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Jan 29, 2009 | 17:30 GMT

Annual Forecast 2009: War, Recession and Resurgence

Editor's Note: Below is the introduction to STRATFOR's Annual Forecast for 2009. There also is a printable PDF of the report in its entirety and a report card of our 2008 forecasts highlighting where we were right and where we were wrong. All sections of the forecast are available on our homepage under the 2009 Annual Forecast Special Reports page. The year 2009 will be complicated. A new U.S. administration is dealing with a politically and militarily complex war. Russia has stopped merely flexing its muscles and is working to secure its position in the spotlight on the global stage. An economic recession is casting a pall over much of the world. These three trends, which will dominate events in 2009, are related to the three broad forecasts STRATFOR made at the beginning of 2008. Annual Forecast 2009 PDF In our 2008 Annual Forecast, we predicted that the U.S.-jihadist war would wind down and the groundwork would be laid for a drawdown of American forces from Iraq. As 2009 begins, there is the U.S.-Iraqi Status of Forces Agreement that enables the United States to first reduce its visible presence and ultimately remove most of its forces. Furthermore, the American focus on the jihadist conflict has shifted from Iraq to the Afghan-Pakistani border region, but the conflict itself has become far more diffused. Though the war in Iraq is over in a strategic sense, it is still sufficiently unsettled to allow Iran to stir up violence in Iraq. Tehran would do this not merely to twist the lion's tail, but to reap sizable security concessions from the new American administration; the only way Washington could avoid making such concessions would be to leave more troops in Iraq longer. Part of Iran's confidence stems from the U.S. focus on the Indo-Pakistani conflict next door. India is convinced, and rightly so, that the Pakistanis have failed to contain their own radical Islamists. Yet the war in Afghanistan requires Pakistani supply lines and cooperation. Which puts the Americans in a quadruple bind: The United States needs the Iranians not to demand more from it in Iraq, the Indians not to seek revenge for the Mumbai attacks and so destroy any hope of Pakistani cooperation, the Russians to help establish an alternative supply route for NATO troops in Afghanistan to pressure the Pakistanis, and the Pakistanis to break with 30 years of policy and go after their own. It is a Gordian knot, and in 2009, it is part of a single interconnected conflict. Within the Russian element of the jihadist conflict is the second aspect of our forecasts, again both for 2008 and 2009. In 2008, STRATFOR predicted that Russia would take advantage of the U.S. preoccupation in Iraq to reassert power throughout its near abroad. It did this in all of Russia's border regions, using a mix of financial, economic, military, political, social and — above all else — intelligence tools. The event of the year for this prediction was Russia's August invasion of the former Soviet state — and U.S. ally — Georgia, amply demonstrating Moscow's resurrected military power. As 2009 begins, Russia's window of opportunity remains fully open, despite the change in American administrations. The Obama administration is not making the U.S. military more capable of resisting Russia's surges in 2009, but instead is shifting forces from one theater (Iraq) to another (Afghanistan). Russia's focus for the year is clear: use a variety of less overt measures to consolidate its control of the most valuable piece of the former Soviet empire — Ukraine. Finally, against these two building — and in part interlocking — crises, the global backdrop is remarkably different from 2008. In 2008, we explained how strong oil prices and Asian exports were creating a new pool of global capital located in the Gulf Arab states and China. This was most certainly the case — China and Saudi Arabia had amassed cash reserves of approximately US$2 trillion each. But as we explained in the 2008 forecast, this generation of wealth was not a transfer of economic power. Rather than go their own way, these states invested nearly all of their money back into the United States, both dollarizing the broader economy and greatly supporting the American financial architecture. All that cash certainly helped mitigate the damage of the global recession that boiled forth in September. And boil forth it certainly did. As 2009 begins, the world is experiencing its first truly global recession in a generation, and the coming year will be riddled with its ancillary effects. For example, credit crunches will greatly constrain economic activity the world over, banking collapses will be a key feature in European developments, mass protests due to closing factories could plague East Asia, and weak commodity prices will threaten economic and political stability in a host of resource-exporting countries. Underlining all aspects of the recession will be a single, undeniable fact. The dollarization of the global economy that began so torrentially in 2008 will reach a fever pitch in 2009 as a variety of investors — private, government, American and foreign — pour their resources into the American market. They will do this first to escape the volatility that resides elsewhere in the world, and later to ride the U.S. recovery out of the recession.

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