Thursday, 16 August 2007

A Future Worth Building

I hadn’t intended to lead with this. I have now returned from the WFS Conference in Minneapolis. This was a great conference that managed to press many bells for me. The papers presented are starting to appear on-line (see Web Page), and are worth looking at if you have an interest in the future.

I gave three papers at the conference; all around the theme of US foreign policy to 2025 (the slides from the papers are on the WFS site). On this subject, it is very easy to become despondent and to flesh out some very dark futures in the years to 2025. Much of our work points to the relative decline of the US in the years to 2025, and many of the scenarios that we developed revolve around the question of how the US handles this relative decline.

As a corrective to the gloom and doom, we developed a scenario that starts with a happy ending for the US in 2025, and backcasts to now - to see what needs to happen in order to achieve this outcome. As with all of our scenarios, this is a story of the future. We used a fictional style because this is not a prediction; it is a possibility for the future. What are more important are the longer themes that are developed in the story.

For example, it is our belief that the force assessment for Iraq is woefully understated and that the US has a serious problem in service manpower, without reintroducing the draft. If so, then the only credible solution to this problem is to widen the responsibility for providing security to include a broader coalition of nations that include the nascent regional power of Iran. The fictional details hang around this theme – to engage Iran or not to engage Iran.

We offered this scenario (which is about 6,000 words long) for the Conference Volume, which would have acted as a nice complement to the papers that we gave. Sadly, the paper didn’t make the cut. However, in talking about it to those who attended the sessions, there were a good number of people who asked for a copy of the scenario and felt that it would be suitable for a broader audience. We have now posted a copy on our web site (link to paper).

The scenario tells the story of the winner of the 2008 US Presidential race – Eric Blair. Eric Blair is known to most as George Orwell, someone who I have admired for many years. The situation of Eric Blair is based upon that of Winston Churchill in the 1930s (he called them his ‘Wilderness Years’). There is an irony here in that George Bush has compared himself to Churchill – a comparison that many in the UK find deeply offensive, and to which we allude in the story.

We also cast Eric Blair taking over from George Bush in the same light as Churchill taking over from Chamberlain in 1940. The US in 2008 might not be facing its ‘darkest hour’, but we feel that the situation is not very encouraging and requires a great deal of adept handling – a skill that has eluded quite a number of previous Presidencies. If only another FDR would step forward …

I hope that you enjoy the scenario. Please feel free to comment on it. It is only by being told why we are wrong that we can move forward.

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