Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Book Review: 'Flashpoints: The Emerging Crisis in Europe' by George Friedman

Review by David Wineberg

Unloseable Baggage

George Friedman is Stratfor. He advises on European and world issues. He visits everywhere, takes the pulse, collects the data and mingles with those in the know. His family fled Hungary (to Brooklyn, the Bronx and now Texas) just after he was born. He traces their remarkable story of barely getting out after the communists took over from the Nazis and imposed more of the same terror. It makes for an informed and deeply personal foundation for Flashpoints.

Most of what Flashpoints posits is hard to disagree with. It’s all there in the news every day, from Ukrainian separatists to Flemish separatists and everyone in between. We differ on a couple of issues. Friedman defines Europe as everything west of a line from St. Petersburg, Russia, to Rostov-on-Don, Russia. This is a lot bigger than most people would consider Europe to be, and explains why he thinks Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia to be “European” flashpoints. I can’t imagine Russia allowing a US military base in Ukraine any more than the US allowing Russian missiles in Cuba. Putin could not possibly survive if he allowed the West to take over a country on his border, any more than the US would allow a Russian regime in Central America. It is inconceivable. So why does Freidman pretend differently? Putin is not Gorbachev. NATO is not going to war with Russia over Ukraine.

I had problems with credibility right from the preface, where Friedman lists statistics that purport to show the straits Europe finds itself in. He cites population density, the overcrowded EU having 112 per square kilometer, while relaxed Asia has 86. But that is absurd on its face. Asia’s population is nearly three billion, nine times more than Europe’s 340 million. What Friedman has done is include all the gigantic empty and uninhabitable space of Siberia, the Gobi Desert, Tibet and Mongolia, which Europe does not have. What Asia does have is most of the most densely populated places on Earth, like Singapore, Hong Kong and Beijing. Only Gaza is more densely packed. This put his methods on the line and me on my guard.

Basically, he sees Europe as a vast storehouse of old baggage, which will come back to haunt its owners again and again. Because old grudges fester. It’s an easy bet to make, and while Europe is working very hard to prove him wrong, there are so many possibilities for conflicts, one or more of them will inevitably flare up. In the mean time, this is a comprehensive look at the whole matrix of national personalities, cultures, history and politics.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of David Wineberg. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right. 

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