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A glimpse into the geopolitical crystal ball for 2011

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A snow covered Stormont estate is pictured in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Dec. 17. / AFP/Peter Muhly

By John J. Metzler 

It’s once again that time of year to consult the crystal ball and to try to peer into the future. In this case I’m peering into a cloudy snow globe which stresses meteorology over geopolitics, but here goes with some predictions to inform, advise, and muse over the international situation.

War On Terror

While the U.S. military forces have scored impressive gains in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the scope of the counter-insurgency operation remains huge, but the political tenor from the Administration in Washington equivocal. Fifty thousand American troops remain in Iraq in support roles. Meantime mid-2011 is the artificial deadline set by President Barack Obama to pull out some of the 100,000 troops from the Afghan mission. In Iraq there’s a glimmer of hope the center will hold. While in Afghanistan there’s an imbroglio which is defined by success in coercing and cajoling the ethnic quilt of tribes, warlords, and provinces to support the central government over the fundamentalist Taliban. Though troops from many European allies serve alongside the Americans, such as the British, Germans, French and Italians, other countries have pulled out.

There’s a bigger question too, with Pakistan, a nuclear armed Islamic state which has with varying enthusiasm cooperated with either Washington or the Taliban factions (which it helped create) and holds the key to regional stability or chaos. Moreover domestic terror factions could pull Pakistan and the U.S. into a vortex of violence. Yet while America has slogged on fighting international terrorist movements from Al Qaida to the Taliban, curiously we have overlooked the narco tinderbox along the Rio Grande border with Mexico. A drug-cartel war inside Mexico, along with the porous frontier with Mexico, has seen America’s southern neighbor dangerously fragment.

East Asia

The divided Korean peninsula remains a tinderbox, especially in the wake of communist North Korea’s recent military provocations. Unbelievably over the past month, talk of a renewed Korean war, refocused attention to this Cold War fault line. As Washington is treaty-bound to defend democratic South Korea, such a confrontation would pull the USA into a conflict which would make Iraq seem tame by comparison.

Sensing the dangers from a nuclear armed and aggressive North Korea as well as from an increasingly assertive Mainland China, Japan has at long last been awakened from its strategic slumber and now is increasingly focused on its national interests as much as its business bottom line. Tokyo’s wake-up call is not a moment too soon.

Africa

Sudan, the continent’s largest country, may split along a North/South axis, reflecting ethnicity and religion. Though Sudan’s civil war in the 1990’s saw over two million killed, and the Darfur crisis still continues in the West, this planned referendum on independence could trigger a new conflict and waves of refugees between the largely Christian south and Islamic north. The UN-sponsored referendum on Jan. 9 may offer a tenuous step towards South Sudan sovereignty, or reignite a civil war.

Somalia, now in the hands of a teetering Western-backed government, continues to be plagued by Islamic militias, coastal pirates, and Al Qaida franchise operations. The destitute land is a failed state; more precisely it is a breeding ground for militants touching on the borders of Kenya and Ethiopia, and the vital coastal shipping lanes.

Global Needy

Haiti’s devastating earthquake jarred a small poor land. A year later, the country still desperately needs help. Don’t forget. And across the world, embattled Christians in the Middle East, especially in Iraq, face violence and persecution.

Green blackmail

The Global Warming lobby has morphed into a secular “religion” where seemingly sober scientific predictions are taken as unquestioned theological fact. Despite serious and sustained winter storms in Europe and another major blizzard in the East coast, USA, the Global Warming mantra has become a near embedded hysteria among many. It’s time to soberly re-examine all the facts.

Euroland

Western Europe’s problems pale in comparison with so much of the world. Yet the economic undertow of debt from massive government spending has not only pulled down Greece and Ireland but now threaten both Spain and Portugal. The once-vaunted Euro currency teeters, and is propped up by Germany, France and the Netherlands.

The British, to their credit, stayed away from joining the Euro and have a strong Pound Sterling. Less to their credit, a newly elected conservative (small c) government, who should know better, has recklessly cut the British military size and preparedness. European and American diplomacy will again face the challenge of Islamic Iran’s nuclear program. Whether the West has the collective will to keep the nuclear genie in the bottle remains problematic.

May I wish the readers, a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year!

John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He writes weekly for WorldTribune.com.

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