Past Event On March 23, 2019

Dr. Ian Bremmer

A Geopolitical Survey: 2019

Dr. Ian Bremmer

“I promised you that I would make you 10% less crazy, but the trade is that I need you to be 10% more engaged. We have to be. Because if not, we’re going to be less proud of the world that we are leaving for our kids.”

Dr. Ian Bremmer

A Geopolitical Survey: 2019

Program Date: March 23, 2019

In an evening that felt at times more like stand-up comedy than an address on global affairs, geopolitical analyst Ian Bremmer engaged the Richmond Forum audience with his analysis of the global trends that shape today’s political landscape, and a healthy dose of humor.

“You do realize we’re talking about global politics tonight, right?” Bremmer asked, in a quasi-observational-comedy style reminiscent of Woody Allen or Lenny Bruce. “One of you likes that. The rest of you are like, ‘It’s part of the series, we gotta go.’”

He kicked off the evening with a promise: “I’m going to work my damnedest to make you 10% less crazy.”

He then segued into what he called his “road map for why we’re getting crazy,” or the reasons why there’s an increasing political divide and polarization that causes people of all political affiliations (or lack thereof) to feel, using his word, “bad.”

“A lot of us feel like our system is rigged.  A lot of us feel like our representatives are not representing us. A lot of us feel like the American dream no longer applies to us. And they feel like when the political leaders or the CEOs or the bankers or the journalists or the public intellectuals—God forbid—are talking to us, that they’re lying.”

This type of sentiment drives most of the “crazy” that Bremmer said contributes to the majority of the crises happening around the world. He added later in the evening that this idea was one that his mother believed in (and confirmed in her go-to news source: The National Enquirer). It also motivated him to learn more about the world as a young adult, and start a career in geopolitics.

“One of the things I adore about spending a little bit of time with you all this evening is that I can actually, honest to God, tell you what I really think and maybe move the needle a little bit. And I have to keep doing that.”

– Dr. Ian Bremmer

Ian Bremmer’s guide to watching the news

Distrust in the establishment is one contributing factor, but Bremmer cited others: increasing economic inequality, immigration, wars, and social media.

When people are left feeling that the growth of wealth and prosperity that some experience doesn’t apply to them, they get angry. When those same people then see immigrants coming into their country and find economic opportunity, that anger grows. If you add on involvement in wars and putting citizen’s lives at risk, and the increasing polarization accelerated by social media and the ideological bubbles it can create, you have the situation in the world today.

“It’s all structural,” Bremmer explained. “This has been coming for decades, sped up by the change in technology.”

On top of those increasing political divisions in the West, Bremmer also cited the work of the Russians to undermine the U.S. political systems and economies, and the Chinese building an active alternative to a U.S.-led global economic structure as reasons for why we in the U.S. feel so crazy about today’s headlines.

Those countries, while different types of threats, are both very real threats, Bremmer said. Russia is actively trying to use military, cyber, and disinformation strategies to disrupt U.S. institutions. China and the U.S., on the other hand, are financially interdependent, but China is trying—through its Belt and Road infrastructure and trade initiative—to create a world where China is the leading economic force, in place of the U.S.

With that road map in mind, Bremmer went into an impromptu survey of his views on current affairs, ranging from the crisis in Venezuela to U.S. relations with North Korea to the uselessness of following the endless Brexit saga.

“If you want permission to ignore Brexit,” Bremmer half-joked. “I’m giving it to you.”

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He foresees UK leaders stalling action on Brexit for another three years.

He also predicted that there’s a very good chance that President Trump will make a deal with President Xi Jinping of China at Mar-a-Lago that will be the “biggest foreign policy success [President Trump has] had in his two and a half years.”

He couldn’t leave for intermission without mentioning the most recent news to hit the headlines: The Mueller Report.

“We’re talking about it,” he said, lowering his voice, “Even though we don’t know what’s in it.”

Bremmer said that the real story, despite the fact that the news media will try to focus on the report’s ability to vindicate or indict the President, is the depth and breadth of the Russians’ actions to undermine U.S. activities, democracy, and institutions.

After the short break, Bremmer continued his “geopolitical survey,” as the evening was billed, by answering audience questions about more world issues and hotspots: Trump’s relationship with Putin, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) agreement, Israeli elections, and the status of Golan Heights, the U.S.-Saudi Arabia relationship, and India’s relevance on the world stage. Bremmer responded to each with an incisive summary of the issues at hand, and where he believes each situation will go next.

Ian Bremmer answering an audience question about becoming “10% more engaged”

One Forum subscriber asked about the effect of climate change on geopolitics. He said it’ll move the needle in equatorial Africa, where rising temperatures will cause the region to become unlivable and force migration north into Europe. Then, he added, the U.S. and other countries will pay more attention because Western countries will be affected.

When asked to describe and rate the foreign policies of the past four U.S. presidents, he said that overall they were mediocre at best. He could point to a few wins for each former POTUS, but the strongest was the late President George H.W. Bush, based on his handling of the initial transfers of power post-Soviet Union and of the first Iraq war.

During intermission, a student in the Forum student room asked how Bremmer recommends he better educate himself, and Bremmer answered from the stage: it’s getting harder to find trusted sources, but he likes The Economist; websites from NPR, FOX, and CNN (but not their radio or TV programming); the Financial Times; and, of course, coverage from his own media company, GZERO Media.

Bremmer also said in response to another question that if he were “President for A Day” he would create a policy to force high school students to spend one year outside the country, to create a generation of kids that understand perspectives around the world, how to engage with people who have experiences and ideologies different from their own, and to appreciate “how goddamn fortunate we are to live in America.”

Despite wanting to be president for one day, he said he has no ambitions to run for any political office: “You can no longer run for high office and be authentic.”

Bremmer thrives on authenticity. He likes to tell it like he sees it, and that’s what he told the audience at the end of the evening.

“One of the things I adore about spending a little bit of time with you all this evening is that I can actually, honest to God, tell you what I really think and maybe move the needle a little bit. And I have to keep doing that.”

Ian Bremmer answering an audience question about teaching the next generation

“I expected a dry, serious and sobering lecture. I certainly didn’t expect such wit and humor, as well. I thought it was a great presentation with some particularly appropriate audience questions after intermission. Bremmer is clearly brilliant, but so down-to-earth. Fantastic evening!”

– Subscriber Comment

About Ian Bremmer

Ian Bremmer is the founder and president of Eurasia Group, the leading global political risk research and consulting firm. A prolific thought leader, author, and lecturer, he is sought after by world leaders and corporations as an adviser on international risk management.

Bremmer established Eurasia Group in 1998 with $25,000. Today, the company has offices in eight major cities and a network of experts and resources in 95 countries. Eurasia Group provides analysis and expertise on how political developments and national security dynamics move markets and shape investments across the globe. As the firm’s president and its most active public voice, Bremmer advises leading executives, money managers, diplomats, and heads of state.

The creator of Wall Street’s first global political risk index, Bremmer is credited with bringing the craft of political risk to financial markets and for establishing political risk as an academic discipline. His definition of emerging markets—“those countries where politics matter at least as much as economics for market outcomes”—has become an industry standard. “G-Zero,” his term for a global power vacuum in which no country is willing and able to set the international agenda, is widely accepted by policymakers and thought leaders. Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers said, “[The] global political economy has no sharper or more prescient analyst than Ian Bremmer.”

Bremmer was named a “Young Global Leader” at the World Economic Forum in 2007 and later founded the organization’s Global Agenda Council for Geopolitical Risk.

In 2017, Bremmer and Eurasia Group launched GZERO Media, a digital-first media company dedicated to bringing smart analysis and commentary to a young, educated audience hungry for substantive discussion of global issues. Its international affairs newsletter, Signal, is read in over 40 countries, and its GZERO World with Ian Bremmer video series also airs on select PBS stations.

Bremmer also discusses the intersection between politics and markets in the media. He has written hundreds of articles for leading print publications, including TIME, where he is the foreign affairs columnist and editor-at-large. He appears regularly on CNBC, FOX, Bloomberg, CNN, the BBC, and other networks.

He has published ten books, including the bestsellers Every Nation for Itself (2012), Superpower (2015), and his latest, Us vs. Them: The Failure of Globalism (2018).

Bremmer earned a Ph.D. in political science from Stanford University and was the youngest-ever national fellow at the Hoover Institution. He teaches political risk as a global research professor at New York University.

Bremmer grew up in the projects outside of Boston and remains a devoted Red Sox fan, despite now living in New York City.

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