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2013: Get ready world, here it comes!

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By John J. Metzler

NEW YORK — It’s time once again to look at the crystal ball, or snow globe, and attempt to peer ahead at the global political and economic horizon as we enter the New Year.  The political landscape offers both promise and peril but so many of the outcomes of each and every situation will fall to the judgments of leadership.  Herein lies much of the problem.

Let’s review some key concerns:

Afghanistan: The Obama Administration has publicly signaled an end to U.S. combat operations. Whether Hamid Karzai’s Afghan government is up to the heavy lifting and rigorous reform needed to fight off Taliban insurgents remains doubtful beyond the medium term. Moreover Pakistan’s double-game in supporting Afghan cross border militants will keep the pot boiling. Sadly after so much American blood spilled, this will not end well.

Africa: In the Sub-Saharan state of Mali, an Islamic takeover in May allowed an Al Qaida regime to take hold, trashing legendary Timbuktu. France, the former colonial power and still power broker did shamefully little to reverse it. Six months later the UN Security Council has authorized an African peacekeeping force to presumably retake the north from the fundamentalists.

East Asia: The region holds much promise after some significant elections. Taiwan re-elected Nationalist party (KMT) President Ma Ying-jeou, in Japan the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) returned to power with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and South Korea elected its first female president, Ms. Park Geun-Hye. In each country, more nationalist and conservative choices were chosen.

In the People’s Republic of China, the ruling Communist party selected its new leader Xi Jinping, who must steer the regime between simmering territorial disputes with Japan and a domestic economic downturn. As a political ploy, Beijing may continue to stir territorial tensions with Japan over the disputed Daoyutai/Senkaku islands and far more ominously reassert its spurious claims to the South China Sea, a threat to maritime states.

Japan’s Abe, after a landslide LDP parliamentary win, has called for strengthening ties with the USA and promoting long-overdue economic  revitalization.

North Korea’s dictatorship of chosen heir Kim Jong-Un faces a widening food crisis as the regime chooses neutrons and missiles over nutrition and meals for its population, a large minority of which depends on UN humanitarian aid. But don’t expect the new South Korean government to play patsy to Pyongyang’s perpetual crisis and offer a humanitarian lifeline to its cousins in the North unless Kim’s communists show some overdue quid pro quo.

Europe: The deep economic crisis continues as debt burdens in many European Union states serve as the deadweight to economic growth and an albatross to the Euro currency.

(Nor can the USA lecture the Europeans given Obama’s dismal record). In Germany, one of Europe’s still strong economies, there’s resentment over near perpetual monetary bailouts. As national elections approach, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) may face a strong challenge to power.

Latin America: Hello, we are right here; Brazil, Argentina, Chile. The Obama Administration hasn’t noticed, South America has received scandalously little attention. It’s time for Washington to take heed.

The Middle East; the promise of the Arab Spring which swept the region like a  sandstorm has turned into the Arab Winter.  The much heralded Egyptian revolution has gone through predicable phases and seems to be listing towards a dour entrenched Muslim brotherhood regime.   Though elected, President Morsi has moved this pivotal country from a secular and secure friend of the USA to budding authoritarian rule. A new hard-line Islamic constitution, though narrowly passed, puts Egypt on the contentious path to conflict with its minority Christian community and possibly Israel in the longer run.

The extraordinary events in Egypt over the past two years have signaled a major setback for American regional interests; few in Washington wish to acknowledge this reality.

The carnage in Syria continues and approaches its second year; over 50,000 people have died. Though the Assad family dictatorship seems doomed despite Russian help, the oft unspoken tragedy here remains the fate of Syria’s Christian minorities.

No matter what the eventual outcome, extremist fundamentalist operatives may be  part of a future regime. Syria’s humanitarian crisis will be the story. With the onset of a brutal winter,  UN humanitarian sources estimate that, “Well over 2.5 million people have fled their homes seeking safety both inside and outside the country.  The number of those in need of assistance inside Syria has quadrupled from 1 million in March to 4 million in December 2012.”

Moreover the world may confront a nuclear Iran, the tragic price of diplomatic dithering.

And with that, let me wish my readers a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year 2013!

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

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