Editor's Note: Below is a complimentary research note written earlier this week by National Security analyst General Dan Christman. To access our Macro Policy research email sales@hedgeye.com.

Macro Policy Outlook 2020: Better than 2019? - MadMadWorld 2020 NEW

The new year is always an opportune moment to speculate on what lies ahead for our country in the foreign policy and national security arena.

But any relaxed speculation over the holidays about 2020 was rudely disrupted by the targeted death last week of Iranian Quds commander Qasem Suleimani. 

  • No event over the last decade in the always unsettled Middle East matches the destabilizing potential of this U.S. action. And as a consequence, U.S.-Iran tensions top any list of "must watch" geostrategic concerns for the new year.  
  • To be clear: few mourn Suleimani's demise; and with Iranian proxy behavior mounting throughout the region at Suleimani's direction, President Trump's actions laid down unmistakable markers about the limits of U.S. patience.
  • But the U.S. attack at the Baghdad airport leaves at least two vital questions unanswered: first, how will Iran retaliate? And second, as GEN (Ret) Dave Petraeus cogently put it in 2008, "Tell Me How This Ends!"
  • On Iranian retaliation, expect it to be asymmetric, but expect it also to be significant and to cause casualties - U.S. and partner, especially the Saudis. Cyber is very likely to play a role, with the potential for major disruptions in regional as well as U.S. targets. Iranian successes in the past have been noteworthy, both in the Gulf and here, and their capabilities continue to improve.  
  • And on "How this ends," the quick answer is, not soon! Our president, with French encouragement, tried last fall for an outreach to the Iranian leadership; it was rebuffed, and Trump's not eager to quickly try again. But ironically, two leaders whom Trump has courted - Putin and Xi Jinping - may wind up providing a diplomatic off-ramp that keeps their new mutual "best friend" (Tehran) from self-immolation.      

Beyond U.S.-Iran, however, there is a truncated list of other international events that should be of concern to business leaders. What makes this abbreviated list? At least five stand out: 

  • Taiwan's January 11th presidential election: as Foreign Policy magazine recently noted, over the last six months no democratic nation has been the object of greater foreign power information warfare and influence operations than Taiwan. The "influencer" of course is China, and Beijing wants the independence-leaning incumbent president defeated; she won't be. The issue, however: PRC retaliation against Taiwan-based industrial firms, especially semi-conductor companies like TSMC, when President Tsai Ing-wen is reelected. At that point, expect information warfare to be replaced by raw economic pressure, from a government whose strategy is to make Taiwan unmistakably a "Chinese province" by 2049.    
  • North Korea's surprise gift: "love" is rapidly disappearing from the Pyongyang-Washington relationship; chances of a breakthrough in the nuclear talks are zero. The likely next step? a North Korean extended-range rocket launch on or before the birthday celebration of Kim Jong Un's father on February 16th.  
  • India's deepening domestic unrest: the backlash to the passage of an immigration bill that discriminates against Muslims has been extensive and deep. Few actions by any Indian PM or Parliament in the past 10 years have stirred more controversy and unrest. The recent re-election of Narendra Modi was thought to be an opportunity to deepen foreign investment and stimulate a flagging economy; instead, both are suffering as disturbances continue.    

Two additional worries from 2019 have probably been put on the near-term 2020 back-burner: the U.S.-China trade war, and BREXIT; but both bear close monitoring:  

  • On U.S.-China trade, we've seen in the so-called "Phase I" deal all we are likely to see; don't expect a "Phase  II" this year, if ever; but do expect the continued, slow unraveling of the three-decade-long, mutually dependent U.S.-China economies. 
  • And in the UK, PM Johnson is likely to find by year-end that getting his BREXIT bill through Parliament was easy compared to negotiating a final trade deal with the EU - one that allows the UK to strike new bilateral deals with partners like the U.S. 

So, where does this leave us? Even two weeks ago, one might have been tempted to agree with Eurasia Group president Ian Bremmer, who stated that Trump "is an unorthodox but ultimately risk-averse president." That guardedly optimistic underpinning for 2020 is no more; the U.S. attacks on Iranian militia camps plus the death of Suleimani changed unmistakably a somewhat comforting 12-month assessment.  

  • The year ahead will be a difficult one, where friends and a sound strategy will be sorely prized. In the end, we'll likely find ourselves longing for the relative tranquility of 2019!

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LTG Dan Christman, USA, Ret. serves as Hedgeye Potomac Research’s Senior National Security Analyst, providing deep insight into international affairs and national security.  Most recently, Dan provided strategic leadership on international issues affecting the business community for organizations such as the US Chamber of Commerce.  Dan’s long history of leadership includes his service as a United States Army lieutenant general and former Superintendent of the United States Military Academy.  He served in highly visible and strategically important positions and four times was awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the nation's highest peacetime service award.

He also served for two years as assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during which time he traveled with and advised Secretary of State Warren Christopher.  He was centrally involved during this period with negotiations between Israel and Syria as a member of the Secretary's Middle East Peace Team. Further, Christman represented the United States as a member of NATO's Military Committee in Brussels, Belgium.

Graduating first in his class from West Point, Christman also received MPA and MSE degrees in public affairs and civil engineering from Princeton University and graduated with honors from The George Washington University Law School. He is a decorated combat veteran of Southeast Asia, where he commanded a company in the 101st Airborne Division in 1969.