimated 80 nuclear warheads. Although secure for now, no one can guarantee they will remain secure in that ethnically torn country.
Some crises accompany transitions in power. Saudi Arabia’s king, 84, is ill. Any number of princes desire his crown. The Kingdom is experiencing increasing costs of living and rising dissatisfaction among the people making the government vulnerable to civil unrest. These factors could disrupt the flow of oil including 14 percent of America’s daily consumption. In addition, Iran threatens to fuel rebellion among Saudi Shi’ites who live in the Kingdom’s oil rich eastern areas.
Israel remains in crisis. President Bush’s Mideast peace talks stalled recently as violence escalated in the Gaza Strip. On Israel’s north, Lebanon is in disarray and could easily fall back into civil war. Most of Southern Lebanon is controlled by Tehran’s proxy Hezbollah which ignited the 2006 war with Israel. Recently, Hezbollah’s general secretary Hassan Nasrallah promised retaliation for the assassination of Hezbollah’s chief of operations Imad Mughniyah, perhaps by Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad. On March 7, Israeli warplanes flew over Beirut, a day after Jerusalem seminary students were murdered and Hezbollah’s Al Manar television announced that “The Martyrs of Imad Mughniyah” claimed responsibility.
North Korea is also effective at nucleating crises. It proliferates dangerous weapons, launches missiles toward its neighbors and tested a nuclear device. Regional talks intended to wean Pyongyang from its dangerous programs have been stalled for a year because the north refuses to cooperate. Now, the U.S. may capitulate to the communist regime’s demands for more concessions.
Russia and China are growing in power and becoming less predictable. Russia has come out of its post Cold War hibernation with a vengeance. President Vladimir Putin threatens to retarget nuclear ballistic missiles on Europeans who accept a U.S.-proposed anti-ballistic missile system intended to counter Iran’s threat. Moscow’s defense spending has radically increased due to abundant oil money and Russia’s military is back to its Cold War practice of shadowing American vessels, testing sophisticated missiles and con ducting wargames with old allies.
China is unlikely to create a crisis until after the August Olympic games but all bets are off if Taiwan pushes for independence. Last fall, president of the People’s Republic of China, Hu Jintao, affirmed China’s military modernization and urged the communist party to “…accelerate the revolution in military affairs … [and] ensure preparations for military struggles….” And now Taiwan is pursuing UN membership separate from China.
Last week, the Pentagon reported that Beijing’s comprehensive transformation of its military forces is breathtaking. It is rapidly increasing its ballistic and cruise missile fleet both in range and sophistication. Its demonstrated space and counterspace capabilities e.g., last year’s successful test of an anti-satellite weapon, have direct military application.
Beijing’s cyberwarfare capability drew attention in 2007 when it attacked Pentagon servers as well as computer networks in German government agencies. Its submarine fleet will soon surpass America’s in numbers and it is rapidly closing the sophistication gap. Its air and air defense arsenals include a homebuilt Early Warning and Control (EWAC) aircraft for power projection. China has a 1.25 million active duty ground force equipped with modern tanks, armored personnel carriers and artillery.
The Pentagon’s 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review report states that China “…has the greatest potential to compete militarily with the United States and field disruptive military technologies that could over time offset traditional U.S. military advantages.”
A perfect storm is about timing. Most if not all of these potential crises could challenge the next president. Voters must consider the ability of the potential commander-in-chiefs to juggle tough national security issues. Senator McCain stands head and shoulders above either Democrat candidate.
If the fall is storm-free, the perfect storm will await Inauguration Day 2009. Soon after, America could face an enormously dangerous period in which a new and comprehensively unprepared Democrat president occupies the White House. Perfect geopolitical storms don’t favor the inexperienced.