Saturday, December 31, 2011

2012 Crystal Ball Blog, Part 3: International Predictions

In Part 1 of my Crystal Ball gazing blog post, I took a look at domestic politics in Canada and made some not-so bold predictions. In Part 2, I discussed a few over-arching ideas related to the economy and democracy, and my predictions tended to be a little more trend-based. Now, in Part 3, I’ll return to making some specific international predictions for 2012.

The Biggest Stories

As 2011 draws to a close, all of the sounds of war are being heard off in the distance. Earlier this week, Iran threatened to block oil exports by closing the Stratis of Hormuz, the strategic waterway at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, if international sanctions were to be brought against Iran. The U.S. responded by insisting that the Straits would remain open. Public opinion in the United States (and elsewhere) has been mobilizing for war with Iran, based in part on a recently released United Nations report which indicates that Iran is increasing its capacity to build a nuclear bomb. The government of Israel, in particular, has put its people on high alert that war may be coming.

Earlier this month, the Iranians cyber attacked a U.S. drone overflying their territory, which led to the complete takeover of the drone, and its soft landing within Iran. The U.S. government continues to insist that the drone malfunctioned. President Obama was left with no option but to publicly ask the Iranians to return the U.S. spy drone. The Iranians did not respond positively to his overture.

The British embassy in Tehran was recently violated by protesters, and the UK turfed the Iranian ambassador to London as a result.

In late December, a U.S. Court found that Iran was behind the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, having financed Al Qaeda terrorists. Whether this is true or not remains to be seen (as it clearly conflicts with the U.S. government’s narrative as outlined in the 9/11 Commission Report, released in 2004), but almost certainly these findings could easily be used as a justification for war against Iran.

War in Iran

All in all, there’s not a whole lot of international goodwill towards Iran out there right now. Last year, I predicted that despite ominous signs of war with Iran, 2011 would bring nothing new. This year, I am predicting that we will see war with Iran, in the form of an American-led coalition of the willing, which will include the UK and several other NATO members (yes, Canada will be one of them), but initially not Israel or Turkey. Israel and Turkey, however, will almost certainly be drawn into the conflict, as Iran’s military assets will not be completely overwhelmed in a single American strike.

War fever will grip the United States in the coming months, and the war itself is almost certainly going to come before U.S. Republicans name their Presidential nominee. President Barack Obama stands to gain considerable political points by making war on Iran, especially at a time when his harshest critics remain unable to speak with a single voice. War with Iran will also change the channel on any bad news about the American economy, which will also be an advantage for Obama.

The war itself will probably last for about a month, and during that time we can expect to see massive U.S. air strikes on military targets, with attendant collateral damage. While the air force will reap the brunt of the credit for the success of these strikes, it will be CIA agents remotely operating unmanned drones who will do the lions share of the work. Marine-based cruise missiles will also rain down upon Iran, crippling its air defences. Co-ordinated cyber attacks (some of which may originate from Israel) will also throw the Iranian government into complete disarray during the opening days of the attack.

Commandos from U.S. bases in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iraq and Afghanistan, will seize control of key Iranian assets, particularly those which may lead to the discovery of the Iranian nuclear weapons program. Unlike with Iraq, the public will be shown proof positive that the Iranians were up to something, and that story will emerge within the first few weeks of the war.

Despite almost complete American air superiority, there will surely be Iranian retaliation, and it won’t be limited to American strategic assets. Expect the Iranians to target Israeli cities with their missiles. Saudi Arabia might also end up on the receiving end of an Iranian counter-attack. Depending on Turkey’s involvement in Syria (more on that later), it too may come under Iranian missile attack. The attacks themselves may not cause much physical damage, but the political damage may be appalling, especially if Israel decides to use its own military forces against Iran. Israeli involvement on the side of the Americans would certainly enrage muslims throughout the world, and especially in North Africa, where relations with the West are fragile, due to recent regime change.

The end-game for the Americans will be regime change in Iran. The U.S. has been working with Iran's democratic opposition for some time now, and replacing the beaten mullahs with a moderate government might prove easier to do in Iran than it did in Iraq, although it’s hard to determine how accepting of a new government Iranians will be after being bombed. Nevertheless, there has always existed a significant element within Iran which has opposed its hardline Islamic government. And the people of Iran are much more homogenous in terms of religion, language and culture than the people of Iraq, which might lead to less dissent in Iran.

Regime change alone, though, will not signal the end of the war, but it will be enough to give Barack Obama the Presidential victory at the end of the year. That another long and expensive occupation looms on the horizon will be lost on American voters, who have long relished the chance to finally get back at Iran after the hostage crisis of 1979.

One would presume that war with Iran, especially one which threatens shipping through the Straits of Hormuz, would bring higher oil prices, and could potentially lead to an economic crisis. While that is a possibility, confidence in middle eastern oil remains high, with Libyan oil production again coming back on stream, and with Saudi Arabia insisting that it can increase its own production to make up for what is lost from Iran. While there may be a modest spike in prices at the pump, a slumping international economy may be the best predictor of oil prices throughout 2012, which is to say that prices should remain relatively steady, and be largely unaffected by a short, sharp war.

The Rest of the Middle East

Syria is already in the midst of a civil war, although only a few have begun calling it that at the end of 2011. Nevertheless, that’s what it is. Expect Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to continue to suppress protesters through the use of violence. Protesters will continue to hope for international intervention a la Libya, but the West will dither and offer only sanctions. The Arab League will fail to act, and the violent oppression will continue until the anti-government ring leaders are rounded up and the rebellion is brought to a bloody close. Democrats in Syria will not be celebrating any Tahrir Square-style victory at the close of 2012. Many will flee to Turkey to escape Assad's wrath.

There are a couple of wild cards in the Syrian conflict, though: Turkey and Iraq, and the Kurds. Let’s turn to Iraq for a moment.

Iraq and Turkey

With the official U.S. withdrawal of its military from Iraq, sectarian violence has returned. It seems unlikely that the government of Nouri al-Maliki will be able to hold his nation together. Already, Kurdistan has almost broken away into some form of semi-autonomous region beyond the control of Baghdad. As sunni battles shi’ite, Iraq is heading for some form of civil war.

As the Kurds continue to operate with impunity in Northern Iraq, we can expect to see further activity within those parts of Turkey where the Kurds have laid claim. Last year, Turkish forces traversed the Iraqi border, in pursuit of Kurdish armed militias, in late December Turkish war planes bombed Kurdish civilians in Iraq. It is quite likely that a disintegrating Iraq might prove too much for Turkey, and the military occupation of Iraq’s Kurdish north by Turkish forces may be the result.

Turkey may also be forced to intervene militarily in Syria, especially if the humanitarian crisis becomes too acute as a result of civil war. Don’t expect Turkey to take sides, though. But it may decide to occupy Syrian territory in order to protect Syrian citizens from Assad.

If war between the U.S. and Iran comes, and Turkish troops are occupying Iraqi Kurdistan or parts of Syria, expect NATO bases in Turkey to be on Iran’s list of targets.

All in all, 2012 is going to be a very violent year in the Middle East.

The United States of America

Politically, the biggest story of the year will be Barack Obama’s return to the White House for a second term. The second biggest story may very well be just who the heck the Republicans will nominate to lose to him.

Look, I’m not a big fan of Obama’s, and even if I were, I can’t ignore that he’s not the most popular politician in the United States at the moment. And it’s not that I see his popularity growing over the next 12 months (unless there is to be a war against Iran). It’s just that…those Republicans all seem so incredibly unelectable (including Mitt Romney) that Americans won’t have much choice but to return a lacklustre Obama.

If Donald Trump decides to make an independent, Ross Perrot-style run for the White House (which I predict he won’t), Obama’s triumph might prove to be one of the biggest in U.S. electoral history. Now, if New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg decides to make an Independent run for some reason, that would truly make things interesting. Again, though, I don’t expect that Bloomberg will run.

So, the big question is, who will the Republicans finally nominate to lose to Obama? My bet is that it will end up being Mitt Romney, who will be viewed as a bit of a compromise candidate for Republican stalwarts, but really he is the only one there who has even the remotest hope of going up against Obama. All of the other candidate suffer from one critical ailment or another, politically speaking.

I also expect the Democrats to make modest gains in the House of Reps and the Senate as well, but not enough to take back the House.

UK Coalition

The United Kingdom’s Coaltion government of Conservatives and Liberal-Democrats will crumble late in 2012, as Liberal-Democratic Leader Nick Clegg pulls the plug on an increasingly anti-European government. The Euro Crisis will end up leading to the demise of yet another government. An election to be held in 2013 will return the Conservatives with a majority government, and bring Labour back to the role of Official Opposition. The Liberal-Democrats under Clegg will find themselves in electoral free-fall, much as most junior coalition partner parties do.

Afghanistan

Hamid Karzai’s government will be under threat from two fronts. The first will be from within, due to corruption, and the other will be from without and in the form of the Taliban. With U.S. and NATO troops beating a hasty retreat, Afghanistan will likely find itself back in the familiar territory of civil war. I expect Karzai to hang on to power throughout 2012, but the territory in which he can exert that power is likely to shrink.

North Korea

With the passing of the Dear Leader, Kim Jong-Il, the keys to the kingdom have made their way to his son, Kim Jong-Un. At least that’s the story being peddled by Pyongyang. North Korea-watchers have almost unanimously concluded that it’s the military which will be holding North Korea together, with Kim as a figurehead, needed for propaganda, but not much else.

Interestingly, I suspect that as a result, Korea will be quiet over the next year, as shifting within the North’s power structure will prove to be the focus for the regime, rather than antagonizing its neighbours.

Australia

Last year, I predicted that Julia Gillard’s coalition government would crack and fall. That didn’t happen. So I’m extending that prediction over into 2012, and believe that the Labour-led coalition will fall and be replaced by…a Labour-led minority government which will seek to govern as if it had a majority, much as our minority governments seem to be doing here in Canada. The election will be a referendum on Labour’s carbon tax, which the people of Australia will vote to get rid of, but due to an out-dated first-past-the-post electoral system, they’ll end up keeping.

Russia

Despite growing pro-democracy rallies ahead of next year’s general election, Vladimir Putin and his United Russia Party will be returned with a very strong majority, and Putin will be the once and future President of Russia. Accusations of ballot-box stuffing and other forms of electoral corruption will be front and centre, leading to more protests. Expect the Russian authorities to begin a crackdown on pro-democracy organizers in the run-up to the election, and protesters will likely face violence at the hands of police after the election is held.

Keystone XL Pipeline

An interesting election issue will emerge in the United States, that being the Keystone XL pipeline, which President Barack Obama may end up having to cancel outright in the early part of 2012, due to a Republican rider introduced on a budget bill which calls for a final decision to be made on Keystone before the election.

You will recall that the Keystone XL pipeline, a project proposed by TransCanada to bring crude from the Alberta tar sands to refineries in Texas, required U.S. federal approval, which was expected to be made by Obama in the fall of 2011. Instead of making a decision, and after significant protests by environmentalists in Washington D.C., and landowners in Nebraska, Obama decided to put the pipeline on hold, until a new route through Nebraska away from the sensitive Ogallala aquifer could be found (and proven safe through a time-consuming environmental assessment process).

Environmentalists concerned about climate change hailed this non-decision as a significant victory. I believe that was an over-reaction on the part of climate crisis champions. Indeed, while Obama expressed environmental concerns with the pipeline, those concerns were not related to climate change. The political environment in the U.S. right now is not conducive to making decisions based on fighting climate change. By kicking a decision back to after 2012, Obama, if returned to office, would be able to approve Keystone XL and not worry about alienating environmental supporters before an election (simply by instead alienating them after the election).

But with the Republican rider included on a budget bill, Obama’s hand may be forced. I’ve read recently that the White House is trying to find some wiggle room around the rider, as I’m sure Obama wants to continue to postpone a decision until after the election. Having to kill Keystone now will provide Republican challengers with more ammunition that Obama favours the environment over jobs, and is therefore out of touch with voters.

However, I believe that if Obama can’t find a way to continue to postpone Keystone, he will almost certainly kill it. By killing it in January or February, it’s quite likely that the issue may be largely forgotten by the time of an election, especially if the election is fought on non-economic issues, which could happen with a little diversion as a result of a war with Iran, even with its attendant spike in oil prices. Better to risk Republican wrath on this issue than to have his environmental base abandon him before the election. Even though Obama is the only champion that environmentalists have right now in the U.S., it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that even a weak challenger could rise to oppose Obama in the upcoming election. It's been suggested that in 2000, Green Party Leader Ralph Nadar was credited with taking just enough votes away from Al Gore to sink his bid for presidency (which ignores the fact that Al Gore never "owned" those votes in the first place, but still, this scenario spooks Democrats. As an aside, one of my googlegangers, Arizona State Representative, Republican Steve May, was caught in a scandal in 2010 because he was helping homeless people register as Green Party candidates in the State election. Apparently, he did this in order to split the Democratic vote, and thus give himself better odds of winning. Admit it - you sometimes Google yourself too).

Obama will want to avoid a circumstance which could see a challenger emerge on his policy flank. So if Keystone has to die, it will die.

Climate Change

Interestingly, as I write this part of my blog about climate change, I note that I’m not going to say anything at all about the science of climate change, and instead I’m approaching climate change squarely from the point of view of public opinion. For me, the facts around climate change have long been well established; it’s the battle for public opinion which continues to be fought, in terms of public acceptance, but more importantly in terms of international action. Of course, local action is also important.

In 2012, we will continue to see public opinion on the issue of anthropogenic climate change build towards 2008 levels of acceptance, and indeed, public opinion polls at the end of 2012 may show the highest level of belief in climate change ever. The concept of climate change took a pretty big hit at the end of 2008, with co-ordinated efforts aimed to derailing climate talks in Copenhagen and reaching an agreement on the extension of the Kyoto Accord. The release of the so-called “ClimateGate” emails, and even more importantly, the spin afforded to their release in the right-wing mainstream media, along with a failure in Copenhagen, weakened the public’s resolve in accepting the science of climate change.

The campaign to subvert scientific fact continues to be waged at all levels today, and not just by those who are fighting against action in the interests of the corporate elites. Interestingly, libertarian elements have come to see combating the climate crisis as a way of further eroding rights and freedoms, especially in the United States, but as well in Canada. That’s largely because the two best ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions (the establishment of a cap and trade emissions trading scheme, or a carbon tax) are seen as impediments to the small-government movement, and indeed are considered to be yet further mechanisms to enrich the elite 1% at the expense of the majority. This is especially so of cap and trade, which will rely on financial middlemen (“banksters”) for its implementation.

Others continue to view combating climate change as an excuse to redistribute the wealth of rich nations to poorer ones, ultimately leading to international welfare through some form of global governance structure (believed by some to be run either by the "freedom-hating" United Nations or the technocrats who represent the corporate elites).

The science of climate change will continue to be challenged by oil industry-sponsored junk scientists, but I think that 2012 may prove to be one of the last years where the science itself will form a significant public opinion battleground. With the release of the next IPCC Assessment report scheduled for 2013 or 2014, issues related to science will start to take a back-seat in the mainstream media, and increasingly the media will adopt a tone of junk-science quackery when it comes to individuals who question the science. We’ll start to see some of that in 2012.

However, a new front has emerged in the climate change struggle, and it’s going to be a trend to watch throughout 2012. Climate change deniers are beginning to shift gears away from disputing that climate change is happening, and even away from the notion that even if it is happening, it’s too expensive to do anything about. The latest attack is one straight from the heart, as increasingly we’ve seen personal attacks on the patriotism of environmentalists and other citizens concerned about climate change.

Indeed, if you follow Sun Media in Canada, the insinuation being made is if you don’t support the tar sands there’s something very un-Canadian about you. Indeed, Sun Media appears to be censoring the very term "tar sands" replacing it with "oil sands" even within the context of quotations used by environmentalists and politicians.

Domestic environmental organizations and individual environmentalists, such as Dr. David Suzuki, are increasingly under attack for having accepted donations from international environmental organizations, some of whom may be operating in countries with their own vested oil interests (such as Saudi Arabia) or (really interestingly) green economic interests, such as Germany or Denmark. The theory here is that if money is flowing to environmental organizations in Canada which want to slow down tar sands growth, this is actually a sinister purpose, whose ultimate goal is to undermine the Canadian resource economy so that other international oil interests in competition with Canada will be better positioned to profit, along with green industry start-ups (such as German wind farms). And therefore "foreign-influenced" environmentalism is anti-Canadian, and the national loyalty of all environmentalists must be called into question.

That the neo-liberals are able to make these arguments at all while ignoring the fact that it’s the same international corporate interests who are running the show in Saudi Arabia and who have invested heavily in alternative energy in Europe is to laugh. But this narrative will continue to have resonance in Canada and in the United States. If climate change denial (or at least taking action on climate change) can be equated with patriotism for one’s nation (presumably at the expense of the rest of the world), then there will be resonance in a nation which is becoming increasingly polarized between the neo-liberals and Everyone Else, and where accusations of “extremism” and “terrorism” are tossed around at highschool students and grandmothers participating in civil disobedience.

A Year of Transition

Yes, 2012 is going to prove to be a pretty dismal and dangerous year over all, as the final gasps of the 20th Century growth-centred economy finally start giving way to a period of transition known as the Long Emergency.

And the Dallas Stars will win the Stanley Cup!

(opinions expressed in this blog post are my own and should not be considered to be in keeping with those of the Green Party of Canada)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

nice opinion.. thanks for sharing...