Reviewing a year after it’s happened is old hat. Here, in cringe-inducing listicle format, are my predictions for what next December’s year in review posts will look like.
Afghanistan: Turning Points
Commentators unaware of the last decade of seasonal variations in violence in Afghanistan were surprised to see more Taliban attacks following the calm of winter. Superficial progress was noted by diplomats and bureaucrats, while the generals insisted that with indefinite time and infinite resources, progress towards total victory in Afghanistan could continue. No clear, singular vision towards this victory was expressed by any party, but everyone speaking anonymously expressed displeasure with the Administrations’s current handling of affairs.
As it became more and more clear that the ISAF intended to complete a full withdrawal by 2014, local warlords and other factions continued to maneuver and position for the coming civil war. A new militia program, despite claims modest gains in some provinces, has now widely been accepted as a means NATO to deliberately channel weapons to anti-Taliban factions, and unintentionally as a way for the Taliban to continue their successful practice of acquiring NATO equipment. Negotiations between the ISAF and Taliban fell apart, as the Taliban has yet to see any merit in pursuing a strategy other than outlasting it’s eager-to-leave opponents. Despite calls from the National Assembly for continued support from the international community, sheer exhaustion and exasperation dominated the sentiments of American policy makers, and little further aid of entanglement seems forthcoming.
Pakistan: The Erstwhile (Worstwhile) Ally
More drone strikes continued along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, as America continued the generally successful policy of killing militants (and, occasionally collaterally killing civilians) in groups of 30, in the face of continued protest from Islamabad. Despite this tension, aid continued to flow from US coffers to Pakistan, with all the sympathy and good intentions of a divorced couple waiting out the last two months left on the lease.
Iran: The Greatest Threat in the History of Ever
Despite a 2011 in which fears of Iranian nuclear ascension were expressed only slightly louder than calls for US military action to prevent this possibility, Iran ends 2012 without a nuclear weapon and remains technically at peace with the United States. A promised Iranian naval mission to the Caribbean fell through when the possibility of resupply at a Syrian port was derailed by the ongoing civil war there. As Iraq and Afghanistan both teetered on the edge of civil war, Iran was forced to match it’s aspiration towards regional hegemony with action and not just rhetoric. After another year living under sanctions, and with the forces of the Great Satan clearly marking their exit from the area, rumor has it that Khamenei has put nuclear aspirations back on the negotiating table. The West, in turn, remained surprisingly quiet when the Persian Summer protests were suppressed with overwhelming repressive force. Continuing irreconcilable differences regarding access to the Persian Gulf have tempered any tentative optimism.
Iraq: The Next Afghanistan?
As the Syrian civil war continues to spill over into neighboring countries, what was expected to be a difficult but manageable period of growing pains did not proceed as expected. Many pundits hastily made comparisons to the embattled government that the USSR left in Afghanistan to stand on its own after withdrawal in 1989, with the expectation that Maliki’s government, and the structure put in place by the 2005 Constitution, would collapse by 2015. Such punditry ignored the vital difference between 1989 Afghanistan and 2012-era Iraq: local sponsorship. While the USSR cut ties to the government it left behind, Iran has been actively involved for almost a decade in making sure the Iraq that existed post-US withdrawal was one favorable to Iranian interests, and such long-term investment has paid off. While US influence in the region remains, it has become significantly more diminished, following the withdrawal of military contractors after Academi incident of March 15th. With mobility restricted to an area almost identical to Baghdad’s Green Zone circa 2004, the American embassy has become little more than an awkwardly luxurious Alamo.
Syria: Libya Sans NATO
When the Arab League observers arrived in late 2011, it seemed as though the conditions were ripe for a Libya-style intervention. Universal condemnation, a regime intent on killing its own citizens, the mobilization of opposition within the country coupled with an immediate and sympathetic foreign sponsor all made it likely that, with a little push from NATO, another dictatorship could be toppled. As maneuvers to authorize action were made in the Security Council, Russian support (and therefore Chinese abstention) seemed likely, with Russia wanting to deflect criticism from its own democratic crisis. But the observers, despite all evidence to the contrary, supported the Assad regime’s story, and explicit NATO involvement was removed from the table. But unlike Iran, where the protesters were quietly dispatched with full repressive force, too much had been set in motion for the Assad regime to calmly hold on to power, as what began as a protest movement has become a disparate resistance of militias with foreign backing. The turmoil has inflicted more hardship than sanctions ever could. A growing acknowledgement of the humanitarian crisis has led the UN to reconsider action, Assad seems determined to fight it out.
Spring: Arab, Russian, and Otherwise
The increasingly misnamed spring protests that dominated 2011 have all but sputtered out. The SCAF that assumed power following Egypt’s ouster of Mubarak has proved equally reluctant to give up power but much more adept at holding on to it. Regimes survived unchanged in Yemen and Bahrain, while successive governments in Libya have found that a dispersal of arms make overthrow easy but governance incredibly hard. Elsewhere, threatened regimes acted much as they did in 1848, letting protests buckle under their own internal conflict before applying a precise modicum of force and leaving the population more comfortable with the stability they have than the turmoil they experienced.
The Horn of Africa
Took center stage this year in ways you wouldn’t imagine.