Paul Rogers Roger Scruton Ivan Krastev Neal Ascherson Vesna Goldsworthy Gara La Marche KA Dilday Rajeev Bhargava Mary Kaldor Sidney Blumenthal Tony Judt Michael Naumann Krzysztof Bobinski Patrice de Beer Manjushree Thapa Alun Anderson Becky Hogge Mariano Aguirre Sergio Aguayo Quezada Todd Gitlin Simon Zadek Jonathan Zittrain Arthur Ituassu Ivan Briscoe
What do you think the coming year will bring? An experiment in "predictive markets" will test the openDemocracy community's forecasting skill in 2007
Play the openDemocracy prediction market game here (You need to be a signed-in openDemocracy member [which is free] before trading)
Let Tony Curzon Price, resident economist, guide you through
The Iraq Study Group (Baker-Hamilton) report is history and there will be no major United States withdrawal from Iraq. There may be a restriction of US forces to large well-protected bases to limit casualties, with more emphasis on helicopter gunships and strike aircraft for counterinsurgency operations, but that has failed once and will fail again. A complete US rethink of policy in Iraq and the Persian Gulf will have to happen, but it won't come in 2007.
Britain will withdraw most of its forces from southeast Iraq after Gordon Brown moves into 10 Downing Street. There will be claims that "the job is done", but this will merely be spin as militias will largely control Basra and Iranian influence will increase.
Meanwhile, Israel's internal unease, following its failure against Hizbollah in the summer war, means that it may decide to go to war with Hizbollah again. Israel may well also attack Iran - Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's holocaust-denial has struck a deep chord of insecurity in Israel and the government may feel the best chance of US support for an attack is in early 2007.
The decision of the Pentagon to deploy a second aircraft-carrier battle-group to the region makes it easier for the US to attack Iran, but it is more likely designed to be putting such forces into the region knowing that an Israeli military strike on Iran will lead to Iranian counterattacks against US forces and oil facilities.
Paul Rogers's most recent article on openDemocracy:
"Afghanistan: the choice"
(21 December 2006)
There is a chance that Nato/Isaf will rethink its strategy in Afghanistan, including working with the Afghan government to bring moderate Taliban elements into the political process. If not, there will be an upsurge in violence until such a rethink becomes unavoidable.
More generally, climate change will rise rapidly up the security agenda and there will be a growing awareness of the need for a fundamental reappraisal of western security policies as George Bush's "long war against Islamofascism" enters its seventh disastrous year.
The slow-burning, confused world rebellion against the declining American imperium will go on, sometimes violent, sometimes by changing alliances and economic struggles. Pretty certainly, there will be more acts of terrorism against western targets, but I feel that the energy of that campaign is starting to run out. A guess is that Osama bin Laden will be killed or captured in the course of the year.
In Iraq, knowledge that the Americans are going will probably intensify the insurgency, rather than reduce it. In Afghanistan, it will become clearer that the Taliban insurrection is becoming one more Pashtun uprising - something which can only be ended by a deal between the Pashtun and the other Afghan warlords and ethnic groups. The regime in Pakistan may well come unstuck, leading to a change of autocrats or possibly to an interval of violent chaos.
In the United States, rats will continue to desert the sinking Bush presidency, which will become less aggressive and more bewildered by the world. The heat should slowly go out of the Iran confrontation, but American support for Israel will endure. In the middle east, there may be an interval of sheer exhaustion as Israel and Hamas / Hizbollah find a way to tolerate one another's existence, but without an American change of policy there seems little chance that an Israeli government will take the measures which can prevent an otherwise inevitable return to bloodshed.
Neal Ascherson's most recent article on openDemocracy:
(28 June 2006)
The European Union will find a way to accept the crucial elements of the ill-fated "constitution", and by the end of 2007 signs of further movement towards more political integration will be reappearing.
As for Britain, there is a sporting chance that a Scottish National Party-led coalition will govern Scotland after the May elections, but it's unlikely - at this stage - that the Scots would vote convincingly for independence in any referendum.
Gordon Brown should make it to 10 Downing Street as Tony Blair's successor, but will face the wretched prospect of leading a Labour cabinet in the fag-end of a power-cycle, when everything will go wrong, blunders will proliferate and the media will embark on a merciless offensive against a weakening government.
Clifford Geertz, the brilliant anthropologist and writer died this year. I admired his work: his intellectual voraciousness in confronting difficult questions of morality and responsibility reminded me of the obligation I have as a human, his skill and beauty as a writer thrilled me as a craftsman.
Do you reader, as I do, ever wake and remember that hundreds of thousands of people have died in a in four-year-long war in the Democratic Republic of Congo and you've scarcely thought about it for months; that people have been imprisoned at Guantànamo for years without fair process and most days you forget; that somewhere in India, a 7-year old girl is basically a slave and you never think of her at all?
KA Dilday's most recent article on openDemocracy:
"Zidane and France: the rules of the game"
(19 July 2006)
Ignorance, or rather ignoring, is getting more difficult in this age when we are bombarded with images. In 2007 as it has for many years, the advances of technology will make it more and more difficult for us to live in blissful ignorance. "If we wish to be able capaciously to judge, as of course we must, we need to make ourselves able capaciously to see," Clifford Geertz wrote some twenty years ago. He was speaking of seeing in the figurative sense, but 2007 will bring as recent years have, new ways of seeing in a tangible way. And perhaps it will push us to judge and act, buoyed, or rather shamed, by what we know we know.
President Bush, after rejecting the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, his father's final and most heroic effort to rescue him once again (see: paternal pressure for admittance as a family "legacy" to Phillips Exeter Academy, Yale University, Harvard Business School; pressure for admission during the Vietnam War to the "champagne unit" of the Texas Air National Guard (Tang); cover-up of W's absence without leave for a year from Tang; bail-out and cover-up of financial finagling at Harken Energy Co.; insertion of James Baker to lead campaign in the 2000 Florida contest), will escalate the Iraq war.
Bush will de facto align the United States with one sect, the Shi'a faction led by Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the cleric who is head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, against prime minister Nouri al-Maliki and his sponsor Muqtada al-Sadr - and renew military offensives against the Iraqi Sunni.
These spasmodic gestures to secure "victory" will all fail. The Saudis, Egyptians and Jordanians will privately wash their hands of the Bush administration and look the other way as Saudis and others fund and arm the Sunni.
Sidney Blumenthal's most recent article on openDemocracy:
"Jeane Kirkpatrick, shadow of the present" (20 December 2006)
Of course, the middle-east peace process will go nowhere. The Europeans will remain impotent bystanders. As Bush's poll numbers sink into the twenties, Condoleezza Rice will reassure her "husband" that he is a great man on the order of Abraham Lincoln and will be vindicated by history.
Meanwhile, as vice-president Cheney pushes for air strikes on Iran, Mary Cheney will give birth to a bouncing baby to be raised illegitimately with her lesbian partner, and the prospective Republican candidates for president in 2008 will jostle over which one is most adamantly opposed to gay marriage.back to top
2007 will see a developing debate about climate change and energy security which will see us looking more and more at the future of the planet as a whole and not in terms of individual states, societies or social groups.
The discussion will cover both the future of nuclear energy but also nuclear-weapons proliferation. The latter question is becoming urgent. The United Kingdom is wondering what Trident is actually for. But the central lesson learned of the Iraq fiasco for the rulers of non-nuclear medium-sized states in unstable locations such as Iran is that Saddam Hussejn would still have been in charge if he had had weapons of mass destruction.
The questions facing us in 2007 will be: might not the world become an environmentally safer and more secure place if we have more modern nuclear-power stations and more nuclear-arms proliferation but within the framework of a new global nuclear compact?Security of supply of conventional energy sources is also an issue which the European Union will be discussing in 2007, mainly in the context of how to arrange things with Russia. The EU could also kick in with some thinking on the nuclear issues. They are there in its DNA. The Messina declaration of 1955, which gave rise to the Treaty of Rome two years later (watch the anniversary celebrations in March 2007) shows just how high on the agenda energy (including nuclear energy) then was.
Krzysztof Bobinski's most recent article on openDemocracy:
"Hungary's 1956, central Europe's 2006: beyond illusion"
(27 October 2006)
Moreover, can the EU offer any advice on developing institutions which could stabilise the situation between, say, Pakistan and India - whose relationship, while strained, has become more mature, since both got nuclear arms?
As for predictions: Ségolène Royale will win the presidency in France. This will not reinvigorate a European Union still ensnared in the constitutional-treaty ratification conundrum and looking desperately for leadership. Further east: watch Afghanistan. Those who know say that Nato will get a bloody nose at the hands of the Taliban, while the tragedy of Iraq won't go away.
To sum up: 2007 will show that globalisation is much more than just a matter of trade, services and financial flows.
2007 will be a tipping-point for action on climate change. Among the drivers for change will be the new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (published in February 2007), further compelling scientific evidence that the Arctic is now irrevocably melting away (ice-free summers by 2040) and a Democrat-controlled United States Congress that will go for emission controls and succeed in dragging even George W Bush along.
In the US, the coming together of those who seek "energy independence", and thus the chance to forget the middle east, with those who want to tackle climate change will provide ever increasing backing for technological innovation.
Most important of all will be the increasing certainty that there is money to be made in climate change now, and much more to be made in the future. Businesses big and small will look for profit in dealing with global warming. Already there is a global venture-capital boom in investment in new green technologies and into companies with some very imaginative ideas that could unexpectedly transform the world. It is always good to remember that in the long term we don't need to have an energy or greenhouse-gas emission problem. If we captured the energy from 10% of the sunlight falling on just under 1,000th of the earth's surface we would have more clean energy than we currently consume from fossil fuels. (And the most expensive solar cells already can convert 20% of sunlight so we are not asking the impossible).
Environmental activists won't all welcome seeing climate change turn into an opportunity for business and for technological innovation. There has always been a streak of "we must be punished for our sins" in the green movement. Those who think saving the planet must involve personal sacrifice (the kind of people who ask "have you signed the no-fly pledge") or that Gaia must bite back against humans may be disappointed. Even more galling is the likelihood that in some regions of the earth, people will profit from climate change. The Artic may be set for a long-term boom as waterways open up, resources can be reached and huge new fisheries develop.
Such changes in thinking are hard to take in. But take them in we must. With China and India rushing towards western standards of living, we'll see 2007 turning to industrial-strength solutions for global warming.
For those of us who ponder on Mexico, the future is tainted by uncertainty and by the possibility that the social and political conflict and drug-related crimes that characterised 2006 might drag out.
If the situation deteriorates even further, a factor rarely taken into account could be considered: the central role that Mexico plays in the world's power structure. Let me explain.
The way in which the United States projects its power to the world is related to the preservation of a stable southern flank. We have forgotten that during the most violent years of the Mexican revolution (1910-17), Washington was forced to deploy 50% of its armed forces to guard its border.
Sergio Aguayo Quezada's most recent article on openDemocracy:
"Mexico: on the volcano" (24 November 2006)
Mexico's geopolitical importance is rarely taken into consideration because during the 20th century the country kept agitations of all kind under control, which has in turn caused it to be taken for granted. If this situation were to be modified, Washington would have to dedicate time and resources towards Mexico which could, eventually, have different kind of repercussions in other regions of the planet. In a sort of Mexican "butterfly effect", a demonstration in Oaxaca or executions in Michoacán could be felt in Baghdad, London or Madrid.
Most analysts - myself included - consider that a drastic deterioration of the situation is unlikely. However, no one dares to discard it altogether. The year 2007 comes floating on that uncertainty which dries the mouth and strains the intellect. We live on top of a volcano.
Translation: Alfonsina Peñaloza
2007 will test the ability of well-meaning people to organise themselves into groups capable of doing good on a small scale that, when aggregated, can be a new, constructive vector of power added to the usual ones of corporate, governmental, religious, educational, and non-profit institutions and identities.
The internet has given us some tantalising glimpses of such self-organisation, ways of interacting and producing that seem naive in their assumptions about people's goodwill and good faith, but that are sometimes vindicated. Coming up with new ways to understand what's going on in the world and what others' views are about it can't happen too soon.
Whether the world is more of a mess at the end of 2006 than it was at the beginning is a question that is hard to answer. One thing is certain, however, which is that Europe is becoming conscious of the deep crisis of identity which has been brewing since the 1960s.
Falling birthrates, over-burdened welfare systems, large-scale immigration, Islamist militancy and - above all - the dwindling of the Christian faith and the Christian morality have left Europe uncertain of its destiny, at the very moment when its political elite has chosen to advance the project of European Union.
The entry of Romania and Bulgaria into the union will have devastating economic, demographic and social effects in Britain and France, and the alienation of the native populations of the old European countries from the elite that claims to speak for them will bring about widespread disenchantment with the democratic process.
Roger Scruton's most recent article on openDemocracy:
"Tony Blair's genius" (18 December 2006)
The complete absence from the European project of a Plan B, the ease with which politicians can use the project to evade all responsibility to their electorates, and the disabling influence of transnational legislation on elected governments - all have led to a situation which cannot easily be reversed.
No doubt there will be new nationalist movements emerging in response to this. I don't doubt that the demands for an English parliament will increase, though I don't foresee (yet) the break-up of the United Kingdom. It is more likely that Belgium will break up, with the Flemish nationalists achieving their goal of independence. The Netherlands will become the flashpoint in the confrontation with Islamic extremism, and is likely to produce some political surprises. Let's hope that they will be of the same kind as the wonderful Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
I am taking my 6-year-old son to Canada this winter. "I want him to see some real snow while it still exist," I joke, but Toronto - where we are going - remains, thus far, resolutely warmer than London. I am not sure what kind of clothes to pack. I ring my mother in Serbia and interrupt a coffee party: she and my aunts have been sitting outside in the garden. It's sixteen degrees centigrade in December.
I remember sledging down my street in Belgrade with friends, all day long, until my fingers and toes turned blue with cold. They hurt when I pressed them against the warm tiles of the coal stove in our drawing room. This was in the 1960s, but it seems as unreal as those 17th-century paintings of the frozen Thames at the Museum of London. There has been no snowfall like that in Belgrade for years. There has been no snow in London either, but we recently had a tornado.
Vesna Goldsworthy's most recent article on openDemocracy:
"Au revoir, Montenegro?"
(23 May 2005)
We call it "freak weather" but "freak" is now normal. I am not sure what will happen in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2007, but I am pretty certain that it will be a year of "freak weather". It may be the hottest day on record here, the driest month there, floods and hurricanes where we least expect them. The tides will be high, the droughts will be long, it will rain rarely, but when it rains it will be torrential. The lawns in England will remain yellow from April to November. The weather reports will often move from the last slot to headline news, but they will be more and more boring because everything will be described as "unseasonal". And we will all fly ever further to encounter different climates.
2006 saw the further rolling back of European multiculturalism. Though some lament that the multicultural dream is over, its many opponents are relieved that the curtain is finally drawn on the atrocious "drama of multiculturalism". Will this retreat continue in 2007 and beyond? And is it desirable that this be so?
India was among the first countries to have initiated without much fanfare a set of socio-cultural policies that later came to be known as multiculturalism. For a while these policies worked. Then, as the socio-economic condition of Indian Muslims deteriorated, these policies generated a bad politics of Muslim identity followed by a worse, more ugly and dangerous politics of Hindu identity. But just when it appeared to have triggered a new phase in the vortex of majority-minority syndrome, the ground - despite 9/11, acts of terrorism on Indian soil, and the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat - has shifted dramatically to issues of redistributive justice.
A majority of Indian Muslims who live in rural areas are landless labourers and small, marginal farmers. More than half of the urban Muslim population lives below the poverty line. The Muslim share in public and private employment is dismal. Muslims are less educated than the national average.
Is it their own fault that they are unable to exercise socio-economic and legal rights? Surely, some responsibility for it falls in their lap but the Sachar committee report, set up by the new Congress-led coalition government has exploded the myth that hordes of little Muslims are filling the madrasas only to be metaphorphised into big terrorists. Their data shows that only 4% of Muslim children are enrolled in these madrasas, and more importantly that Muslim parents are not averse to sending their children to good and affordable "secular schools" run by the government.
The report seeks to devise mechanisms to enable madrasa students to shift to mainstream schools, and recommends the fair representation of Muslims at all level of government and the provision of equal opportunity to all socio-religious communities.
This was unthinkable a year ago. In my own pessimistic moments I had written that an explicit demand for these measures and for group-specific social and economic rights more generally will never have a strong backing in India, in part because of fear of a Hindu backlash. I am beginning to wonder whether I should eat my words. It is clear that Muslims in India wish to also be treated as an "interest group". They are concerned with education and higher standards of living. They wish to be "enlightened" and to benefit from the fruits of enlightenment.
Rajeev Bhargava's most recent article on openDemocracy:
"India's model: faith, secularism and democracy"
(3 November 2004)
This hardly means that cultural identity does not matter to them. But it does show that they want both cultural recognition and redistribution. Indian public opinion is beginning to take note of this important point.
At the end of 2006, it is hard to predict what will become of the report. Can majoritarian pressure succeed in shelving it? Is the report a small component of a myopic electoral strategy to be withdrawn if it does not yield sizeable votes? Is it empty political rhetoric or a carefully crafted social policy for a more egalitarian future? We may not know answers to these questions even by the end of 2007.
But this trend has lessons for Europe. Muslims in India as elsewhere seek an ordinary life with dignity and recognition. Most of them hold a vision not against the enlightenment but one that may be one of the many sources of the remedies for some of its malaise. A neglect of either their recognition or redistributive needs may give rise to an ugly politics of identity and to a vicious majority-minority syndrome.
This politics can be prevented not by a retreat from multiculturalism to a monocultural order but to a better focus on these two irreducible needs. I am not optimistic that this lesson can be learned in a year but I am confident that the more enlightened Europeans have already begun to grasp it and that pressure on their governments will yield results by the end of this decade.
The European Union, its strategy (!) towards the Islamic world now determined by a handful of Greek Cypriot ultras, will continue to alienate a Turkey already fast moving out of its orbit and into an uncertain future. In so doing it will also exacerbate the alienation of its own Muslim citizens.
Nicolas Sarkozy will become president of France - unless he alienates even more women than usual; in which case Ségolène Royal may squeeze in, if the left remains uncharacteristically united. Jean-Marie le Pen will do well in his last election run, though not quite well enough to make round two. If elected, Royal will further reduce France's already diminished standing in European affairs. Chirac will depart un-mourned: unfair, since he was the first French statesman to acknowledge French responsibility for the crimes of Vichy, and he stood up to the United States on Iraq. Polish politics will implode.
From mid-year the US will be increasingly absorbed in presidential-candidate selection. John McCain will move further right in order to get nominated, Hillary Clinton will do likewise in order to get elected (her nomination pre-assumed, with Barack Obama politely deferred to the future).
The world will get even less attention than usual. Conventional wisdom on Iraq, prompted by the Baker-Hamilton report, will be that we did our best but they screwed up (for details, see under: "Vietnamisation"). It will be officially announced that it's not traitorous to describe the situation in Iraq as a "civil war". Israel and its US enforcers will ensure that no substantive recommendation of Baker-Hamilton is implemented.
An extreme prediction: buoyed by (deniable) US backing, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's holocaust-denials and a six-month German EU presidency unable to protest, Israel will implement its long-established plan to bomb Iranian nuclear installations. The US will provide veto cover at the United Nations; Bush will claim victory and start to withdraw troops.
As a Frenchman, my first thought for 2007 is about our presidential election, in April-May; after all, this is my country. The large candidate-list is gradually narrowing to two important ones (the extreme-right scarecrow Jean-Marie Le Pen and the angelic centrist François Bayrou) and two main contenders (socialist Ségolène Royal, the first woman to have a chance to reach the Elysee palace, and tough rightwing populist Nicolas Sarkozy).
The campaign is on; it will be hard, bitter, merciless. I have made my choice: I don't want to be ruled - and represented to the world - by a man who thinks all problems can be solved by sending in the police and drafting new repressive laws (and who recently humiliated all of us by paying homage to George W Bush).But, after all, this French election won't change much in the world, and might at most be a paragraph in the history books when 2007 is recorded. Today's problems are so enormous and the men in charge so hopeless. The time of great leaders is gone.
Patrice de Beer's most recent article on openDemocracy:
"Nicolas Sarkozy, the American candidate"
(20 December 2006)
My crystal-ball having been shattered by so many disasters, and by my own failings, and having lost the habit of praying since I left primary school, I don't want to become a laughing stock by predicting the future. I just hope that my pessimism could, for once, be proved wrong - at least somewhere in the world.
My hope is that - in face of war and terrorism in the middle east, hunger and Aids in Africa, hubris and religious fanaticism in the United States, sabre-rattling among new and potential nuclear powers, military coups in the picture-postcard south Pacific, mediocrity, pettiness and short-termism in a Europe that has lost its historical ambitions - a ray of hope can appear somewhere. Martin Luther King said "I have a dream". I wish I had a dream myself.China sparked a debate about censorship on the net that will continue into 2007, and the British government endorsed a new, balanced way of thinking about intellectual-property rights, ready for debates in Europe in 2007.
Becky Hogge's most recent article on openDemocracy:
"The future of intellectual property"
(7 December 2006)
2007 will be less exuberant. As the dust settles on the events of 2006, challenges to the open way of doing things will become more overt. Court cases over copyright infringement taking place on ferociously popular sites like MySpace and YouTube will decide how radical the user-generated content revolution will be. And in the world of free software, Microsoft will consolidate the position it has gained through its partnership with Novell to push harder against the threat free and open source software poses to its market domination. With all this activity, digital rights issues are sure to stay in the headlines throughout 2007.
Prediction: Microsoft launches its first open attack through the courts against alleged patent infringement in Linux code.
Prophecy journalism strikes me as one of our less entertaining contemporary varieties of entrail-reading, and we get away with it because it enables us to pretend we can master the universe. We can't. As for the scientific value of these little enterprises, it's interesting (amusing, exasperating) that no one goes back, later, to rate our bold tosses of the dice. (There would be a nice little journalistic project.)
Todd Gitlin's most recent article on openDemocracy:
"The dust and the butterfly"
(12 May 2006)
Predictions of (a) slaughter in Iraq, (b) stand-off in Israel-Palestine, (c) stagnation or worse in Afghanistan, (d) continued balmy weather and ice-melting in the north Atlantic are banal, but good wagers. Anyone betting that Bush will wise up anywhere in the world is a hardier fool than I.
All this said, I can anticipate that something (a) large, (b) unanticipated, and (c) horrible will take place in 2007 - more than one such event, in fact. This is not even to speak of ongoing conditions - genocide in Darfur, Aids misery, the vast draining of resources into military use.
As we reach 2007, it seems to me that the world sees the consolidation of an international environment completely different from the ones experienced in the past. In my analysis, this historical path re-enforces a kind of understanding more similar to a Braudelian longue durée and less focused on day-by-day events.
In this sense, I feel a powerful and dangerous contradiction that will permeate the international facts of life in the year to come and more. The ever-lasting dialectic encounter of the forces of the past and the present is represented today in the global sphere by the tensions created by "national" political responses to diffuse issues as a major part of current life in community.
Arthur Ituassu's most recent article on openDemocracy:
"Welcome to politics, Brazil"
(1 November 2006)
Even as security, poverty and the maintenance of a healthy relationship between humans and nature are certainly major themes of the political environment, all of them are now remote from the institutional context currently established in the globe. Security is no longer contained in state-by-state relationships; it now involves transnational terrorism and organised crime. Poverty, as part of economics, is no longer a problem that can be confined to borders, as international commerce and finance cannot either.The relationship between people and nature involves not only the preservation of the second but also with global diseases such as HIV/Aids.
In this lack of an institutional foundation to deal with these new-old issues, what one can see now spread all over the world is the inefficiency and anachronism of "national" responses. This is very clear in the United States reaction to 9/11, in the events consuming Israel and Palestine, in the nationalist dictatorships being built in South America, in the universal apathy in respect to global poverty, Aids and the environment. Unfortunately, for me, 2007 will be the year of more of the same.
2007 could turn to be as crucial for Europe as was 1947. And unfortunately it could resemble 1947 in its long-term consequences. The spectre of "sphere-of-influence politics" is haunting the European continent.
Ivan Krastev's most recent article on openDemocracy:
"Europe's new Ostpolitik: a Polish echo" (21 December 2006)
In order to prevent the re-emergence of this form of politics in Europe, the European Union should handle the status of Kosovo in a way that will break the dangerous and unsustainable status quo in the Balkans and at the same time not create a precedent that could be used by Russia formally to declare its sphere of influence in the post-Soviet space. So, the next year will be the year of truth in the EU-Russia relationship. Let's hope that the EU is ready for this.
2007 will be a challenging year in the United States, full of promise and risk in equal measure. A judgment was finally rendered in November on the destructive course that the nation took in the last six years, and it is, quite deservedly, a very harsh one. If the new Congress maintains its spine, it will be able to curb the worst excesses of the Bush administration, air its malfeasance in open hearings, and pass some modest social reforms, like a rise in the minimum wage, that the damaged president will be forced to accept - or veto, at his party's political peril.
Yet you can't govern the United States from the Congress. And two more years of Bush, even circumscribed as he will be, is a very long time. Here is where the danger and opportunity each reside. Democrats regained some power because they weren't Republicans, who were and are both a corrupted party and a spent force ideologically, as indeed the Democrats themselves were in 1994, the time of the last electoral shift in Congressional control. How progressives respond to the great conservative crack-up in this lengthy interim period is the most urgent question of the moment, and the early signs are mixed.
Gara La Marche's most recent article on openDemocracy:
"America's closing society"
(25 July 2005)
In the meantime, it seems apparent, though few predicted it, that a realignment is under way. The south remains on the largely Republican course that Richard Nixon set almost forty years ago, though there are stirrings there, too - how many people know that Democrats are within a few seats of retaking the Texas house of representatives, and won forty-one of forty-two offices in Dallas County? But the mountain states are increasingly embracing Democrats, Republicans in Kansas are switching parties, appalled by the theocratic rule of Senator Sam Brownback, who is likely to carry the flag for the Christian right in the 2008 primaries, and the bellwether state of Ohio repudiated the governing Republicans soundly.
But my prediction is about a different kind of realignment - business, long allied with limited-government, tax-cutting Republicans, knows that the postwar US social contract, where decent pensions and healthcare accompanied employment in many sectors, is badly broken. It also has a strong stake in the success of universal public education. In the coming years, corporations will lead the way in pushing for a stronger government safety-net, and the tax reforms necessary to bring it about.
I am very pessimistic about 2007, quite apart from the weather. The war in Iraq gets worse every day. A massive programme of ethnic cleansing is underway in the mixed areas. Moreover, the violence is spreading - to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran in the east, to Palestine and Lebanon in the west and to southeast Turkey in the north, not to mention the multiplication of al-Qaida cells in Europe.
Indeed all of the worst-case scenarios outlined by those who opposed the war seem to be coming true. Withdrawal of American and British troops, if it happens, will end a significant part of the conflict - the insurgency against the occupation. But it will also mean the collapse of what is left of the state, thus aggravating the conditions that create a sectarian "new war". Unlike several military commentators, I am doubtful that the war in Afghanistan can be "won"; it is too interconnected to Iraq.
Similar regional "new wars" are brewing in east Africa (Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea as well as Sudan and Chad). A decade ago, international agencies could at least provide humanitarian assistance. Now humanitarian space has disappeared. The United Nations and the international community has allowed itself to be hijacked by the "global war on terror" so that all outsiders are increasingly seen as occupiers rather than as protectors.
Mary Kaldor's most recent article on openDemocracy:
"London lives" (8 July 2005)
And, on top of all this, the British government has announced a decision to replace the Trident nuclear submarine and its warheads, entirely it seems for domestic political reasons -to outflank the Conservative opposition. The UK's commitments under the non-proliferation treaty, the example this sets to would-be nuclear powers, not to mention the cost, are factors that seem to have been ignored. Sooner or later nuclear weapons will be used, whether by states or as a result of the illegal trade in which at least one state, Pakistan, has been engaged. The polonium story has given us a foretaste of what is to come.
I am, of course, in favour of withdrawal from Iraq. As long as we are there, alternative options cannot be discussed. I believe the world needs massive capabilities for human security, to protect and empower people vulnerable to war as well as to the disasters that are likely to be the consequence of climate change. Yet despite agreeing to the concept of the "responsibility to protect", no country seems ready to make the commitment in terms of money and capabilities required. Instead the British government is intent on maintaining an expensive and anachronistic defence industry producing Typhoon fighter-jets for Saudi Arabia and Trident submarines, which will eat into whatever limited humanitarian capabilities we possess. Expect more tragedies in 2007.
2007 will be what the German philosopher Karl Jaspers once called an "axis year". Historically it will be a spectacular year of changes - politically, environmentally, culturally, on almost every level of our lives.
Politically the reverberations of the war in Iraq will be felt - and for many years to come. As the United States will reduce its military engagement, the new regional powers - Iran, Saudi Arabia, and to an uncertain degree Turkey - will try to carve out their slices of interest in the ruins of Iraq. Thank you, Mr President.
As the future of Lebanon will be up for grabs, the security of Israel will be at stake even more than ever before - unless the European Union finally decides to develop a coherent economic and diplomatic strategy in order to bring its potentially enormous negotiating power to a middle-east conference table - around which all the major powers, China included, must find a place.
Environmentally, the world will see the return of nuclear power. Fossil-fuel and carbon emissions will be reduced - even in the United States, as the eastern seaboard of the American continent will experience what is already felt in other places. As the ice melts, the oceanic water levels will continue to rise and hurricanes will make more and more appearances.
Culturally, the rapid development of the internet and concomitant technological improvements of worldwide communications will pose new issues of control. Media violence, pornography and political propaganda threaten to undermine civilisational and normative coherences in many societies, and certainly in Europe.
International communication monopolies will threaten national and local cultural identities - and will lead to political reactions of censorship and a return to regionalisation, which in itself will threaten the coherence of the European Union.
Michael Naumann's most recent article on openDemocracy:
"What happened to the new world order"
(7 September 2006)
To add some apocalyptical touches to the grim picture: the return of Russia to its Czarist ways is not yet decided; if it happens, the security of the Baltic states is at stake. Africa will still be unable to rid itself of tribal wars, terrorisms and rampant corruption, let alone of exotic diseases - unless the United Nations take heart and turn their attention to the maligned and war-torn continent, starting out with sanctions against Sudan.
What else? Well, otherwise, to quote Samuel Beckett, "the sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new." After all, everything mentioned here has had its coming for many years.
In the year ahead, Nepal will continue with its peace process, begun in April 2006.
There is some sloppiness in the agreements being drawn up between the democratic seven-party alliance (SPA) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). This will not prove fatal; but it will surely cause differences to erupt, often.
The most glaring flaw is the deadline for the election of a constituent assembly: June 2007. The majority of government offices (including police posts) were vacated from the countryside during the decade-long war. They are yet to return, as are the political parties' cadres and the internally displaced. Additionally, Nepal has no laws for constituent-assembly elections. A new citizenship bill has complicated the compiling of voter lists. United Nations monitoring teams are yet to arrive. Arms management has not begun. There is a growing demand for a truth mission, and the prosecution of war criminals.
Manjushree Thapa's most recent article on openDemocracy:
"Forget Kathmandu: An Elegy for Democracy" (15 September 2006)
At the best of times, it takes a massive mobilisation of state resources to organise elections in this rugged, mountainous land. At this shaky juncture - with almost all of government crippled - a rushed election will greatly favour the Maoists. When the SPA realises this, and demands a delay, the Maoists will accuse them of derailing the peace process. Such short-sightedness in negotiating agreements is a major flashpoint.
Another major flashpoint comes from the ongoing governance vacuum. Governance came to a standstill over the course of the war, and will likely not resume till the formation of a joint SPA-Maoist interim government. This can only happen after arms-management. Experts say this will take until February. Such are the power-sharing deals that daily occupy the SPA and the Maoists in Kathmandu.
Meanwhile, in the countryside, there is a growing despair that so many pressing grievances - poverty, the utter lack of services, widespread caste, regional and gender discrimination - remain unaddressed. Should the gulf between the centre and the peripheries widen, there is a danger that splinter-groups of the disaffected will refuse to go along with the agreements Kathmandu brokers in their name.
It is going to be a rocky year ahead for Nepal, but also, I think, a year more constructive than destructive. For there is a revolutionary charge to our era: there is a great urge to make democracy work. All peace processes are nail-biters, unpredictable, volatile. No doubt ours will be too. But by the end of 2007 - after much explosive bickering, debate, argument, delay - I do believe we will have a constituent assembly drafting a new constitution for us.
A key issue in 2007 will be the consequences of the failure of the United States neo-conservative project. One of the strategic aims of the war in Iraq was to generate a domino-effect, with regime-change sweeping aside Saddam Hussein and then the radical regime in Iran. But at the end of 2006 it has become clear that Tehran will be crucial in helping the US to abandon Iraq.
From the Iraq Study Group to the British prime minister, "talk to Iran" has become a key recommendation. Moreover, Iran's municipal elections shows a country in a far more stable situation than in the deadly Iraqi environment "secured" by US and British forces.
But will the US failure in Iraq and the middle east open a new era of multilateralism, more support for the United Nations and a proactive role for Europe in the region? Things will not be so smooth.The neo-conservative revolution has been strong enough to set some invisible limits that the Democratic Party will not easily cross. George W Bush and Dick Cheney have two years more to pursue their obsessions. A positive sign is that the Iraq Study Group and the bipartisan report Forging a World of Liberty Under the Rule of Law show the US establishment's a common will to move the country's security policy towards "realist" normality.
Mariano Aguirre's most recent article on openDemocracy:
"Power and paradox in the United Nations"
(7 November 2006)
This tension between traditional realists and fanatical conservatives will be felt in the middle east. Any negotiations will move slowly, yet time there is running fast in the region and the situation in Palestine and Iraq could reach the point of no return.
In Palestine, conditions are worse then ever. Washington and Brussels share a heavy responsibility for having boycotted and punished the Palestinians for voting for the "wrong" party. In Iraq, the government will fall in five minutes if the US quits the country; but if US troops stay, the local armed actors have a common enemy as well as each other to fight against.
"My grandad", Dudley Moore remarked in one of his immortal comedy sketches, "predicted that the weather in the coming years would be ... unpredictable". And he continued, speaking to his co-comedian on air, Peter Cook, "and you never guess what, Pete ... he was right".
Well, of course, some things are predictable: that Tony Blair will exit Downing Street; that the United States will become increasingly obsessed with the 2008 presidential election; that Bush and Blair will talk a lot about leaving Iraq without doing so; and that they will appear increasingly outpaced by more or less everyone, but notably the leaders of China, Iran and Russia.
China will continue to tie up natural resource deals with African, Latin American and perhaps Russian leaders, merrily undermining the west's to date weak and now arguably doomed efforts to link investments to social and environmental performance.
Iran, having demonstrated its capacity for enabling free and open dialogue in denial of the holocaust, will no doubt complete its plans to pick up the pieces of soon-to-be ex-leaders' failed middle-eastern ventures.
Russian companies, helpfully supported by their noble government, will continue to extend their control over the country's energy assets.
International NGOs will stand by, smugly grinning at the humiliation of their traditional multinational foes, blissfully ignorant of their historic failure to respond (at all) to the changing geopolitical realities around them.
But things could be very different. Gordon Brown could, whilst moving his furniture next door to Number Ten, reverse the decision to abandon the criminal investigation of BAe Systems, inaugurating what would be a much applauded, serious agenda for the United Kingdom's future international development role.
Progressive business, political and civil-society leaders from Africa could join with others in encouraging Chinese companies to join up to the Equator Principles, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and other accountability ventures that might just save their continent from another generation's ravaging effects.
Simon Zadek's most recent article on openDemocracy:
"Accountability: the other climate change" (31 October 2006)
Europe could wake up to the 21st century and declare its intention to make major strategic investments in building the region's competitiveness by embracing Nicholas Stern's $500 billion climate-change-linked market opportunities - and thus, in one sweep, adopting a progressive, innovative front-foot approach to addressing energy security.
And the US? Maybe it needs to practice more Tai Chi to assist it in more gracefully entering its more mature phase of life.
That brash, button-bursting strut of Anglo-American leaders, promising that history would be rewritten or reality recreated, has been supplanted over the course of 2006 by the need to deal with the stubborn details of war. It is in many ways appropriate that the leaders of two countries, whose citizens are relentlessly spurred into adjusting their skill-sets to global economic needs, should similarly find themselves forced to ask, as a best-selling book did, "who moved my cheese?"
I fully expect 2007 to bring more of the same, lining the months with small tactical retreats and concessions in the name of Realpolitik. Meanwhile, in the homelands of western Europe and north America, the menaces of a mediatised world will further reinforce a broad protectionist drift - already evident in the United States, and latent in the platforms of the two leading French presidential candidates.
The fears of the world's rich, without doubt one of the defining cultural features of the time, will continue to deepen and spread, assuaged only with the fleeting charm of the present - luxury shopping, low-cost flights, restaurant dishes with names such as "carrot air". Expect new expressions of discontent: the first show of strength by a pan-European squatters' movement for a start.
Barbara Bush, daughter of George, was responsible for one of 2006's most scintillating news items while on holiday with her sister and a White House security posse in Buenos Aires: her bag was stolen by a local thief. The incident came to epitomise the evolving global order, where illegal trade and criminal circuits - booming opium harvests in Nato-run Afghanistan, PCC gang attacks in Brazil's richest city, polonium poisonings in Piccadilly - flourish at the very same rate that standardised state structures and harmonised legal codes roll out.
Ivan Briscoe's most recent article on openDemocracy:
"Never let me go: can Ortega reclaim Nicaragua?"
(2 November 2006)
Deprived of utopia and the Soviet Union, facing ever-widening inequalities at home (not to mention between countries), a new brand of political leaders across the developing world are learning to manage these two intersecting worlds of legality and crime. They are also flexing their commodity-led powers, resuscitating old nationalist fervours, and, in large parts of Latin America, seeking some compromise between the great collective spirit of the past and the vicious economic competition of today. Evo Morales in Bolivia and Hugo Chávez in Venezuela offer the best unfolding saga. Expect rousing speeches at Fidel Castro's funeral and almighty battles over property rights.
A prediction: Chávez to be kidnapped for twenty-four hours in Baghdad while on an urgent peace-broker mission between Iraqi ethnic groups. A horseman of the apocalypse: we've had climate change, bird flu and terrorism; how about a global communication breakdown caused by a Russian virus, Y2K redux?
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