George Friedman is a geopolitical forecaster with degrees in political science and government. He worked for think tanks before founding Stratfor, an intelligence platform known for being open-sourced and available to the public, for a fee of course. Friedman earned renown for predicting a handful of major global events. The New York Times Magazine wrote in 2003 of Friedman and Stratfor “He predicted that the surging Asian economy would collapse by the end of 1997, while the American economy would reach unprecedented heights.” (NYTmag). I feel like this background is necessary to describe Flashpoints accurately.
Flashpoints is a book that attempts to detail the history of Europe and show that it is heading in a dangerous direction. The blurbs about the book read:
“A major new book by New York Times bestselling author and geopolitical forecaster George Friedman (The Next 100 Years), with a bold thesis about coming events in Europe. This provocative work examines “flashpoints,” unique geopolitical hot spots where tensions have erupted throughout history, and where conflict is due to emerge again.”
“Flashpoints is an engrossing analysis of modern-day Europe, its remarkable past, and the simmering fault lines that have awakened and will be pivotal in the near future. This is George Friedman’s most timely and, ultimately, riveting book.”
“The book depicts the German-dominated European Union and Eurozone as a tense, fragile construct, particularly after the 2008 financial crisis, which broke the promise of prosperity that had drawn nations to join in the first place. The author identifies sources of instability in the numerous “borderlands” of Europe, most strikingly between Russia and a “barely functional” North Atlantic Treaty Organization.'”
The first two are from the publisher and the third is from the Army’s Reading List. The problem with all of them is that I read the book and I do not know what the pivotal thesis is and I don’t think that Flashpoints proves anything.
The book begins with Friedman discussing his own family’s escape from Hungary during the Holocaust. It then delves into a very brief and incomplete history of Europe. I understand the need for brevity but it felt to me that information was cherry picked to support a narrative. As I mentioned before, I’m not entirely sure what the narrative is other than something, something Europe watch out!
Any analysis in the book shows up after the halfway point but no conclusions are ever made. Flashpoints is written so that the reader gets to decide what all of the information means. Personally, I think that is lazy at best and dangerous/irresponsible at worst. The true worst part about the book is that some of the predictions insinuated have come to pass. We do see more instability in Europe. Russia is growing in strength and influence. There are major problems/divides within the EU, immigration for a topical example. But that’s why I don’t like this book. By never stating, unequivocally what the point is, it allows Friedman to predict what’s happening in Europe without predicting anything.
The more I think about this book, the angrier it makes me. I really liked it at first. It allowed me to put the pieces together, but that is part of problem. It led this witness. As I read into the author, as I almost always do for this type of book, it hit me that this is his whole game.
I’d like to finish with this line from the NYT Magazine article from before that I think accurately portrays my own beliefs:
“These larger, high-end companies look down on Stratfor, which has four Web sites — including one for the energy industry and one specifically for the Iraq war — with sharp graphics, a pop-up window and various price packages, starting as low as $49.95 for six months. They see it as the Drudge Report of global analysis, a tip sheet posing as serious forecasting. There’s some basis for this charge; Stratfor has a habit of throwing a lot of unconfirmed rumors onto its Web site. And yet there is a kind of genius in Stratfor’s approach. The markets now are increasingly dominated by jumpy day traders and short-term bettors — the perfect audience for Stratfor’s rapid-fire postings. A trader who sees a bit of good news on the Stratfor site should be able to buy stock before the mini-rally and sell it later in the day for a tidy profit.
Flashpoints, like Friedman, may have lots of good, accurate information but there’s no substance to it and no analysis.