Tuesday, January 20, 2009

2009 Predictions

Egypt: Is this the year Mubarak steps off the scene? It doesn't matter much. Egypt will not end up with leadership that is unacceptable to either the United States or Israel. One of these years will be the year. It could be this year, but it could be four years from now. Egypt will continue its hostility towards Hamas/Gaza - not because of Egyptian considerations but because Mubarak's family pockets part of the US Camp David payments. It's that simple and that disgusting but it is an arrangement that will be stable for the next year.

Gaza: Right now a lot of things are in flux in Gaza. My best prediction is that next year Hamas will still run Gaza. We'll see about the crossings but if there is a blockade there will be some form of resistance. I can't predict at this point what form it will take, but rockets like now are a good bet along with increased hostility against Fatah in the West Bank.

Israel: Netanyahu is ahead in the polls right now. Hillary was ahead in the polls last year at this time. Olmert/Kadima may just hang on. I'll predict a right coalition though. The stooges - Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia - will complain about Israel's rightward swing, but I'm no longer able to say their policies will reflect their complaints in any tangible way.

West Bank: The US is feverishly working to keep Abbas in power and protected from Palestine's voters. The US opposition to democracy in the Middle East - which follows necessarily from its support for Israel - is the US' most egregious departure from its founding ideals. Unfortunately, I predict that Abbas will still be in power, propped by US resources, this time next year.

Lebanon: I'm going to predict a slow year. Hezbollah will do well in the elections. Bush would react with a Gaza-type collective punishment on the Lebanese for voting wrong. I don't see Obama doing that, but Obama really is a wild card right now.

Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia: Slow year

Iraq: The US has no intention of fully withdrawing, but can't stay without Iraqi and Iranian cooperation. This will not be easy to solve but I expect that by this time next year there will be open discussions about a long-term US presence in Iraq - which means that Iran will have to have been bought off. It is clearer than ever that the Kurds can expect no further US help in their hopes for independence.

Iran: Iran will certainly be enriching uranium this time next year. Possibly, if there is a deal, it will be enriching at a slower pace than now, along with a relaxation of some sanctions and a torrent of complaints from Israel and Israel's supporters in the US.

Pakistan: Impossible to guess where things will be there. Hopefully there will not be much life-costing chaos in that country.

Afghanistan: Obama is planning on bringing more troops to Afghanistan, as if he thinks he can defeat the Taliban, which he clearly cannot. Like the surge of troops into Iraq, this looks like an honorable way for the US to pay the Taliban to join the government - which can work. As with Iraq, it also would work without the extra troops, but the US likes to pretend it is defeating people for some reason. Fine, it's the US' money at stake here.

Lots of 2008 Predictions

This prediction thing is not that easy. But there is a lot to learn by giving it a try. I made a decent amount of predictions about now last year around this time, so I guess I now have to pay the piper. Let's see how these went:

The United States is going to expend a lot of resources this year keeping both Olmert and Abbas in power. Once one is gone though, it can let go of the other. I'm confident that in two years, both Israel and Palestine will be represented by more radical leaderships. One year is harder to predict. I'm leaning towards either more radical elements of Fatah or Hamas being in power in the West Bank and Israel's right wing replacing Olmert by this time next year.

The resources thing was more an observation than a prediction. Olmert and Abbas both lasted the year though. I leaned against that because it seemed a year was plenty of time for Israel's right wing to organize itself for a challenge that it would win. It seemed like a close call at the time, but I fell on the wrong side. I said at the time that I was confident both would be gone by this time in 2010. I'll look back at that in my post for 2009 predictions. I'm less confident of that prediction now though.

It is easy to predict that the United States will continue its policy of refusing to engage Hamas until Hamas renounces the right to return. And Hamas will not renounce the right of return. Forgetting morality, this is the most impractical possible policy for the US to take and it will take a toll on US relationships with other powers in the region while pointlessly leading to Palestinian and Israeli deaths that otherwise would not have occurred. US Gaza policy bears the mark of an exceptionally untalented administration in the US executive branch.

Next year at this time, Hamas will be in power at least in Gaza. One way or another goods will easily reach Gaza through Egypt. The weaponry and skill of anti-Israel forces in Gaza will increase substantially. It is possible but not quite probable that over this year rockets from Gaza actually are going to become routinely fatal to Israelis. I hope though that in two years, after a year without Bush and Rice, a long term cease-fire is reached that stops the rockets and ends the siege. This siege is comically stupid. It accomplishes nothing. It has to be the stupidest siege in history.

Hamas is still in power. Goods do not easily reach Gaza through Egypt though. Egypt has proven more hostile to the Palestinians than I would have guessed last year. And by Egypt I mean Mubarak. If there is a pattern in my mispredicting the Middle East, it is that I am overoptimistic that the pro-Israel/US dictators will start acting more independent. These guys are well under US/Israeli control, as much I as wish and even predict otherwise.

It is easy to predict that the United States will continue to insist that Lebanon's Shiites will not have proportionate power in Lebanon's government and that Lebanon's Shiites will not end the current stalemate as long as US allies in Lebanon reflect this position. This policy will pointlessly lead to Lebanese deaths that otherwise would not have occurred. In the end, the Shiites will have a veto just as smaller population groups do. This must be the stupidest political stalemate in the world today.

Next year at this time there will be a government in place in Lebanon. Hezbollah will not be disarmed and may be in the process of folding into the Lebanese army. Effectively, the Shiites will have veto power and there will be reforms to the electoral system. Nasrallah will describe it as a victory. I'll probably agree. In other words, the stalemate will have been broken in Hezbollah's favor.

This was almost too easy.

I expect a pretty uneventful year in Syria.

I'm going to take credit for this.

Hopefully Kirkuk will not be part of Kurdistan this time next year. I'm optimistic that it will not. Most likely the postponements of the referendum in Kirkuk will be so routine that everybody knows the referendum is never going to happen.

2008 looks to be a good year in terms of not many US soldiers killed in Iraq.

Now I owe a commenter a post about Kirkuk and the Kurds in general. Essentially, in the global south I oppose separation movements. Later.

I'm going to take credit for the Kirkuk prediction. The low levels of US fatalities in Iraq was easy since the numbers were way down by the time I made the prediction.

I for a moment thought that if it looked like it would help Obama, and Iran thought Obama would be better, Iran might turn the heat up and raise US casualty levels in Iraq. That's really not Iran's style though and Obama by the summer didn't seem that much better than McCain. McCain would not bomb Iran any faster than Obama or Clinton. If the US military thought Iran could be bombed, Bush certainly, certainly would have ordered it.

Iran has informed the IAEA that it is testing a new centrifuge design. At this time next year there will be at least some operational. What Iran has now is really enough though, so getting a few hundred of another design running doesn't change the strategic picture at all. Of course neither the US or Israel are going to bomb Iran in 2008.

I don't think Iran has uranium running through its IR2s yet. So that may be wrong, or it may not yet be reported. The bombing thing was easy but there were some who thought a bombing was plausible.


So I haven't tallied up a score. I think I did pretty well though actually. A lot of the predictions were easy but once they are committed to the internet there is always the chance they can be proven wrong.

Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia really want to be under the US umbrella though at least for now. Elections in any of those countries would change that, but as much as it hurts me to write this, I don't think that will change in any of those countries without a regime change.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia have successions coming up. When their next leaders take over I'll get a feel for them, for now it is safe to project that they will be as reliably controlled by the US and Israel as the current leaders.

A New Day?

I don't know if I was worried about jinxing the Obama campaign somehow or if I for a period just lost the motivation to blog, but it's been almost a year since I've been here.

At the time of my last post I really didn't think Barack had a chance to win. His pledge, or at least stated plan to hold a conference of Middle Eastern parties, even enemies of the US, to discuss ways to counter terrorism struck me as enough to disqualify a candidate from a major national office in the United States.

Obama's statements since then present him as much more favorable to Israel than he appeared at the time, but he has not explicitly gone back on his earlier statements. We are going to have to learn who the real Barack Obama is over the next few months. His nominations show him as in line with previous US Middle East policy. But he insists that he, not his appointees will make policy - which just may be the case.

No verdict is in. I'm not optimistic but I am prepared to be pleasantly surprised at the degree to which Obama is able to break from the US' previous Middle East orientation. The reason is that Obama's goals in Iraq and Afghanistan would be a lot easier to reach if he can convince the region that he has or is willing to change policies on Israel and Israel-related issues such as Iranian uranium enrichment.

There's not much more to say except we shall see.