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Global Threats

What are some of the biggest risks facing businesses and global economies today? Panelist Dan Senor, a former senior advisor and chief spokesperson for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, cited the “weakness of the U.S. in global affairs today” and nuclear arms developments as top-of-mind issues. “The single biggest concern I have is the real …

What are some of the biggest risks facing businesses and global economies today? Panelist Dan Senor, a former senior advisor and chief spokesperson for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, cited the “weakness of the U.S. in global affairs today” and nuclear arms developments as top-of-mind issues.

“The single biggest concern I have is the real possibility that Iran will go nuclear, which I think will be a game-changer in the Middle East,” he said. “It will be a game-changer, really, for the world. It has the potential to spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, with the Saudis, the Qataris and the Egyptians all pursuing nuclear capabilities.”

Panelist Jack Devine, a 32-year veteran of the CIA and president of global crisis manager The Arkin Group, concurred, adding that the rapid dissemination of information—often erroneous—is trou- bling. “It’s fascinating to watch how one commentator can stand up and say something that becomes widely repeated and accepted as a truism,” noted Devine. He also pointed to WikiLeaks’ release of secret government documents, coupled with a near-evangelical belief in infor- mation-sharing as a potential threat. “There is world out there now that believes in the purity of an open communications system, and that’s something we’re going to have to adjust to,” says Devine. “There are enormous implications for the business world and how we deal with information. If a WikiLeak relating to your company was around the corner, could you live with it?”

Dan Senor: Global Outlook 2011

The following are additional excerpts from the remarks of panelist Dan Senor, former senior advisor for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and co-author of Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, speaking on global risks and opportunities.

On revelations from Wikileaks:

Big parts of the Middle East and the Persian Gulf are deeply concerned about the possibility—I think the likelihood—of Iran going nuclear. It’s not just Israel; it is the heads of state in these Persian Gulf countries. Some of the language used is actually quite striking in terms of the extent of their fears about Iran going nuclear and the extent of the pressure that those governments have been putting on the United States government to take military action. To quote Adel Al-Jubeir, the Saudi Ambassador to Washington, in a statement he made to the White House, he says that King Abdullah expects you, and I quote, “to cut the head of the snake off,” meaning Ahmadinejad. Take him out. Take out this government.

It’s amazing to think of Persian Gulf countries advocating effectively not just war but regime change against one of their neighbors. Up to this point, we had always been lead to believe that it was just Israel and its friends in the United States that were clamoring for action against Iran, and that is clearly not true.

On closing Guantanamo Bay:

As many of you recall, during the campaign President Obama made a promise that by the end of his first year in office, he would close Guantanamo Bay. There’s only a small detail involved in that, which is what do you do with the hundreds of people at Guantanamo Bay?

And certainly, given the domestic and political response here to the idea of bringing them [to the U.S.], there was no way he could do that, so he had to relocate them to other countries. Shocking, many countries did not want these detainees. And so then, President Obama became Monty Hall, let’s make a deal, and started bouncing around the globe, offering all these deals to these governments. He offered the government of Slovenia a half-day visit by the president to Slovenia and a 20-minute meeting with the president of Slovenia if they agreed to take one detainee. They offered the government of Belgium a real commitment to make Belgium perceived as a more prominent economy in Europe, which probably isn’t that hard these days, if they would take four detainees or three detainees.

I worked in Congress for a number of years, and you see these kinds of negotiations. It reminded me of the kinds of negotiations that go on between a U.S. president and members of Congress when they’re trying to pass a free trade deal. These free trade deals are typically very uncomfortable politically for many members of Congress so the White House engages offers members of Congress these sorts of deals but I’ve never actually seen something quite like this in the international stage.

What is most striking about this is how weak the American presidency is today. This is not a statement about Barack Obama; it’s more a statement about the American presidency in global affairs today—what the American Presidency is reduced to on this Guantanamo Bay issue.

[More broadly] I have felt for the last year or so that America’s role in the world and its impact to minimize geopolitical risk for the U.S., both the U.S. government and the U.S. private sector, has been diminishing. And events over the last few years have only expanded my concerns in that regard.

Jack Devine: Global Outlook 2011

The following are additional excerpts from the remarks of panelist Jack Devine, a 32-year CIA veteran and president of global crisis manager The Arkin Group, speaking on global risks and opportunities.

On the role and power of the U.S.

Another event that happened recently was the publication of Bob Woodward’s book. When I was running the CIA’s operations around the world, I would have paid a small fortune for some version of that book written about Russian policy. And here you have Bob Woodward, basically divulging the inside workings of the government from the president on down. Nobody looks good, and you also come away with a disturbing view of the leadership issue and where we’re going.

Part of that leadership problem is because we have spent so much time, energy and resources in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and the effects of that are starting to show in a lack of effectiveness in other parts of the world.

I do think we’re going to be out of Iraq and Afghanistan. I do not think we’re going to go into Iran. I think we’re looking at the last land war for some time. I do not see American troops being committed in the next 15 to 20 years. I would like to see us return to the style of using covert action, using CIA special forces, not troops on the ground, to deal with our problems as they inevitably are going to fall in Afghanistan and Iraq.

How do we get out of Afghanistan? I don’t want to say I’m a lone voice, but it’s pretty lonely where I am. I want to see us get bin Laden. Everybody says, “Well, he’s dead. He’s not important anymore.” But I would say, “Wait a minute. How do you know he’s not important? You don’t even know where he is.”

On terrorism

Ten years ago, we were consumed by what is terrorism, how will it impact on our business? I don’t want to come back next year and face the results of this judgment, but I really believe that terrorism as in an Al-Qaeda movement winning the souls and minds and hearts of people, has peaked. It will be around for a long time, but it won’t be the central issue.

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