by Ralph Peters [author, novelist]

Warnings about the foreign challenges the Obama administration will face early on focus on the usual suspects – al Qaeda, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Russia and, not least, the global solvency crisis.

While each of these issues demands serious attention, the crises abroad that shocked, consumed or defined a succession of presidencies came “out of the blue.”

Focused on ending our Indochina war, Richard Nixon was blindsided by an oil-price shock (thanks to our eternal buddies, the Saudis). Jimmy Carter literally woke up to find the Soviets in Afghanistan – and our embassy staff held hostage in Iran, a collapsed ally.

Ronald Reagan faced the Beirut Marine-barracks bombing. Somalia panicked Bill Clinton; Rwanda embarrassed him – and the rise of al Qaeda paralyzed him. W got 9/11.

For President Obama, too, the first international crisis could be something that not one of us foresees (although, as always, events will seem obvious in hindsight). But there are also a number of potential crises hiding in broad daylight – and ignored.

China: Analysts obsess on what China’s doing to us – but the graver problem is what China has done to itself.

We’re warned that, since China overtook Japan as our No. 1 creditor (Beijing owns $600 billion in US Treasury securities), the People’s Republic could call in the chips and destroy us.

Well, unless China’s developed a taste for suicide, it ain’t happening. Beijing may sell off some notes, but such actions ultimately hurt China more than us. They need us to bail them out. With trade. Hurt our economy? They lose.

China’s fragile – explosively so. Last spring’s Szechuan earthquake could serve as a metaphor for the entire country – nothing’s built to code and collapse is a matter of time. And don’t trust Chinese statistics. We have the most transparent major economy in the world, and look how our accountants cooked the books.

Even within the numbers the Chinese post, there’s one red flag after another. Exports of (often awful) products boomed solely because they’re so cheap. That cheapness derives from an oppressed work force and – crucially – dishonest currency manipulation.

If Beijing allowed its currency, the yuan, to rise to its true value, the economy would crash like the Hindenberg. The government could only survive through violence.

Beyond its shoddy but glitzy urban showcases, China’s per-capita GDP remains around $2,000 a year – with expectations soaring just as foreign markets are saturated or declining. With street-level inflation higher than official figures admit, China’s population of 1.3 billion includes over a hundred million internally displaced adults without full-time jobs or prospects.

The population lacks the education to transition to a post-industrial economy; the environmental situation is catastrophic, and a health-care crisis looms: Beijing’s economic miracle is a far bigger bubble than our junk-mortgage travesty.

We’re not the economic prisoners of the Chinese. They’re manipulated-trade junkies who rely, desperately, on us for the next fix. The suits in Beijing put up a good front, but they’re terrified.

While pundits never tire of predicting America’s fall, it’s China at the cliff’s edge. And a Chinese economic collapse would lead to political tumult in an ambitious nuclear power with the world’s largest population. The strategic earthquake would span the globe – with consequences from Wal-Mart to Waziristan.

Mexico: No country is more important to US security than Mexico – yet we largely ignore it. Well, we won’t be able to confine our relationship to immigration issues and free-trade zones much longer. There’s a full-blown and worsening narco-insurgency on our southern border.

With the Mexican military patrolling major cities, drug-cartel violence still butchered 943 people in November alone. More than 5,000 Mexicans have died in the grisly violence in 2008, with 8,000 dead the last two years.

This is our Iraq-next-door.

Nor is the violence limited to thugs killing thugs. Regular assassination victims have been honest cops, soldiers, judges, top government officials – and journalists. (Since the US military can’t be blamed for their murders, we don’t hear much about courageous Mexican journalists killed for their coverage.)

This year, the assassinations reached the door of the president’s office.

If such trends continue in 2009, today’s insurgency could become a postmodern civil war in Mexico’s border states – 99 years after the start of Mexico’s catastrophic 1910 revolution. And, as in that forgotten tragedy, the violence would not stay south of the Rio Grande – al Qaeda’s struggling to reach us, but the narco-terrorists are already in downtown Los Angeles.

With the global economic crisis, the oil-price drop and plummeting remittances from Mexicans working abroad, our southern neighbor already faces an economic disaster. The narco-insurgency could turn that into North America’s worst crisis in our lifetime.

Nigeria: Hypnotized by the Middle East, we overlook a huge, fractious country that sends us over a million barrels of oil a day – making it our fourth-largest foreign oil supplier (after passing Venezuela this year).

Oil accounts for 95 percent of Nigeria’s exports. Petrodollars alone keep a breathtakingly corrupt and cloven state marginally capable of governing some of the country part of the time. In the crucial Niger River Delta, rebels and gangsters already have reduced oil exports by 20 percent. And the state can’t stop the violence.

Nigeria’s collapse has been predicted for decades, yet it always muddled through. Savage pogroms between Muslims and Christians erupted – only to subside again. But even slow-burn cancers kill eventually.

A widespread outbreak of violence could interdict oil exports – or the rebel interdiction of exports could trigger widespread violence that couldn’t be contained within Nigeria’s borders. While Africa has more than its share of ongoing crises, Nigeria’s the monster lurking in the American closet.

From Bolivia to Bangladesh, there’s no shortage of potential flashpoints that could demand a prompt reaction by the Obama administration. The one thing the new crowd in the White House can’t afford is confidence that the world’s going to make nice. ExileStreet

NY Post / copyright 2009 NY Post

Ralph Peters is Fox News’ strategic analyst. His latest book is “Looking For Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World.”

Ralph Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of 19 books, as well as of hundreds of essays and articles, written both under his own name and as Owen Parry. He is a frequent columnist for the New York Post and other publications.

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