Sep 02 2013
The Sunday New York Times (9/1/13) headine — “President Pulls Lawmakers Into Box He Made” — sums up the current dangerous Middle East situation that Obama aggravated by announcing, a year ago, his Red Line against the use of Syrian chemical weapons and then blinking when it occurred (see also David Sanger, NYT, 9/1/13).
A popular theme is emerging that sees parallels between the current crisis and the summer of 1914 which quickly led to World War I. For example, in “Obama is Playing With Fire in Syria” (8/30/31, CounterPunch) Rob Prince and Ibrahim Kazarooni of the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies see real dangers:
The militaries of virtually the entire region are on alert. It might not take much to set a war in motion that extends far beyond Washington’s borders. What makes matters worse, is that many of the parties are itching for a fight. Indeed, a scenario not unlike that which existed in Europe in the summer of 1914 appears to be shaping up.
And in its recent politics blog, The Guardian (8/29/13) expressed the key idea in the title of its piece: The Syria dilemma: we don’t want it turning into another Sarajevo 1914.
A hint of what’s fundamentally driving this crisis is provided by historian Niall Ferguson in his 2010 Foreign Policy article, “Complexity and Collapse”:
Great powers and empires…operate somewhere between order and disorder … Such systems can appear to operate quite stably for some time; they seem to be in equilibrium but are, in fact, constantly adapting. But there comes a moment when complex systems “go critical.” A very small trigger can set off a “phase transition” from a benign equilibrium to a crisis.
In the spirit of Ferguson, Christopher Clark in his new book (The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914) summarizes how the WW I complex system went “critical” (italics below mine).
The etiology of this conflict was so complex and strange that it allowed soldiers and civilians in all the belligerent states to be confident that theirs was a war of defense , that their countries had been attacked or provoked by a determined enemy, that their respective governments had made every effort to preserve the peace.
This Ferguson/Clark concept is broadly consistent with 21stCenturyWaves.com’s model of transformative, twice-per-century Maslow Windows that are triggered by “critical states” of the complex global economic system due to self-organization over decades. The last one was in the 1960s — which featured the Apollo Moon program — but Maslow Windows can be traced back 200+ years to Lewis and Clark.
Because financial systems, wars, and NASA space programs are now known to be “fractal”, it’s reasonable to expect that the approach of a “critical state” will trigger extraordinary behavior (also known as “avalanches”) in all three, and history supports this. For example, the greatest economic expansion (the JFK boom) in history and the greatest ever technology and exploration program (the Apollo Moon landings) both occurred during the 1960s.
So in this context, the questions are: 1) Is Syria a harbinger of the approaching 1960s-style critical state? and 2) Is Syria likely to evolve into a global war like WW I?
Although predicting the future of a complex system in its critical state is tricky, the answers are probably and probably not.
History shows that Maslow Windows are asymmetrically bookended by wars; i.e., a smaller war or international conflict (e.g., Cuban missile crisis) just before or early during the Maslow Window, and a major war (e.g. WW I) that terminates the Maslow Window.
For more, CLICK: “Near-Term Wars Threaten the New Space Age.”
World War I, which originated during the most intense portion of the critical state, terminated the Maslow Window in 1914. While the smaller, early war was the Spanish-American War of 1898 which only briefly preceded the onset of a stunning JFK-style economic boom that triggered one of the most ebullient decades in US history.
During the 1960s critical state, the Cuban Missile Crisis was the early international conflict that had the potential for a full nuclear war between superpowers but was rapidly resolved. In this sense it appears to have parallels with the developing Syrian crisis, as we approach the new Maslow Window/Critical State expected by mid-decade.
Although the current geopolitical situation is not held hostage to the 200+ year historical patterns of Maslow Windows and their critical states, it appears that a major war is more likely to occur in the mid-2020s after the approaching Maslow Window/Critical State has lost momentum.
Support for this general view of a limited scenario for Syria (as opposed to a WW I analog) was reported in The Daily Caller last week. Jeff Poor quotes Charles Krauthammer as asserting Friday that any missteps by Obama in Syria could trigger a “major regional war.”