We begin with a review of our predictions for 2013, for which the theme is, "spectacularly accurate in the minor details, spectacularly off-base on the big picture":
- The US economy will continue to grow at a sluggish pace, constrained by declining government stimulus and interest rates inching up with the growing concern over public debt, but buoyed slightly by lower prices for fossil fuels. Inflation will remain tame, and the stock markets will weaken slightly. Real estate will continue its very gentle upward trend.
- The newly-restabilized Eurozone will destabilize again, when domestic political pressure forces one of the bailed-out governments (most likely Greece) to balk at the required austerity measures, and/or one of the bailing-out governments (i.e., Germany) to balk at its required contributions.
- Any US government spending reduction of any kind, let alone entitlement reform, that occurs this year will be purely cosmetic. The debt will continue to expand until the threat of rising interest rates forces politicians' hands.
- Damascus will fall to Syrian rebels, and chaos will ensue as Alawi Assad regime loyalists retreat to defend their stronghold in the northwest, the Kurds carve out an enclave in the northeast, and Sunni Islamists set about slaughtering minorities elsewhere. The unrest will spread to Lebanon, where Sunnis (including Islamists) emboldened by events in Syria will begin challenging Hezbollah's dominance in earnest. Meanwhile, in Egypt, The Muslim Brotherhood will consolidate its iron grip on power, but will be too busy dealing with economic crisis and the resulting unrest to make trouble elsewhere. The Palestinian Authority will bring some kind of case against Israel to the International Criminal Court, where it will sit for some number of years, but the West Bank will be largely quiescent, and no "third intifada" will break out, a few occasional minor disturbances notwithstanding. And despite increasing hostility from the Obama administration, overall global anti-Israel agitation will decline, as a result of Iranian setbacks and the increased respect that typically accrues to a potential future energy supplier to Europe.
- Binyamin Netanyahu's party will win the January election, and form a center-right coalition largely similar to the current one, but without Ehud Barak. There will therefore be more settlement activity, but no military strike on Iran's nuclear program, which will remain in its current alarmingly-close-to-nuclear-weapons-but-somehow-not actually-building-them-yet state. In fact, following the fall of Assad and the resulting decline of Hezbollah, Iran will begin to look--to all its adversaries, including both Israel and the Gulf states--like a much more manageable regional threat. Official and unofficial expressions of anti-Iranian hostility in the Sunni world will thus become much bolder and more open.
- At least one of the autocrats from 2012's list (Hugo Chavez, Ali Khamenei, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Robert Mugabe, Raul Castro) will not make it through 2013.
- The next hit cable TV series will break new ground by revolving around a fascinating, complex male character who's not involved in violent crime.
And now for my 2014 predictions, for what they're worth...
- The US economy will strengthen moderately in 2014. The stock market will decline slightly from its current heady heights, but interest rates and inflation will rise slightly (although not enough to divert the Fed from its current oh-so-accommodative course). Oil and other commodity prices will decline, but real estate will continue its recovery. The EuroZone will recover as well, but far more sluggishly, with continuing unrest (but no major upheaval) over the severely distressed PIIGS economies.
- Barack Obama's approval ratings will continue to decline, weighed down primarily by Obamacare, which will continue to accumulate angry "losers" (people whose health insurance has become narrower, more expensive or both). Numerous other minor "scandals" will pop up over the course of the year, but none will gain significant traction with the press, and the November elections will see only small shifts in Congress, with the Republicans gaining a mere handful of House seats, and the Democrats (just barely) retaining control of the Senate. Until then, the Republicans will content themselves by blocking various White House legislative initiatives, the administration will respond by doubling down on various expansions of executive power, and the Republicans will counter by initiating various legal actions (mostly unsuccessful) against them.
- At least one Supreme Court justice will resign or die, and Senate Democrats will abolish the filibuster completely to prevent Republican obstruction of the resulting nominee's confirmation.
- The Israelis and Palestinians will sign a "framework agreement" modeled after the Iranian-American accord. Like its predecessor, it will say absolutely nothing concrete and definitive, and will be interpreted by all sides as perfectly aligned with their own official position on every issue. It will therefore accomplish absolutely nothing, apart from allowing both sides to maintain the status quo while asserting at the same time that they've made progress toward their strategic goals. Meanwhile, redoubts of anti-Israel animus--academia, the press, Europe--will respond to the process by doubling down on their anti-Israel campaigns, including more American Studies Association-style boycotts. However, violence will be confined to sporadic incidents, and Israel's economy and trade will continue their stellar trajectory.
- Elsewhere in the Middle East, the civil war in Syria will drag on with no end in sight. The related unrest in Lebanon will increase substantially, led by relatively new radical Sunni elements rebelling against Hezbollah's dominance. Muslim Brotherhood violence in Egypt will continue at a low level, but the military will tighten its overall grip on power. Sectarian violence in Iraq will escalate, and the Erdogan regime in Turkey will shed all pretense of democratic rule, formally instituting structural changes that will in effect establish an AKP dictatorship, with a bit of democratic window dressing.
- Legalization or quasi-legalization of marijuana will spread to additional states beyond Colorado and Washington, and the next big trend in snobbish consumption will be "gourmet weed".