Comment: The world in 2013

Left Foot Forward's Carl Packman predicts the big worldwide developments of the year ahead.

To state the obvious from the outset, 2013 could really go either way. Like how 2012 looked from 2011, it could be an explosive year (possibly literally) that does significant change to the political outlook as we know it, particularly across the water and in the Middle East (where else?), or it could be a year marked for anticipation of events that never came.

There is no US Presidential election this time round, sure, but a number of very demanding tests will occur which will put an immense amount of strain on the re-elected Barack Obama.

Whatever happens, this year will be a huge test for him and his authority, and it is my contention that he will have to reluctantly focus on domestic issues – even at the time of increased pressure in Iran and elections in Germany.

Before I outline my predictions, I should say a word about the previous attempt last year, on Left Foot Forward, to guess what the year will bring, written by one Luke Bozier – a person now probably quite familiar to a lot of people who trawl the blogopshere.

In the early stages of 2012, Bozier predicted Assad will fall in Syria; Romney will win the election; Russia will be home to game-changing protests; and the euro will be fixed.

It doesn’t take a genius to see how wrong he was (indeed not being able to see what will happen in the future probably came to Luke’s own detriment the most, arrested – to quote the Guardian – as he was on suspicion of viewing or possessing “indecent images of children”), but looking at the predictions, and knowing what his politics were, it reads more like a wish list rather than reflection on reality.

What follows by me is anything but.

I sincerely hope Assad falls, without his dignity; that the euro will temper (more for the people who will be affected by it rather than for the bureaucrats who rely on it to wield their power); that Iran refrains from snubbing a concerned global community with its ever-worrying nuclear capabilities; and that austerity stops being consensus among political leaders in Europe.

I just don’t think my wishes will materialise.

First up:

The British Right will make a breakthrough, born out of the euro crisis and divisions in the Conservative Party and beyond:

Nothing of too much excitement will happen in the UK over the next year.

Despite the coalition growing further apart politically, the Liberal Democrats have nothing to lose but to try their very hardest to restore dignity within government before they sink completely under (want my advice? Replace your leader with someone less, well, sophomoric), and the Conservatives would probably prefer to bully their junior partners rather than go it alone, governing as a minority party.

What I can foresee, however, is the growth of the Right inside the Conservative camp. In fairness it is anybody’s guess why they haven’t made too much headway already. Dismissive of the coalition’s lefty partners, ashamed of their more cosmopolitan leader, gay marriage, indecision over Europe – you’d think by now something would have burst.

Well, now with the rise and rise of the United Kingdom Independence Party and the prospect of a banking union in Europe, which no matter what the attitude of David Cameron, will be sure to rile up right-wing Eurosceptic Tory MPs something wicked, 2013 will be the last chance for the Right to make their voices heard and their anger listened to.

David Cameron won’t be going anywhere of course, but he will certainly shift his rhetoric to appease backbenchers and keep party unity before the time when he has to start campaigning for re-election himself.

European austerity hawks will almost certainly win the battle, while the war will affect us all:

In spite of what I hope, I think Angela Merkel will win the election in late 2013 with coalition partners the Social Democrats.

Even though there is some minor excitement around the left(ish) players ready for the fight before September, like the Pirate Party (possible left wing coalition partners, already having leadership problems), Merkel’s premiership, and tutelage over the eurozone, will not be put into jeopardy.

Furthermore, in next door France, despite his best efforts, President Hollande will experience trouble trying to reverse austerity measures (right wing critics are already smugly reminding him that the Peugeot Citroen factory closure will go ahead, showing that his best is sadly not enough) and will, at the same time, lose the confidence of the European left who were hoping he could inspire economic practices further afield than just France.

The euro left will find they need a new leader, and it will not come from Spain or Italy, but neither will it be from Germany or survive in France.

The US will reluctantly reflect more upon its growing domestic issues, and fear of losing its economic hegemony, which will also include being the main player in averting war in Iran:

Even though the US recession was stopped in mid-2009, what came afterwards can hardly be called a recovery – but the tough choice President Obama will have to make is whether he can juggle increased focus on domestic and foreign affairs, or let the world get on with it. In not trying to sway the way of the world Obama and the US have a lot to lose, however.

It will be in Obama’s interests to see stability in the euro since further collapse will inevitably damage the US economy – and weakness only strengthens emerging economies such as India and China.

Even more pressing is Iran. Contrary to the suspicions of many, the US will be the main player who actively avoids conflict with Iran. There is a Presidential election in June 2013 in Iran, which will almost certainly mean the perception of independence and courage against critics of its nuclear ambitions will be a necessary vote winner. Israel will want to play on this slight vulnerability and up its ante. What will follow is not all out war, but the risk will increase.

The US’s position will become far more diplomatic, even if it doesn’t curry favour at home, but simply because it cannot afford to take eyes off the economy.

China will flex its muscle and set sail to being bigger than America – Sinophobia awaits:

China, it has been noted by John Lanchester in the LRB recently, refers to the great recession as the ‘Western Financial Crisis’’.

It does this for one reason: things are on the up and up for China. 2013 is the Year of the Snake, linked to, among other things, material gain, and this is very telling. The uncovering of coal, silver and uranium in next door in Mongolia, will highlight two things: further prosperity for China and increasing dominance over economies, not just its own.

The wastelands of the Gobi Dessert, where this discovery was made, already relies on China for electricity, and they can now expect China to increase pressure into sharing some of its new wealth.

Mongolia will also have to rely hard on China’s market to export. Further still, Japan, despite going into an election expecting the outcome to favour a right wing, nationalistic bent, will realise it is time to patch up sore relations with China as it knows it will come off worse if friction continues.

Very briefly, China’s coming economic hegemony is bad news for many reasons. 2013 will be the year we realise China is set to dominate, and moreover that the democratisation of China will never come.

Slavoj Zizek said it better than I ever could, and I share his concern:

“What if ‘the vicious combination of the Asian knout and the European stock market’ (Trotsky’s characterisation of tsarist Russia) proves economically more efficient than liberal capitalism?

“What if it shows that democracy, as we understand it, is no longer the condition and engine of economic development, but its obstacle?”

Years ago the late Christopher Hitchens predicted himself that China will one day cease to be Communist even by name, and exist as a xenophobic and nationalist state. If this is the succeeding economic model (further proving Fukuyama wrong) then we are all in trouble.

Assad will go but not through overthrow:

Assad will eventually walk, of that I think we can all be sure. If the civil war efforts don’t die down out of exhaustion then he will promise more mythical reforms to buy off fence-sitters and exit with grace. This will be a crime and a tragedy (though don’t expect the left to speak up on calling him out for war crimes when he flees the land and people he destroyed).

In a similar vein, Algeria and Saudi Arabia will probably capitalise on rising oil prices and buy off dissent which, though obviously quite negative and contrary to my wishes, is to be expected.

Where there have been revolutions there is now a period of power struggling and steadiness maintenance. This is uninspiring and, unless something else happens that is as yet unforeseen, is unlikely to build up too much excitement.

What may be interesting, however, is seeing what happens to Jordan. King Abdullah II is, unlike other countries in the region, unlikely to be able to buy off dissent and promise reforms on a scale that a newly energised secular liberal, and Islamist, movement will want to see. This could be the next country to see change, and in such events I will seriously reconsider my above contention.

The predictions I have set are not all positive, I realise, but that’s what I think we have to look forward to. Though of course man makes history, not the other way around; so with any luck, I can be proved wrong.

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