PART I : 2016 PROSPECTS FOR THE YEAR IN FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND NATIONAL SECURITY OR AROUND PART OF THE GLOBE IN HALF AN HOUR!
Harry C. Blaney III
This post will take a quick look at some of the most important global challenges and issues Americans and the rest of humanity will face in this year. This will be a brief look at possible developments in key areas, what risks and dangers lie with the topic and what policies or actions might affect outcomes good or bad. Also indicate what America could, should, or should not do to address the dangers and problems inherent in each issue. In short a quick tour of the most difficult questions our present and likely our next president will likely face.
THE MIDDLE EAST, THE SUNNI-SHIA DIVIDE, AND TERRORISM
There is no region more in disarray and conflict ridden than the Middle East and related regions. Nor is there a more difficult set of forces and issues which makes this region a complex quagmire and yet also more in need of conciliation, diplomacy and outside, yes outside help!
While in the end the Shia and Sunni nations must see that their conflict will destroy them both and make some kind of “pact,” or 2016 could see an escalation of internecine warfare. Here diplomacy from both inside the Islamic community and likely outside. Given the larger consequences we will see in the person of Secretary John Kerry and key Europeans an adding of efforts and pressure for some kind of truce. (See comments on Russia’s role below.)
Sadly the year 2016 started out with a worsening of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia over a stupid if not malicious act of killing a Shia Saudi cleric which seems almost designed to escalate the conflict. It will certainly make putting together a necessary joint Shia-Sunni Iraqi regional governance model harder if not impossible.
Yet it must be halted. The seat of most terrorism lies in this region and least we forget it impacts disastrously, more than anyone Muslims of all sects. We are trying to maintain a close dialogue with the key Shia government of Iran which is difficult at any time and with Saudi Arabia that wants unquestioned US support for its anti-Shia strategy. The latter position would be a disaster for America and our allies, in the end we need to be an “honest broker” and “peacemaker” not an outside protagonist.
ISIS or the so-called Islamic State is now at the heart of violence in the Middle East. But there are also many groups and indeed governments who have given support to these brutal killing machines which we see in North Africa, Africa proper, and in Europe and America in individual attacks. 2016 is likely to see more of these and also more reaction by states to curb these terrorists.
Under Obama’s cautious but directed and increasingly mixed-tools strategy, which curbs the deployment of large combat ground troops, and focus, as it should, on the Muslim states concerned taking the lead in routing out ISIS, seem to, at last, to make some progress. ISIS has lost some 30-40% of its population and/or territory in Syria and Iraq.
We are likely to see “more of the same” but now modified to see what works best and least costly in terms of blood and resources and the key problem of “blowback” and “unintended consequences.” It was and is a wise policy which pleases nobody but is an fine example of “smart power” at work. No guarantee of working but the best option of all the other most bad ones. We are likely to see a tough debate in 2016 over a more militaristic approach verses a more cautious but evolving and multi-tools strategy using cooperation with others as a key component. This conundrum will not be solved in 2016 but the activities and attacks of 2016 will influence future outcomes.
There are a number of Middle East countries which are in a critical state including Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen, Egypt, many African nations and others which need not just American attention but also from other key countries including Europe and Asian nations. In each case 2016 will require added major resources and attention via hard diplomacy and addressing some of the fundamental causes if each is not addressed the result will be the spread of conflict and terrorism.
ISRAELI- PALESTINIAN CONFLICT
An example of a conflict that is getting worse not better largely due to the continued effort of Prime Minister Bebe Nethanhuh to make sure there will not be peace between Israel and the Palestinians. I can’t be less blunt about this. He has expanded illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem which are all Palestinian lands. He has said outrageous words about Palestinians citizens in Israel and has said there will be no two state solution while he is in power. He has insulted and tried to undermined President Obama in as many ways as possible within the already fractured difficult American politics while getting un-presidented major military assistance from the same President to help Israel’s security. His recent visit to Washington to “make up” made little progress towards a peace deal.
While the PLO has not been always helpful in the negotiations and remains weak and divided, and angery it was the continued settlements which forced them into desperate acts which is likely to bring the same sad scenario in 2016 unless there is considerable outside pressure to demand a need to solve this situation, which if not resolved is likely to inflame the entire region and threaten peace and produce a catastrophe for Israel itself. There are those who think America should give up on the Middle East. But the question is in 2016 can the West and other Middle East powers see the consequences of this path to mutual destruction and make an offer that can’t be turned down? Most experts are pessimistic, indeed opposed to any further efforts. They are wrong.
RUSSIA: A DISASTER IN WAITING
If it is true that President Putin’s game is enhancing his and Russia’s strategic and geopolitical standing and he wants to be seen as a major international power, he will be seriously disappointed. If his game is to make “mock war” with the West, this path and this goal lies in failure and possibly mutual calamity. The keyis for the West to hold its unity and focus. Russia it is to be a responsible state looking to help peacemaking and constructively dealing with the many global challenges we face, Putin can win that game for Russia’s long term interests.
His problem is really not just the low price of gas and oil, nor his military adventures, it is the tragedy that his policies have made of Russia. The Ukraine/Crimea gambit will prove to be costly on many dimensions and, if seen as it should, to be a cause of the downturn of the Russian economy and the standard of living of the average citizen (not you can be sure of Putin’s friends among the Oligarchy.
Russia is increasingly, as I have written earlier, a “Potemkin Village” is an empty shell and darkness inside and despair growing. Putin is riding high in the opinion polls but much is also due to his harsh repression of any dissent as seen in his “contract killings” at home and abroad. The predictions are for recession, decline of the Ruble, continued low oil and gas prices and not least a continued from the top corrupt society which enfeebles a great nation.
But this realization clearly has not yet happened among many Russians and may not in 2016. The test will be in Ukraine, Syria, and relations with the former countries of the former Soviet Union. A test will also be if he continues to carry out his provocative military flights and ship/sub/troop exercises near or over NATO nations.
Given the recent past history, President Putin is not likely to let up on his dangerous indeed mad aggression and acts of war in Ukraine and Syria unless forced to do so from inside realities or outside pressure. He has backed time and time again brutal regimes and groups. His backing of Assad – a regime that has carried out now for years mass killings of its citizens in Syria. Assad’s is a terrorist regime itself.
In an odd swing this action has put him on the same side as Iran and Hezbollah a terrorist group, an effort to be a likely costly goal of being a “big” player in the muddy Middle East. It is just the same game as his other aggressive gambits with nefarious “allies” in places like Georgia, etc. He may pay a cost and make enemies with the Sunni nations by his actions.
He has from time to time tried to appear to seek common ground but with outcomes that only favor his prejudices and goals. He supports the Iran nuclear deal, and in theory a UN backed peace settlement and process in Syria. In 2016 we will see if this ends in peace and all will depend if he is willing to see in the near future Assad to go. His military chips are put down in the Syrian coast with added arms in 2016, but the forces at work are those he nor we can fully control.
Look for a very hard road here in 2016 unless Putin changes his calculations. Look also for more allied bombing efforts against ISIS and possibly indirectly Assad’s forces if peace talks fail. And some work to deal with the refugee issues seems necessary.
END OF PART I: COMING SECOND PART COVERS EUROPE, ASIA, NUCLEAR WEAPONS, GLOBAL WARMING, AND OTHER ISSUES.
Comments are welcomed.