2006 is likely to be like the years that preceded it in that there is not a single major world leader whom it is possible to admire unreservedly, as, for all their faults, one could admire Vaclav Havel or Nelson Mandela. So it is surely a safe prediction that from Tokyo to Washington, Johannesburg to Brussels, and Beijing to Moscow, the world will go on being governed by moral and intellectual dwarves. The real question is how malign the effects of their particular stewardship will be. I would say in the case of Putin’s Russia (the erosion of what democracy existed, the continuing war in Chechnya), Mbeki’s South Africa (the insane refusal to deal seriously with Aids), and of course Bush’s United States (the extraordinary arrogance of power, and the utopian folly of trying to impose democracy at the point of a gun), quitemalign.
Fundamentalism will surely continue to grow in strength in the Islamic world. Presumably at some point, one of the old tyrannies of the region will be replaced by the new tyranny of Islamic rule (Egypt, Syria, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia being the likeliest prospects). But whether that will occur in 2006 is anyone’s guess.
Does anyone doubt Africa will continue to burn? Making Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono Time’s persons of the year will not change that. Neither will the bogus rescue packages of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. To change things in Africa would mean sacrifice in the rich world, and…well it’s obvious, isn’t it?
And then there’s the environment. That has been for some time, remains, and will continue to be the great issue of our time. Or should I say the great ignored issue of our time. For while they think about terrorism in Washington, illegal immigration in Brussels, and capitalism in Beijing and New Delhi, the environmental crisis that will literally change the world as the oceans are plundered, the ice caps melt, and the hole in the ozone layer widens, is already upon us. That should be the real life and death question in 2006. But it is safe to predict that despite the efforts of groups like Greenpeace, it will not be.