May 21, 2013
The U.S. Intelligence Community’s New Year’s Wish
Posted on Jan 3, 2013
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch
There are, however, a few topics that seem to have gone MIA in the National Intelligence Council’s version of our future world. You won’t, for instance, find these words emphasized in Global Trends 2030: corporations—they seem to have no role worth mentioning in the world of the future; depression—yes, “recession,” or even in extremis “collapse,” but not “global depression,” not even when the U.S. is compared to the planet’s previous great imperial power, nineteenth century Britain, and so to an era when depressions were rife (a possible “great depression” gets a single “low probability” mention); imperial— since we’re the only… ahem… great you-know-what left, that’s not an appropriate word for the world of 2030; revolution—oh, there was one of those in 1848 and it can be mentioned, but despite the fact that the globe has been convulsed by unexpected uprisings and unforeseen movements in recent years, in 2030, revolution is unimaginable; capitalism—no need even to say it in a world in which nothing else exists, and to use it might imply that by 2030 another system of any sort could arise to challenge it, which is, of course, inconceivable; Israeli nuclear weapons— why bring up the Israeli nuclear arsenal, which actually exists and will assumedly be there in 2030, when you can focus on that fabulous black swan Iran and its (as yet) nonexistent nuclear arsenal.
Finally, military base— undoubtedly a perfectly acceptable term for the NIC in Global Trends 2040, once the Chinese establish a few of them abroad. In the meantime, in a world in which the U.S. still has about 1,000 of them globally, there’s no point in bringing the subject up or discussing the fate of Washington’s historically unprecedented garrisoning of the planet. Nor in Global Trends 2030 will you find a serious consideration of American military power or Washington’s penchant in recent years not for guaranteeing stability but ensuring instability, mayhem, and chaos in distant lands.
You’ll find a section on drones, but not on our drone wars and how they might play out in 2030. (Another verboten set of words now associated with those wars are assassination, targeted killing, kill list. You’ll find the Arab Spring discussed in passing, but not the Indian Spring. (You know, the one that occurred in 2023 in that youth-bulge of a nation when rising expectations met economic frustration.) You’ll read much about resource problems and potential resource wars, but not about the 800-pound gorilla in the global room. The single looming crisis threatening the well-being of the planet, climate change, while certainly discussed in passing, is essentially ducked on the grounds, it seems, that by 2030 it won’t really have hit yet. (Assumedly, none of the group meetings the NIC called were held in the parched U.S. southwest, the drought-stricken Midwest, or on the Jersey Coast since Hurricane Sandy hit.)
You’ll note that the thing that makes our intelligence futurologists jump for joy and gives them the equivalent of a drug high is hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to which they return again and again. I kid you not. For them, frack is the new crack and if this document (god save us) were ever made into a movie, it might be called Frack to the Future. Yes, in most of their future scenarios, fracking, releasing all that “extreme energy,” makes the U.S. energy independent, a natural gas exporter, and practically ensures that 2030 will once again be an American year! Yippee!
Above all, the National Intelligence Council’s analysts have managed to largely banish the single most essential, unavoidable, and bracing aspect of the future: surprise. That tells you far more about the Washington world the authors inhabit than what may happen in 2030. But before I get to that, give me just a second to pat myself on the back.
After all, I’ve done you an enormous favor. I’ve actually read Global Trends 2030 from its two-page “dear reader” letter from the chairman of the NIC and the report’s “executive summary” though its 136 two-columned pages, and even its interminable acknowledgements. And let me assure you, it’s put together by perfectly intelligent people and has some interesting nuggets in it. The assembled crew has even tried its hand at writing bits of futuristic fiction and at least one of them, a “Marxist” analysis “updated” for the twenty-first century, has some passing entertainment value.
In the end, though, the document, like the IC itself, is an overblown artifact of Washington’s own limitations and fears. It’s also mind-numbingly, bone-blisteringly dull and repetitive, featuring elaborate charts laying out what you’ve just read as if you were simply too thick to take it in paragraph by paragraph. It’s exactly the sort of thing that no bureaucratic collective should be allowed to inflict on the great unknown, and that no one raised on H.G. Wells, Arthur Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Philip Dick, Ursula Le Guin, George Orwell, William Gibson, or for that matter, Suzanne Collins should ever have to endure.
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