In 2004, Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook. George W. Bush was reelected president of the United States. And American intelligence analysts consulted with hundreds of experts across five continents to try to predict what the world would look like in 2020.
The result, a 119-page report by the National Intelligence Council titled “Mapping the Global Future,” is an eerie and illuminating read with 2020 now upon us. The authors, led by Mathew Burrows, then a top official at the council, sensed that the world was approaching an inflection point, even if they didn’t yet know what role the United States would play in it. “At no time since the formation of the Western alliance system in 1949 have the shape and nature of international alignments been in such a state of flux,” they wrote.
As with most expert predictions, the intelligence officials got plenty wrong about our present era. But they got a lot at least partially right, an indication that not everything about the world today is as unpredictable as it might seem. While the analysts at the National Intelligence Council may not have seen President Donald Trump coming 15 years ago, they anticipated Trumpism. They didn’t expect the United States to voluntarily reduce its presence in the world, but they grasped that its clout was eroding. They missed the Islamic State, but foresaw the conditions in which ISIS arose.