In late 2011, as everyone was summarizing the year just passed, I set out to concisely describe what would happen in 2012, but all past tense. In the spirit of accountable pundits, it is time to check my predictions against reality.
What I got right: “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.”
But getting that is the easiest bet on Afghanistan. It’s like getting to pick “not green” in Roulette. It would be news if anything other than fragile & reversible progress was discussed.
What I got wrong: “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.”
What I missed entirely: Green on Blue was the real story out of Afghanistan this year, as a building trend hit peak. Rather than warlords & militias, which I was expecting to be this late-stage narrative, we had a Taliban strike on a Marine airbase and a running narrative that ISAF was threatened by the very security forces it was trying to establish to safeguard Afghanistan.
What I got right:”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.”
But, again, this is an incredibly easy prediction to make. Moving on.
What I got right: “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.”
What I got wrong: I optimistically predicted a Persian Summer (ugh, seasonal revolution clichés), and then grimly predicted it’s demise. Neither came to pass.
What I got right: a connection to the ongoing Syrian civil war was inevitable, and my prediction that “the American embassy has become little more than an awkwardly luxurious Alamo” foreshadows “When U.S. officials emerge from their fortresslike embassy compound, they are clearly no longer the de facto rulers of the country they once were,” though I was hyperbolic.
What I got wrong: everything else. While the US role in Iraq is far diminished following the 2011 withdrawal, it was not immediately replaced by Iran as a sponsor for a client state. While there has been a competition between the two for Maliki’s favor, involving duplicitous statements about overflights to Syria, the real story in Iraq was continued violence and political crisis. Coalition politics are always challenging, but they are much more so when vice presidents get jailed on terrorism charges and armed militias are still a presence.
What I got right: The international community and the conflict itself. Libya was clearly the template for intervention suggestions, but such moves died in the security council or were only tepidly considered by NATO. Specifically:
“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.”
What I got wrong: I missed Iranian support for Assad, put a lot of emphasis on a relatively short-lived observer mission, and thought that sanctions would matter more in Assad’s calculus than SCUDs, chemical weapons, and airpower.
Spring: Arab, Russian, and Otherwise
What I got right: Yemen, Bahrain, “while successive governments in Libya have found that a dispersal of arms make overthrow easy but governance incredibly hard” is about half right – the arms make governance difficult, but there have not been successive governments.
What I got wrong: Egypt, Russia. I expected the SCAF to entrench itself in Egypt, rather than lead to the current Morsi-ocracy, and I expected Russian protests to have a larger enough impact that they would be met with violent repression and massacres.
The Horn of Africa
I expected that the Horn would be far more important this year, but I was very much premature in calling 2012 the year we explicitly acknowledge an Africa pivot. Instead, that looks to be 2013’s honor.