EA Special: 10 Predictions for 2013 --- Assad Gone, an Angry Middle East, and Little Change on "Human Rights"
1. Syria --- The Assad Regime Will Fall It remains unclear what happens once President Assad is gone, but his regime will crumble in 2013. It may find some corner of Lattakia or Tartous to claim as a new capital for some time, but this will not last.
Assad's presence in the east has been reduced to a single airbase near Deir Ez Zor. Insurgents, led by Islamists, are also moving into Raqqa Province, and Hassakah will soon be cut off. The regime's supply lines to Aleppo are completely cut, with insurgents picking off military bases outside the city.
Eventually, Aleppo will fall. Insurgents will march south from Idlib Province, first taking Hama, then Homs, and then on to Damascus. If the Assad regime survives and is not overtaken by a surge in the capital before this, then the regime will have its back against the wall. The majority of Syria will already be in someone else's hands.
But whose hands?
2. Syria Continued --- A Messy End with a High Death Toll. Could Top 60,000 The regime, with its back to the wall, will strike out at civilians. Hama, Daraa, and Damascus could look like follow-up versions of Aleppo before all is said and done. Homs already looks worse, and is devastation will continue.
Ten or twelve more weeks of fighting, at an average of about 1000 deaths per week, is not only possible but likely. And all this assumes that chemical weapons are never used.
There is no real chance for a political settlement, and international military intervention will happen too late if it is happens at all.
For all this, I remain a cautious optimist about post-Assad Syria. Sectarian violence could increase, especially in rural Homs and rural Hama --- we're already seeing this in pockets of those areas --- but it will remain the exception, not the rule. Prospects for a second civil war are not unthinkable, but that outcome is far from inevitable.
3. US --- Closed Loopholes, but no Assault Weapons Ban Despite the reaction to the mass killing at a Connecticut primary school last month, the National Rifle Association, and the American political right, are recalcitrant over new gun laws or an assault weapons ban. It is unliley that such a ban would ever pass in the House of Representatives.
What will likely pass are new laws closing loopholes allowing people to buy guns at gun shows without background checks. Restrictions on the mentally ill gaining access to firearms will also be passed.
4. Iran and North Korea --- No Progress on Nuclear Talks In 2008, part of candidate Barack Obama's platform was a commitment to change US foreign policy, including re-engagemment with Iran and North Korea. That has never really happened, with the few steps taken quickly replaced with a hardline stance reminiscent of the Bush Administration.
However, the American policy of sanctions and threats has not deterred North Korea from advancing their nuclear and space agendas, nor has it led to a significant breakthrough with Iran. In fact, the tough talk appears to be pushing Pyongyang and the hard-liners in Iran to pursue more aggressively the very weapons that Washington would hope these countries will abandon.
For all the sabre-rattling, the US and Israel will not go to war with Iran in 2013, but don't expect any progress towards political and diplomatic resolutions.
5. The Middle East Gets Angry 2011 was a year of hope and promise in the Middle East, like the enthusiasm of childhood. 2012 was like the teenage years of angst and growing pains.
2013 will be the year that the frustration with the broken promises of 2011 boils over into anger. Iraq is suffering a downward spiral of violence, and the Sunni minority is starting to take to the streets. Kuwait, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia will see the growth of internal tensions and explosion of protests, with police trying to suppress --- brutally, at times --- the disaffected. Lebanon is a mess, with a low-level civil war possible along the Sunni/Shia fault-lines and where supporters and opponents of Syria's President kill each other in street battles. We have likely not seen the last of protests in Jordan, Egypt, Palestine, and perhaps even in Qatar and the UAE, where dissident movements are small but growing.
All of this will put the US in an awkward position. Washington and its allies in this region have not been able to achieve gradual change, and they may keep avoiding the necessity of re-evaluate their policies towards countries who are not reforming fast enough.
6. The West's Non-Military Power is Weaker than Ever Last week, a Syrian activist posted this picture on Facebook:
It is funny because it is true, and it is emblematic of a problem that is not exclusive to Syria. 2012 was a year demonstrating that Europe, the US, and the UN have been rapidly losing their influence in the post-Iraq world.
The international community done nothing but talk about Syria, and international condemnation of rights abuses in many other countries have been ineffective, be it with allies (Bahrain, Saudi Arabia) to adversarial governments (Russia, Iran, North Korea). Get ready for more examples of this in 2013, where some rights abuses will be ignored completely, while others are "condemned" but little to no action is taken.
7. World Gets Hotter, Weather Gets More Extreme- Hurricane Sandy left an impact on many Americans, and may be the starting point of a national conversation about climate change. However, in all likelihood there will have to be many more hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, blizzards, floods, and heat waves before the climate-change deniers begin to soften their resistance to a change in behaviour.
8. US --- The War on Drugs will Change ConsiderablyWith some states passing bold marijuana decriminalization legislation, the United States is on a path to legalize marijuana. Eventually, this could lead to a well-regulated industry designed to safely grow and distribute marijuana. That would have significant economic, social, and legal effects, but it will also be a major foreign policy development, especially for Washington's relationship with South and Central America.
Decriminalisation is still a long way off; however, it is possible that the Federal Government will stop enforcing certain drug laws and will not have challenged States that refuse to charge people over possession of marijuana.
9. US --- Progress on Immigration Reform and Gay Marriage With November's loss, Republicans have more incentive to take up immigration reform. Democrats, on the other hand, can no longer take the Latino vote for granted. So it is likely that comprehensive immigration reform will finally be debated, and perhaps even acted upon, in Congress this year.
Meanwhile the Defense of Marriage Act, which effectively blocks the Federal Government from recognising same-sex marriages, has suffered a series of losses. Though DOMA will not be repealed by this current Congress, and there's no hope of legislation supported same-sex unions, it is possible that DOMA will finally be set aside by the Supreme Court.
10. EA Worldview 2.0Long-promised changes to EA will soon arrive, turning what was an experiment in news coverage into an established site. There will be a secure platform to develop and expand staff and thus the range of our news and analysis.
And that's one prediction where you can make a difference in the hope of providing reliable news and giving "voice to the voiceless".
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A Postscript from Scott Lucas --- The Year In Iran. More of the same in 2013. The economic vise will tighten on most Iranians --- not just the "middle class", as other analysts have too-blithely declared --- with the regime giving up the facade of a vibrant economy and replacing it with calls to stand firm against the enemy.
The June Presidential election will be less of a showpiece for the regime than a tense Cold War among different factions, with the best-organised (and, perhaps more importantly, the one with quiet support from the Supreme Leader) claiming victory. Ayatollah Khamenei will continue to try and "balance" the factions, so a safe pair of hands rather than an Ahmadinejad successor will be selected.
No war in 2013, but the sanctions will take a greater toll on the Iranian economy, reinforcing my headline prediction.