The Question We Asked Last Year: A Reliable Prediction? --- Right to Left: Tunisia's Ben Ali, Egypt's Mubarak, Libya's Qaddafi, Yemen's Saleh, Syria's Assad, Iran's Khamenei
On 1 January, I offered some predictions about the year ahead. How did they turn out?
1. Ron Paul will win the Iowa caucuses on Tuesday, but Mitt Romney will take the Republican nomination for the Presidency.
With a late surge, Rick Santorum took the most votes. However, neither Paul nor Santorum --- or any other Republican candidate --- stopped Romney.
So we'll mark this one as "mostly true".
2. The US Congress will pass the "Stop Online Piracy Act", and President Obama will sign it into law....
Hope springs eternal: SOPA was on the verge of being adopted, when parts of the Internet effectively shut down. Some websites adopted a "blackout theme" and others were suspended to protest the impending law.
SOPA was cut short. Maybe it is because good arguments were made against it. Maybe politicians were impressed by the number of people willing to fight against it.
I'm glad I was wrong --- on the heels of "The Year of the Protester", the reaction against SOPA was encouraging. But my cynical side wonders, given the rest of the year in the US, if that spirit of protest was short-lived.
3. President Obama will call on the international community to intervene in Syria. He may not be the loudest public voice, but he and his team will be working the diplomatic backchannels in Europe and the Middle East hard. He wants to avoid war in Iran, but not so secretly, he is rooting for the domino theory to hold with the fall of the regime in Tehran. He will sell more arms to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to pacify their unease with his policies, while preparing a backup plan if there is no movement in the Islamic Republic.
This was the prediction which was furthest from the mark. In December 2011, moves towards intervention led me to write, that the no-fly zone was inevitable. President Obama was on the wave of success in Libya, where international support of the insurgency had contributed to the fall of Muammar Qaddafi. Turkey was raising the volume of its rhetoric, as President Assad's use of violence was escalating.
However, by January, it was already obvious that this prediction was in trouble. Turkey began to reconsider its zeal for the Syrian opposition amid renewed fighting with Turkey's Kurdish insurgency PKK. Obama's domestic opponents doubled-down on a strategy to oppose any move, including his responses in 2011 to Egypt and Libya. With the creeping doubt over the effectiveness of intervention, Washington quickly lost its appetite.
4. Speaking of Syria, things will get worse before they get better. The Arab League observers will produce a middling report, one that speaks of a crisis that needs fixing but will be slow to blame the highest levels of the Assad regime. International outcry will be loud. Eventually, someone will crack, and there will be intervention.
However, I would be shocked if this happened before April, and absolutely bewildered if it happened before March. The opposition is still, in the eyes of the world, not organised enough to serve as a skeleton upon which the international community can build a mission.
In the meantime, the protests will not go away, and more and more people will defect. Those defections, however, will not reach a tipping point for a long time for the regime, unless that international intervention happens.
Things did get worse, and they have yet to get better.
5. President Assad will fall. If this does not happen in name by the end of the year, it will in practice with the evaporation of most of his power.
Without international intervention, the Assad regime has lost the majority of its strength, and its downfall is still a matter of time. Expect that in a prediction for 2013.
6. Egypt and Libya will also get worse before they get better. In Cairo, the old regime is still fighting for its power, and after elections that fight will grow more intense. The Egyptian people have proven that they are not willing to trust the military, and they will only take its behaviour for so long.
In Libya, the fledgling government is butting heads with tribal leaders and international groups. The country is proving far harder to unify than the most naive media and political groups had hoped. However, the recent memory of a common enemy =-- the totalitarian abuses of the Qaddafi regime --- will force the country to form a messy coalition. Once the oil starts flowing and reconstruction picks up, the economic incentives will help motivate the National Transitional Council to seek reconciliation.
In Egypt, President Morsi's actions -- while seen as dictatorial by his opponents, many outside Egypt, and me --- were, at least in part, a reaction to the strength of the Mubarak regime's judiciary.
Indeed, when a liberal bloc failed to find a candidate who could claim majority support from Egyptians, Morsi won the election because he was the leading "non-Mubarak" candidate. Given a choice between the old guard and the Muslim Brotherhood, the choice was obvious to many, even though it may remain distasteful to many inside and outside Egypt.
In Libya, despite the bad press from the American Right and the tragic events of 11 September amid protests outside the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya has fared better than many predicted a year ago. The post-Qaddafi reconstruction is still in its early stages, and many obstacles remain. Still, I remain cautiously optimistic about Libya's 2013.
7. There will be no war with Iran, so all you folks at CNN and The New York Times.... Just calm down.
Check. Thanks to an Obama victory, I may cautiously make this prediction again for 2013.
8. Obama will win the US Presidential election in November. A divided GOP, with a lukewarm candidate, will be unable to triumph over an improving economy, a health care bill that is slipping into the rearview mirror, a series of foreign policy victories, and a deeply unpopular Republican House of Representatives. It will be a tough fight, but Obama will serve a second term,
Polls and trends don't lie. Nor do demographics.
9. The election will be ugly, with lots of outside money, anonymous donors, insults, fear-mongering, constant negative advertisements, and millions of robo-calls. I'm a guy who loves political news, but I'm dreading it. Good luck!
Thank God it's over, though various Karl Rove groups are still running ads like it's October.
10. There will be big changes at EA WorldView. The website started off as an amazing intellectual experiment, looking for the meaning of "America", not just to those inside the US but to those around the world. Three years ago almost to the day, this was changing with coverage of Israel's invasion of Gaza, and with the 2009 revolution in Iran, and the 2011 uprisings in the Middle East, EA's mission changed into a quest to become a news agency, one focusing on insurgency and protest. That focus is not just for the headline, but in the hope that this can lead to something beyond riding the cycle of conflict.
Expect bigger and better things from us in 2012, with even quicker coverage of the breaking and deeper analysis of the complex. Expect that the site will look nicer and be easier to navigate.
There has been a lot of progress made on this, although much of it is behind the scenes. Getting everything right --- in content and presentation --- is a challenge as we expand.
As always, this progress is possible because of your help and your donations.
Thanks to our readers, our guest writers, our correspondents in the field, our sources, and our contacts in the field --- without you we would not be here to welcome 2013.
Happy New Year!