- Any "surge" by US troops in Iraq, if it occurs at all, will be perfunctory and ineffectual. Likewise, any diplomatic initiative aimed at Iran or Syria will be half-hearted and come to nothing. Instead, Bush will rely on congressional pressure to force his hand, allowing him to reduce the American troop presence in Iraq while protesting that the mission would have succeeded if not for the meddling of lily-livered Democrats. More generally, the administration's popularity will improve now that it has a Democratic congress as its foil, although Iraq, and foreign policy generally, will not be the main arena of confrontation (see below).
My clunker of the year--it would have been hard to have been more wrong on every count, I guess. Who knew that the US military, having bungled Iraq for several years, could suddenly conceive and implement an effective counterinsurgency strategy there?
- The conflict between Hezbollah and Israel will not flare up again this year, as Hezbollah will be preoccupied with consolidating and increasing its power in Lebanon. Meanwhile, Israel will be preoccupied with the continuing chaos in Gaza, which will spill over into the West Bank as well. The low-level civil war between Fatah and Hamas will continue, with numerous outside interests lining up on one side or the other. Rocket launchings and other attacks from Gaza into Israel will continue, and Israel's response will be sporadically violent, and sufficient to reduce but not eliminate them.
This one was just about spot-on, although arguably pretty easy to nail. The only possible criticisms are that the West Bank is still relatively calm, and that I didn't actually predict Hamas' takeover of Gaza. Both are, I think, minor quibbles.
- Attention in the US will turn away from foreign policy and towards the economy, as (1) the economy slows and (2) economic policy becomes the focus of the Democratic congressional agenda--and of conflicts between Congress and the administration. Trade, taxes, fiscal policy, entitlements and regulation of business will be key flashpoints, against a backdrop of slower growth, a weakening dollar, a continuing real estate slump, and a retrenching stock market. Oil prices will drop slightly, though, and interest rates will decline slightly--although not enough to juice the economy, owing to lingering inflation worries.
Pretty good, I think, although Congressional Democrats haven't exactly grabbed the economic non-bull by the horns. Also, the stock markets are actually up modestly on the year, thanks to big gains early on, and of course oil prices have skyrocketed instead of falling. It's easy to forget, though, just how little attention the economy was receiving a year ago, and how optimistic most forecasts were back then.
- In addition to the usual suspects all making it through the year (barring accident or illness), Ehud Olmert will surprise many by remaining in power as prime minister of Israel. (Navigating Israel's byzantine political ecosystem is the one thing he's serious about and competent at.)
My big winner for the year--few prognosticators would have given a plug nickel for Olmert's survival chances back when I called this one.
- Neither of the two current frontrunners for the Democratic party presidential nomination (Clinton and Obama) will be considered a frontrunner by the end of the year. On the other hand, at least one of the two current frontrunners for the Republican nomination (Giuliani and McCain) will be considered a frontrunner at the end of the year.
Badly off-base both in substance (with respect to the Democrats) and in spirit (with respect to the overall tone of both primary races). This cycle, the parties appear to have adopted each other's traditional roles, with the Democrats rather stodgily anointing a consensus heir-apparent and the Republicans flailing around looking for a candidate with sufficient national stature.
- (This one contributed by someone I know) A scandal will tarnish the sterling, upscale image of Whole Foods.
Now for this year's predictions...
- Hillary Clinton will be elected president in November, by a solid margin, in an election with relatively light turnout by recent standards. The Democrats will retain control of both houses of Congress.
- The US counterinsurgency effort in Iraq will suffer significant setbacks in Iraq this year, but the political reconciliation process there will in fact make progress. Iran's nuclear program will last another year without either a military strike or a successful nuclear test. The Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan will grind on without resolution, aided by safe havens in Pakistan, where Pervez Musharraf will continue to rule, in one guise or another, replicating his neighbor's stalemate with its Islamists.
- Ehud Olmert will survive another year in office. The Winograd report will criticize him harshly for being too recklessly aggressive during the Lebanon war, thus providing him with cover against his more hawkish main rivals. He will also authorize at least one fairly large-scale incursion into the Gaza Strip, which will achieve little but will further shield him against charges of dovish, indecisive softness. Meanwhile, Hezbollah's position as the largest single power in Lebanon will be consolidated and officially enshrined in the country's political power structure.
- The US economy will narrowly avoid recession this year, but will experience very sluggish growth. Inflation will stubbornly refuse to fall, preventing the Fed from easing enough to really boost the economy. The stock market will have a down year, and oil prices will fall modestly. The housing market will not recover, but the US dollar will, somewhat, from its recent plunge.
- "Product placement"--advertising embedded into content such as music, films and television shows--will become more widespread and conspicuous, to the point where it becomes a subject of pop-culture irony.
As always, my predictions are not for everyone. Consult your doctor if you experience sensations of plausibility while reading them.