Ten Amazing Predictions for 2006
1. Al-Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri, whom the Bush administration has failed to capture after all this time, and who was probably responsible for the July 7 bombings in the London subway and the bombings in the Sinai in Egypt, will strike at US allies again in 2006.
2. Saudi Arabia will use the $160 billion windfall from high petroleum prices to strengthen its military and security forces, and to spread its rigid Wahhabi form of Islam.
3. Iran’s clerical elites will use the $36 billion windfall from high petroleum prices to strengthen their military and security forces, and to spread their radical Khomeinist form of Islam. The US, even if it takes some desperate step, will prove unable to shake the regime in 2006.
4. The Iraqi government, on which the US is placing its bet, will limp along with less than $19 billion a year in petroleum income because of sabotage and guerrilla war, along with long-neglected fields and dilapidated plants and equipment. Most of that money will be absorbed by the need for internal security, reconstruction and paying off past reparations and debts, as well as by large-scale corruption and embezzlement (billions of dollars went missing during the government of Iyad Allawi in 2004).
5. The Iraqi parliament will pass fundamentalist Muslim legislation. Sometime in 2006, a majority of Iraqi parliamentarians will call for the withdrawal of US troops. The Iraqi government will have warm relations with Iran, but strained relations with Saudi Arabia and Jordan. The guerrilla war will continue.
6. The Israeli-Palestinian struggle will continue in staccatto fashion, because the Israeli government remains expansionist and land-hungry. Because the Sharon government refused to negotiate with real live Palestinians over the Gaza withdrawal no framework for peace was erected. Israeli troops will go back into Gaza from time to time. Israel will settle thousands of colonists on Palestinian land in the west and will blame Palestinians as irrational and bigotted for objecting. The subtle forms of ethnic cleansing of Arabs from Jerusalem will continue or accelerate. Fifteen percent of Palestinian children will continue to suffer from malnutrition, a result of the poverty that derives from having been put since 1967 in a large Israeli jail.
7. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization composed of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan as members and India, Iran, Mongolia, and Pakistan as observers, will follow up on its success in getting US troops out of Uzbekistan and on strengthening energy cooperation between Kazakhstan and China on the one hand, and Russia and Kazakhstan on the other, as well as security cooperation between Russia and Uzbekistan. The conjuncture of gas, petroleum, Islam, terrorism and great power jockeying will keep the new Great Game going, this time with Russia, China and the United States all playing. The US hand is weak.
8. The US attempt to isolate Iran by putting boycotts on Chinese and other companies that deal with it will only prove effective for those companies that do a lot of business with the US. Moreover, it is easy enough for a company to hive off a de facto subsidiary to deal with Iran (ask Bechtel and Halliburton). And, rising powers like India that have relatively little trade with the US will tempted to choose energy from Iran over good diplomatic relations with the US.
9. New Orleans will for the most part not be rebuilt and will increasingly be eclipsed by Baton Rouge. Louisiana as a result will become a solid Red State. The Republican Party has no particular reason to rebuild a predominantly African-American city that reliably voted Democrat, just as its leader, George W. Bush, apparently had no particular reason to implement relief work there with any urgency or efficiency after the flood. Most of the $25 billion in reconstruction aid promised by the Federal government will never arrive.
10. The United States will continue to lose global political influence because its government is running large deficits and going ever deeper into debt. In the 1950s, President Eisenhower routinely used the threat of calling in loans from war-devastated Europe to get his way. He threatened UK Prime Minister Anthony Eden with loan cancellations if the latter did not get back out of the Suez in late 1956. He threatened DeGaulle with loan cancellations if the latter didn’t get France out of rebellious Algeria before it went Communist. Nowadays the US is a massive debtor nation, and has lost that kind of leverage with all but the poorest and most beaten-down countries. The US nuclear arsenal is relatively useless because it cannot actually be used, and the US military is bogged down in Iraq. America remains a superpower for the third and fourth worlds, but is often a helpless, pitiful giant as far as places like Western Europe and China are concerned.
[Caveat emptor: The author, a historian, has a fair amount of expertise with the past, but knows nothing out of the ordinary about the future.]