Commentary Magazine


Idiots in the Intelligence Community

America’s place in the sun is just about over. An ongoing shift of wealth and power from the West to the East “is without precedent in modern history.” And the world’s most populous country? “China,” we are told, “is poised to have more impact on the world over the next 20 years than any other country.” All these conclusions come from “Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World,” a report released yesterday by the National Intelligence Council, the coordinating group for all 16 American intelligence organizations. Its reports represent the consensus views of those agencies.

Before you move to Beijing and apply for Chinese nationality, please note the report was written in Thomas Friedman’s the-world-is-flat world. In that wonderful universe, economic development is relentlessly spreading wealth from nation to nation, so it is perfectly permissible to assume that “demography is destiny.” Therefore, a China five times more populous than the United States will inevitably end up with an economy five times larger and a military five times more powerful.

Yet in the world as it really is, events are unforeseen and trends materialize overnight. Where we live, unpredictability reigns. The last thing we should do if we want to know what the future will look like is extrapolate.

Nonetheless, Global Trends extrapolates. Worse, the report extrapolates from events that no longer seem indicative. For example, it assumes the continual increase in oil and commodity prices. That’s a brave assumption, when we have just seen oil fall from over $147 a barrel in mid-July to under $50 at this moment. The report was mostly written before the onset of the global financial crisis.

Yet the National Intelligence Council, incredibly, decided to go ahead with the release of Global Trends as if a once-in-a-century series of events was without lasting significance. The gruesome destruction of wealth occurring today will eventually be reversed, but the reversal may not come before, for instance, the collapse of the governments in China and Russia, two nations the report picks as winners over the next couple decades.

American intelligence analysts may be able to peer into other nations, but they obviously have a hard time understanding America. Therefore, let me say a thing or two about the land of the free and the home of the brave. The United States is not only institutionally strong but resilient and fast-moving. It is unique in its ability to adjust and recover. Even before others stop bemoaning the fall of the West and the end of capitalism, America will find its way and lead the rest of the world to recovery.

So here’s some advice to the National Intelligence Council: insert a “not” in every sentence of Global Trends if you want to know what will really occur in 2025.