Abroad and at home, it will be the year of a lifetime.
2011 was a year of worldwide turmoil and great change. I expect — and to a certain degree fear — that last year was the warm-up act to 2012 which, both internationally and domestically, seems likely to be one of the most consequential years in recent history.
Imagine a boulder which had been sitting atop a mountain for longer than anyone can remember suddenly being pushed off. That was 2011. Imagine the unpredictable turns, bounces, and destruction the boulder will cause as it hurtles down the mountainside toward its next, if not final, stopping point. That is 2012.
On the global scene, some of 2011’s most significant events pose very different short- and long-term results. For example, the Arab Spring initially appeared to be a move toward freedom in an historically repressive part of the world but is now drifting toward other forms of tyranny. The Middle East remains likely to be the biggest source of turmoil in the coming year.
Egypt’s long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak was removed in what was essentially a military coup given cover by both real and fake pro-democracy demonstrators. (By fake, I mean supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic groups whose goal is not democracy but rather immediate governance under Sharia law, followed by a continued regional push for a caliphate.)
It’s not just Egypt where 2012 has the potential to be more significant and more bloody than 2011. Yemen, where al Qaeda has infiltrated in much the way that mold infiltrates inside the walls of an unlucky homeowner’s dwelling, will be heading into a critical situation with their dictator of three decades, President Saleh, playing cat and mouse with his intentions to give up power while those who surround him work to make sure that they, rather than Islamists or democrats, fill the vacuum.
Libya, which is mostly off the news pages these days, is now seeing efforts by al Qaeda to recruit terrorist fighters. Libya’s new government is probably strong enough to fend off the extremists, but nothing should be taken for granted except that people, including innocents, will die before the answer is truly known.
Libya’s place in the news has been replaced by Syria, where Bashar al-Assad, the man who perhaps not coincidentally maintains Hitler-like facial hair, is following in his father’s footsteps, ruthlessly killing civilians to protect his family’s and tribe’s power. The Assad family are Alawites, a Shi’ite sect of Islam which makes up about 12 percent of Syria’s population of about 22 million, versus the three quarters of Syrians who are Sunni. In other words, Assad and his co-religionists recognize that if they lose power, they’re likely to face intense reprisals from a large national majority for their years of tyranny. Assad will have help from Iran which wants to support the current Shi’ite regime both to assist in the mullahs’ power projection into Lebanon and to maintain access to a major direct path into Israel. This, along with the fact that Syria’s geography and western politics make NATO or other intervention unlikely, means that Assad will hold on longer and kill more people than Libya’s Gaddafi did in his final months. The question will certainly be raised “If Libya was worth western involvement, then why not Syria?”
But the biggest problem in the Middle East will be Iran which, despite the incoherent denials by soon-to-be-ex-Congressman Ron Paul, is rapidly progressing toward the development of a nuclear weapon. In recent days, Iran has said they are ready to resume six-party nuclear talks while insisting that their nuclear ambitions are peaceful. The West may agree to these talks for two main reasons: France, Germany, and Russia make a lot of money trading with Iran. And Barack Obama along with Baroness Catherine Ashton, a Labour Party member whose résumé reads like a leftist’s dream career and whose current title is “High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy,” will delude themselves into thinking that Iran is interested in honest discussion.
These people never learn. But Israel does. And one thing Jews have learned is that when the leader of a country says he wants to eliminate us, believe him — he really does want to. Rumors have swirled for months of Israel’s considering a pre-emptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. This is certainly part of the reason for Iran’s most recent pretending that they’re interested in multilateral talks.
The Iranians learn as well, and they remember 1981 when the American embassy hostages were released after 444 days in captivity at the very moment that Ronald Reagan took his first presidential oath of office. The Iranians were not afraid of the weak and anti-Israel Jimmy Carter and felt free rein to act while Carter was president. They feel the same way about Barack Obama. And why shouldn’t they? This is a man whose first major foreign policy speech as president was given in Cairo and offered little more than reverence for Islam couched in an apology for the United States. This is a man who pulled all U.S. troops out of Iraq, leaving the Iranian mullahs laughing in delight at how the Great Satan could spend so many lives and so many hundreds of billions of dollars just to clear the way for Iranian regional hegemony. Iran knows that Barack Hussein Obama stands a real chance of, like Carter, being a one-term president and they are working as fast as they can to reach their multiple nefarious goals in Libya, Syria, Iraq, and their own nuclear weapons program.
President Obama’s consistent projection of weakness and his obvious anti-Israeli views will invite Islamist and Palestinian adventurism until the inauguration of a Republican president a year from now. Given how rapidly things have changed in the Arab world in 2011, there is no reason to think that 2012 will be any less dramatic without the restraining force of fear of the United States which, thanks to Barack Obama, no dictator currently shares.
China will continue its goal of earning true superpower status by spending tens of hundreds of billions of dollars on enlarging and modernizing its military, especially its navy, while also embarking on an aggressive space exploration program — just as America’s space program retrenches under the twin pressures of reduced budgets and a less than enthusiastic president. China is not America’s enemy, but throughout 2012 it will increasingly become a strategic competitor as its continues down its path toward controlling many of the world’s commodity resources, particularly in Africa.
Elsewhere in the world, Hugo Chavez has cancer but, sadly, probably not a cancer which will kill him soon. Chavez has suggested that the US may be responsible for causing his cancer (and the cancers of other South American leaders). Thus, when Chavez calls President Obama a clown, it’s hard not to think “it takes one to know one.” South America will likely continue to be relatively quiet in 2012, with Brazil working hard to become an energy superpower.
Criminal paramilitary drug gangs in Mexico will continue to roil that nation’s daily life and its government, with murder and mayhem spilling across the U.S.’s southern border. According to Forbes, the town of Ciudad Juarez, not far from El Paso, saw more than 3,000 murders in 2011, making it the murder capital of the world. A BBC News report notes that “Five years after President Felipe Calderon launched his crackdown on the gangs, there have been some 50,000 drug-related killings” in Mexico. (The report suggests there were only about 1,700 organized crime-related murders in Ciudad Juarez.) The Washington Post’s study of murder statistics for 2010 gave Honduras the dubious top position: “Honduras had the highest per-capita murder rate in 2010 as Mexican drug cartels expanded smuggling networks into Central America. U.S. officials say the north coast of Honduras is the beginning of a drug pipeline to the United States.”
With an Obama Department of Justice whose brightest ideas include getting our own agents killed with American guns through the criminally negligent “Fast and Furious” scheme, the U.S. will remain mostly dependent on Mexico’s anti-cartel efforts which are led by men who range from committed to utterly corrupt. The violence that drug gangs are willing to commit to defend their profits will continue to spur a discussion over marijuana legalization, though high unemployment and the strength of Republicans who will not want to appear soft on drugs — even if their insistence on prohibition causes more death and destruction than the use of marijuana does — makes progress on this front unlikely in 2012, at least at the federal level.
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