Greg Sheridan has an interesting, though risky article, in The Australian [August 20, 2011] –risky because he presumes to predict the future, which of course is why the effort is interesting. He opens with the maxim “You rarely go wrong predicting trouble ahead (and if you do, few remember it anyway)”. And indeed he sees things going wrong in the future — that much is easy. You want to look at the whole thing [click on the title for a direct link to the original], but you should note some of his guesses:
> 2012 will be a particularly dangerous and conflict-prone year [because of] the forthcoming US presidential election, because the US budget is broke and because US leadership looks weak and “uncertain.” The problem with the US budget, he says, is not foreign commitments but “the massive bailouts it undertook in response to the global financial crisis; the huge stimulus spending it has undertaken since; the prolonged slowdown in economic growth; and the inexorable rise of social entitlements spending.” [Does anyone else think it is strange that he omits the unnecessary Iraq war and the huge giveaway to the super-rich in what Bush W called a “tax break for the middle class”?]
> The US will be unwilling to spend substantial amounts of money on any new commitments. And there will be a move to bring troops home [again, no surprise].
> North Korea will be a major pain because they will test another nuclear weapon in 2012. “The North Koreans want to be a fully capable nuclear weapons state, a status they will never give up once they acquire it. But they still think they might do a profitable deal with the Americans. This would involve the US paying the North Koreans not to export nuclear technology. They are likely to make some kind of deal but as before break it.
> Iran is trying to project its interests in the maelstrom in the Arab Middle East. Iran will not want the Americans to have an elegant or successful departure from Iraq and will work to ensure that either the US leaves Iraq in ignominy or stays in agony. This means increased attacks on Americans in Iraq, many sponsored by Iran.
> Afghanistan is supposed to be vacated by the US by 2014, but there is no chance of the US-led coalition force achieving its intended goals of establishing democracy there, or the rule of law “broadly secular”. He asks whether the US will continue to pay for the Afghan army and whether it will keep 10,000 or so troops, perhaps special forces, in Afghanistan to ensure the survival of the government in Kabul and undertake some specific missions. [I’m not sure why he asks; there is no doubt the US will stay in many unspecified ways, including those he mentions.]
> He is correct that the Pushtuns of FATA will continue to resist the American presence in their area.
> In Afghanistan / Pakistan he predicts increased Taliban attacks; increased challenges to the Pakistan state by Pakistani radicals; and a continued effort by Pakistan to keep the pot simmering in order to keep the flow of US aid.
> China is the other factor. Sheridan specifically mentions the Chinese navy which is involved in “a continual series of maritime provocations in the South China Sea and the waters to its north.” Strangely, he makes no mention of China’s rising presence in the Indian Ocean. IN any case he expects a serious incident at sea.
> And of course there will be an election in 2012 — that will produce enough fire and brimstone to keep the year interesting.