01 January 2010

Looking ahead at 2010

In the countdown to the new year our media are full of retrospectives looking back at what happened in the year that is coming to a close (and in the case of some who think that the first decade of the twenty-first century came to an end last night, ten-year retrospectives).

This first day of the bright and shiny new year is perhaps a good time for those who are presumptuous enough to think that they know a few things to put their money where their mouth is and attempt some forecasts of what the year ahead will bring. Forecasting is a hazardous business, but here goes:

(1) There will be no progress towards an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. Settlement building on the West Bank will resume, the slow ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem will continue, and Gaza will remain strangled by Israeli sanctions. There will be hand-wringing in Washington, but not much else.

(2) The “surge” in Iraq will by year’s end be a proven failure.

(3) It will be even clearer than it is now that there is no possibility of “victory” or “success” in Afghanistan, and the US Administration will be busy positioning Hamid Karzai and everyone around him to take the blame for the failure of what was a doomed enterprise from the start.

An old colleague of mine used to say that the opportunity of a lifetime had to be grasped within the lifetime of the opportunity.  If the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 presented us with the opportunity of a lifetime to do something or other, the lifetime of the opportunity certainly did not last through eight years of neglect. If there was ever a chance, it is now far too late. The failure to establish any clear objective for the invasion did not help.

(4) There will be modest efforts to salvage something from the wreckage of the Copenhagen conference on climate change, but we can be sure that whatever action is agreed will be far too little, far too late. For a long-term hold, buy shares in engineering companies that are very good at sea walls.

(5) Spin doctors will find creative ways to present all of the above as success, or at least as meaningful progress. Modern governments never do anything that is unsuccessful.

(6) Pakistan will look more like Afghanistan than it does today. The US Administration will continue to pressure the Pakistanis to take actions in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas which will prove disastrous sooner rather than later. There are good reasons why those areas were directly administered by Delhi during the Raj, and why the tailor made administrative regimes were continued from 1947 in the successor state, Pakistan.

At the outset of the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 a lot of people would probably have agreed that if Afghanistan ended up looking a bit like Pakistan in 2001, that would be success. The net effect of our efforts will in fact be to make Pakistan look a lot more like Afghanistan.

(7) Nothwithstanding Pakistan’s travails, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence will continue to intervene unhelpfully in Afghanistan, with a view to Pakistan establishing itself as the dominant power in Central Asia. Much of the money to fund this will be diverted military assistance funding from the United States.

(8) There will be a very significant evolution of the Iranian political system. It is hard to see this happening without a lot of blood being shed, because neither side can afford to give up.  In the next few months there will be increasingly heavy handed efforts to suppress the reform movement, but the reform movement has such momentum, and so many members of the urban classes are so sick of the current regime, that it is hard to see the current leadership being successful in reimposing order. There are grounds for cautious optimism, but don’t mortgage your house to bet on it.

(9) Whoever is running Iran will remain firmly committed to the development of an independent nuclear energy program, and in so doing will reduce the lead time for Iran to develop and deploy a nuclear weapons capability.  Nevertheless, the Iranian regime will refrain from committing to a nuclear weapons capability.

(10) The United States will not succeed in establishing any sort of effective sanctions regime against Iran (for which we can all be thankful).

(11) As we emerge from the depths of the Global Financial Crisis, the full meaning of the crisis will become clearer, as we begin to appreciate the consequences for the United States and the United Kingdom in particular of the massive sovereign debt they have incurred. It will become evident that there can be no return to “normal”, that a new “normal”, meaning a substantial realignment of economic power and political influence, is in the process of being established.

(12) Some of the above predictions will turn out to be profoundly wrong (I just don’t know which ones).

That is a pretty bleak bunch of predictions, but that is the way it looks to me. Military adventures come at a cost.

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