Special Reports
 
 


PREDICTIONS 2008
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PREDICTIONS 2008

"a man may prophesy, with a near aim, of the main chance of things" Shakespeare. (Henry IV).

Fortunately for the prophecy industry the standard is not high since the record is so deeply unimpressive. Fair enough perhaps, that we are all incapable of predicting such specific cataclysms as the December 2004 Tsunami - an underwater earthquake after all - that devastated large areas of South Asia. But we in the west are anyway inured to such disastrous acts of nature happening, so long as it is such a long way away. Look at the almost annual devastation of Bangladesh - a combination of predictable violent weather in the Bay of Bengal, inadequate government in Dhaka, and the vast numbers of people living with few defences in the low-lying Ganges estuary. Were that Europe, then the best case example of the largely below sea-level Netherlands, shows how it would be dealt with. The difference perhaps, lies in the political system and in access to the immense capital required for such massive civil engineering. [Although when a similar event happened in New Orleans, the presumably advanced US technology failed].

In foreseeing natural events we get fairly regular predictions about worldwide 'flu epidemics, of a general or specific kind. 'Bird flu' for example. The tabloids in their never-ending daily pursuit of conflict and sensation, tend to fall back on world-wide plagues on a slow news day. We have been spared the ravages of new strains of 'flu on a world scale so far, but recently discovered 'new' diseases, AIDS for example, have taken a deadly toll globally. Long-established malaria however, is still the major killer that it always was, particularly of children. That is not likely to roll back in 2008.

Global warming: There are no lack of predictions there, but few of us will live long enough to see how accurate they are. Is then mankind the key contributor to the climate's malaise, widely observed as changing - and not for the better? Maybe. Or is it that on our ancient globe, temperature variation is the key indicator in the well-observed periodical shifts towards and away from ice-ages? The evidence has made them easy to identify historically and yet they are less obvious as to their causes. It is the terrifying effects however, that we humans have to contend with [as in Bangladesh above], and we just cannot risk our careless environmental behaviour being as it appears to be, a contributing cause.

In considering the world economy, it might be legitimate to suggest that international finance is out of control, in the sense that is not under anybody's or any authority's control. It was only a few months ago at the last G8 when the German Chancellor Angela Merkel shocked her seven colleagues by suggesting that it was time that hedge funds were regulated, or at least monitored. They swiftly disposed of that dangerous nonsense. There is undoubtedly an assumption that at the upper levels of international finance, the players should be allowed to get on with their game, for the greater good of....well, that was never clear, but certainly without the brazen interference of representatives of the general public. All very good news for the micro-economies of the many delightful, hardly populated islets, characterized by a proliferation of PO Box addresses, that are now the key offshore international banking havens.

But when quick-talking salesmen persuade wet-back kitchen workers in the US, to buy mortgage-assisted houses they cannot possibly afford, and this becomes something called a 'debt instrument,' which is then moved around by banks like children playing "pass the parcel," then one has to concede that no method of prediction short of astrology, is likely to have a ghost's chance of accuracy. Consequently anything can ..and will happen in a world where the pursuit of wealth is applauded and rewarded, above all other considerations. Clever people find the niches that elude everyone else - the really clever ones manage to keep it from ever becoming public.

Politically, in what can be seen to be the major pivotal events of the past half-century, nobody (that anyone was listening to), managed to predict any of the collapse of the USSR; the end of the CPSU; the rise and rise of al Qaeda; the multiple peacetime air attack on New York City and Washington DC on 9/11. These and the global scale of the post-Iraq face-off between a new species of militant Islam and the west - are all amongst the most significant unpredicted events the world has experienced, in the last half century. Yet the available tools of the spying trade and the resources that countries now give their intelligence agencies, are rather larger, better, certainly more sophisticated, than the kings of old gave to their seers, interpreters of entrails, and readers of the runes.

Apart from what was completely missed, there were such spectacularly wrong conclusions emerging from the far end of the intelligence sausage machine, like the illusory WMD that Iraq was supposed to have had, which led to an unnecessary war and what may finally total a * million civilian deaths - many by jihadi terror bombers who first emerged after the invasion. So many of the victims in this Gulf War II could hardly have known what they were dying for. * Nobel Peace-Laureate Kissinger's Vietnam war turned out to have cost 3 million deaths, far higher than acknowledged at the time.

Not only the purpose of the war itself - but who in the US predicted that an invasion involving the removal of Baathist stability there, would lead directly to a monstrous religious civil war between the power-holding Sunni and the more numerous militant and vengeful Shia? Yet this has been the main cause of the death and destruction since the invasion. In what might be called 'tactical' predictions; there was the act of putting on the streets 200,000 suddenly unemployed Iraqi soldiers, allowing them to keep their weapons, with no pay and no hope of work. What kind of thinking predicted that this would be an intelligent, nation-building decision?

Quite as sinister and unpredicted, was the rallying point that all this chaos in Iraq offered to the new wave of Islamic militants, foremost amongst which have been al Qaeda's foreign volunteers. They flooded into this new battlefield in an Arabic country previously barred to them, that now offered holy war, martyrdom and practical training, in a way that had not been seen since Afghanistan. [It is notable that Osama bin Laden at an early stage in the occupation, harangued his followers in Iraq by video, to attack the Shia - "heretics worse", he said, "than the American invaders." Some Allied generals by this time, may have wondered what in hell had their politicians got them into].

NOT A UNIVERSAL FAILURE
On the Iraq invasion, the critique of prediction divides, specifically identifying the failure of the USA with its numerous well-funded research institutes, its sixteen separate intelligence agencies, its greatly admired specialist university departments, let alone the massive, world-embracing US media presence. That whole information edifice collapsed or was aborted, in terms of providing accurate analysis, yet their equivalents in most of Europe, including Russia, and the middle-eastern countries themselves, were banging away with what to them seemed - and actually was - easily predictable, because it was inevitable.

But it was as though the Atlantic had reverted to some pre-colombian communications void, where all receivers were permanently tuned away from any transmitter which could strike a jarring note. Such great newspapers as the New York Times and the Washington Post were led by the nose in managed news, emanating from the White House; numerous top-grade columnists getting it totally and embarrassingly wrong, their editorialists ranting on for war, like the worst kind of imperial jingoists in London's Victorian newspapers. These must have been the quality US media's darkest days. At its lowest level after 9/11, the US public and its media wanted and looked for revenge, and if (the Cheney speciality) their government identified one particular set of 'towel-heads' (as the grunts would have it), as responsible for 9/11 - well that would do! 'There's none so deaf as those who don't want to hear'.

For our part it wasn't rocket science to predict that IRAQ's third world army with no navy or airforce at all, would quickly be brushed aside. That al Qaeda, dispersed since Afghanistan, would flood into a country previously closed to them, and re-group within their new training ground. That the long suppressed hatreds between oppressed Shia and dominant Sunni would burst out. The predictions of Gulf War One, we observed, had been that it would take an additional half-million allied troops, over and above the invasion force, just as an occupation army, and with no clear exit strategy. That had been a compelling reason not to do it then, and the same applied now. In the form of an op-ed article these comments were sent, before the invasion, to some 55 US newspapers, none of which used it or any part of it.

What few of us outside WDC then knew or understood, was the power of the neocons at that time and their baleful influence on the highly suggestible new president. They were held to be leading intellectual policy wonks, many of whom had shone in the Reagan administration and certainly by the time of 'Bush Two' were in impressive positions of power and influence. The policy they proposed broadly was that the US should use the leverage of its unquestioned military lead over the rest of the world, to consolidate its unique world-power position. That the way to deal with middle-east was to use Israel as its regional satrap, and to convert, if necessary by force, the Arabic states in the region one by one, into democracies that would then, they suggested, become pro-Israel - they saw no contradictions in that proposal! It seems ludicrous to those with any knowledge of the Arabic countries in question, of which clearly they had none, except such neo-con characters as the opportunist Ahmed Chalabi, and Zalmay Khalilzad (now a US ambassador but rumoured to be proposing to stand in the upcoming Afghan presidential elections )!

Mao Zedong famously declared that all power comes from the barrel of a gun, but it was never explained by these neocon characters, how the tender flower of democracy can grow out of that same lethal tool of destruction? Perhaps just as well it never happened, because if this policy of instant democratization had succeeded. If in the Bush years the US had been able to ensure genuinely free and fair elections where there are currently none, and stand by the results, then probably every existing Arab state would by now be ruled by a local branch of the Muslim League, the Islamic Brotherhood, the Wahhabis, et al; as was intimated in Algeria in 1991 and Egypt in 2005 - and look at the 2006 Palestine elections won by Hamas (an acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement)! Then the Islamic world would now be well on the way to a revived Caliphate, the rallying point of all Islam - with guess who - as the number one candidate for Caliph?

We do make one exception to the disastrous US analytical performance. That is the State Department. It is just not credible that the very well informed and intelligent career analysts and diplomats at US embassies throughout the Arab world, did not comprehensively report what was so obvious to the Europeans and others. The only explanation can be that their advice was squashed by the political imperatives, as interpreted in a White House captured by the neocons, but the question remains: why then did a 'used and abused' Colin Powell not stop it or contain it, by threatening to resign as Secretary of State? It was held when he was a top soldier, to be a key part of the Powell military doctrine, always to deploy overwhelming force in any conflict. Why then in the political arena, when it was obvious that he was himself up against overwhelming force, from a Cheney-driven White House that ran rings around him, did he not walk away and leave them to explain the why's of it?

It is a sobering thought that were it not for the US Intelligence Community a few weeks ago in December 2007, 'standing up,' as the 'Bushie' phrase goes, to tell the world that Iran has not had a military nuclear programme since 2003, then quite probably, only that has prevented an prospective US - Israeli onslaught later this year. The inevitable product of that would have been certainly to gravely damage the Iranian civil nuclear industry - all that they have, but more significantly for future world leadership, it would have further shredded the US's already tattered reputation.

Civil nuclear plant is logically what exists there, to which they are entitled under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, of which they are signatories. Of course there comes a point when a civil nuclear industry will be capable of producing weapons grade material, but the intelligence is that even so, it will be another decade, even in the event that IRAN recommences a military nuclear programme, before that country can have a plausible weapon. How then could a 'pre-emptive' strike, as a last lash of the Bush/ Cheney tail, be morally, politically or militarily justified? But absent the mid-December National Intelligence Estimates, that is what probably would have happened!

We question, would the US spooks have come out with this, their best assessment, as they did, were it not for three facts?
(a) Their pre-Iraq intelligence product was 'doctored' by politicians who searched for justification for the IRAQ invasion that the Administration had already determined upon. The result certainly brought the intelligence community into disrepute as it did the Secretary of State Colin Powell, who made the case for war to the UN. It was established by the US army and the CIA after the occupation, that there were no mobile bio-weapons laboratories, no manufacture or stocks of anthrax; no 'yellowcake' uranium ore from Africa; the famous 'aluminium tubes' were not suitable for use in a nuclear program. There was no nuclear program. Ironic from Saddam's point of view. When he had been thoroughly frightened into delivering the 20,000 plus, pages of his 'coming clean' declaration, he saw it rejected by both the US and the British, because it failed to account for this list of non-existent, illusory WMD that Powell had brought to the attention of the UN !

(b) Here in 2008, there was a real likelihood of a re-run of that story. Certainly the Cheney camp had a similar agenda for IRAN - final year or no. There was every reason to suspect an attack on Iran during the final year of this presidency, probably via a proxy IAF, without the approval of the Congress.

(c) This government has less than a year to run - in practical terms, nine months. The new administration will be assumed by a new bunch of politicians who almost certainly are already bitter opponents of the existing White House. In the event of inheriting the outcome of yet another war, they would no doubt have sought post-hoc justification from those career intelligence operatives to determine who might have again bent too much to the wind of the prevailing, soon-to-depart administration.

JOINING UP THE DOTS
Without the political masters that all intelligence agencies seem to need to oblige, independent web analysts like newnations.com can normally join up the dots, in our case after having seen the monthly analysis from some 45 countries and looking perhaps at an horizon of a few weeks or months. Thus we got it right on the 2006 Palestine elections that Hamas would win, a prediction which to our surprise it seems the State Department had not forecasted - if Condi's subsequent revelations are to be believed. [The later and quite reputable opinion polls were pointing in that direction, and it did seem that western powers were fixated on the effect on Palestinian voters of the possible Israeli demarche (of which the Palestinians themselves must by now be highly cynical), and ignored the weariness that they had for the corrupt and bullying Fatah, that had pushed them around and run their lives for generations].

It isn't particularly profound to get it right say, on such matters as the continuing uncertainty of UKRAINIAN politics where there is a very close balance between the parties that follow the three main leaders, two pro-Western, one pro-Russian, with every reason to suppose that this close margin will continue. This nation resembles RUSSIA in more than the obvious. In particular and like the Duma, all three parliamentary parties have a powerful representation of businessmen, many of whom are frankly there so as not to miss financial and business opportunities.

RUSSIA itself has determined its direction for quite some time now. It can fairly be described as a nationalistic, inwards-looking nation, concerned about its place in the world hierarchy, and holding onto a concept of the mystical Russian 'idea'. Subtract the economic theory and practice of its soviet predecessor. See that the rise of the individual has overtaken the uniform grey of its citizen's conformity [which has, at least at this time, seen the end of individual political persecution of the gulag type]. Observe that communism has been simply and seamlessly replaced by statism, not so much an ideology as an instinct. Then the only real news is what surprises Vladimir Putin may be ready to reveal to us, about whatever comes next.

For RUSSIA There is nothing to speculate about in the forthcoming presidential election. Of course Putin's candidate will win.

But we do have two predictions: One is that the concept of 'OGEC' the natural gas cartel equivalent of OPEC will be taken forward, giving Russia, if they can 'swing it,' already the world's largest supplier, even more energy leverage than it presently has. They are already described accurately, as an energy super-power and they are single-mindedly taking that concept as far as it will go.

Secondly, we think that the SCO, the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation will enlarge this year. It is already the nascent equivalent of NATO, set up as a bulwark against perceived encroaching US hegemony, which looked very worrying to both China and Russia, in the aftermath of the Afghanistan intervention. Now Putin and his Chinese collaborators will seek to build, primarily by attracting more Asian membership. India would be 'the big one.' They are already SCO observers, as are Pakistan, but we do not see either of them joining an SCO as presently constituted. Iran however has already moved from that status into full membership.

Why the west should be concerned, is that this perceived US hegemony, a declared neo-con goal in fact, has been a real negative liability of the Bush period. It has provoked the danger of a muscular SCO, given the existence of NATO - a danger in that it recreates the polarisation of the cold war world. The world really does not need such an us-v-them approach. The only beneficiaries are the warmonger, military-industrial interests on both sides.

Rather than aligning with the SCO, we see INDIA seeking to strengthen its existing good relations with South Africa and Brazil. None of them are opposed to the USA, but they are unhappy about the UN Security Council, where each believes that as the southern hemisphere's regional giants, they should be permanent members.

IRAQ: Whenever, except inevitably for some strategic bases, the US pulls out its troops from the cities and countryside of Iraq, there is likely to be an upsurge of sectarian murder consolidating the 'voluntary' shifts of communities that have already taken place in order to survive. We have always been concerned and warned about a repeat of the separation between India and Pakistan which led to about a million civilian deaths, which is why (see our GEOPOLEMICS 'PRESCRIPTIONS') we have favoured a federal solution. But the key to sectarian peace, indeed to getting violence off the streets, is to defeat 'al Qaeda in Mesopotamia,' whose mission is exactly to create and foster that sectarian violence. Much is heard about the drop in casualties in Baghdad since 'the surge' took place. If 30,000 extra troops have been shown to make the difference, then the permanent solution logically would be to keep them there - which obviously is not going to happen. How will the power vacuum then be filled, other than by the militias that currently are biding their time and keeping their heads down? Perhaps the militias may eventually be reconciled, as a part of a Sunni - Shia rapprochement that any continuing peace will require. But that, although the imminent problem, does not address the permanent 'professional' terrorists whose whole violent purpose is to stimulate retaliatory violence. If the US forces withdraw with al Qaeda still actively in business there, peace in IRAQ will be an illusion.

IRAN: Whether they will do it or not, what they should do now, is to wage a diplomatic blitz to enjoy the same rights as all other signatories to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in respect of civil nuclear power.
Something extraordinary happened with the National Intelligence Estimates of late 2007. One of the geopolitical "certainties" of our world, on which so much collateral policy was predicated, has been shown to be an illusion!

It would be particularly appropriate in an election year that US policy makers should start afresh, forget the militant students occupation of the US's Tehran Embassy of nearly thirty years ago and table for negotiation the essential substantive issues now, that cause the divide between these two nations. Without a nuclear capacity, Iran is not a threat to regional peace. Yes, they support and arm the Shia group Hisbollah in the Lebanon. Has the US supported, funded or armed any Arab-Iranians, such as the Mujahadin-e-Qalq, that constitute a threat to Iran? Every political group in Lebanon has its own militia armed by somebody, and the significance of Hisbollah is that they fought against Israel, when that nation's troops had occupied their country of southern Lebanon, and hostilities have continued ever since. They also to a lesser extent have aided Hamas, a Sunni group in Palestine, but so have Saudi Arabia financially. Who is condemning them?

This is essentially a part of the wider Israel-Palestine confrontation and should be amenable to negotiations and not alone be allowed to prevent normalisation between the US and Iran. It would be a tragedy if the opportunity that this 'no nuclear threat' scenario has created, was allowed to wither on the vine, by attrition of the kind of outdated speeches Bush/ Cheney are still making about Iran's warlike intentions, in aid of a discredited neocon policy that is just not going to happen!

In the knowledge that IRAN is not engaged in a military nuclear programme, what the west should do now, is to take the opportunity to make it attractive to Iran not to recommence a military programme, now or later. It is a process called making peace and is done by a method called called diplomacy!

PAKISTAN: Musharraf 's choices are likely to be agonizing. Without knowing the outcome of the February 16th parliamentary elections, it would be reckless to forecast what will happen next, except that we do not discount the possibilities of a multi-party "government of national unity". But what can be forecast is what will NOT happen. Pervez Musharraf is the one sure element in the politics of that troubled country. He is a patriot, not a money-grubbing corrupt politician, and he is fully conscious of the dangers of militant Islam - he has already survived three or more attempts to assassinate him by Islamists. He is also newly elected as president. Now a prime minister-elect must emerge after these elections. Benazir Bhutto's widower, Asif Zardari ("Mr10% "), whom her political testament appointed as chairman of her party the PPP, is a fraudster, responsible as Minister of Industry in her last government, of amassing an alleged one and a half billion dollars fortune of corrupt money. There are warrants out for his arrest in three European countries. It is unthinkable that Musharraf could work with him as the new prime minister, should the PPP be the most successful at the polls.

The equally feudal Muslim League, the other major party, is run again as a family affair by Nawaz Sharif, who was deposed and imprisoned by Musharraf and after his trial was allowed to go abroad and thus avoid jail in Pakistan. Sharif has let it be known that his number one objective if elected, would be to destroy President Musharraf. In addition he is a Wahhabi Moslem and when prime-minister before, he crudely attempted to force Sharia law onto Pakistan, unsuccessfully fortunately.

Not much daylight there, it can be said. But possibly a Sharif brother, Shalbaz Sharif may stand - the courts have yet to rule if Nawaz Sharif may stand as a candidate because of his criminal record. The PPP has other (non- Bhutto family) politicians of adequate competence, and one supposes that the elected members will advance one of their number as their prime-ministerial candidate. If they win, that could be an acceptable solution. Then there is the other main party, that of Musharraf. If they make a respectable showing in the election then that might solve his problem. We shall see very soon!

Serbia and Kosovo. The plot thickens. Not only the fate of SERBIA and KOSOVO are at stake here but also as RUSSIA has made clear, the several unrecognized breakaway republics it supports in the FSU, may also take any unilateral declaration of independence in KOSOVO as a precedent.
That means SOUTH OSSETIA and ABKHAZIA, both in the sovereign territory of GEORGIA; and TRANSNISTRIA, a Russian sponsored breakaway in MOLDOVA;

Then there is the REPUBLKA SRBSKA dying to break away from BOSNIA.
[ for more details of the world's unrecognised states see our 'STATELESS STATES']

UGLY SCENARIOS
An election in SERBIA on January 23d with a run-off date of Feb 3rd, will make any current prediction otiose, as that will establish if there is any deal that can be cut with SERBIA. If it goes to the wire, and moderates in Serbia cannot deliver, then we can expect a unilateral declaration of independence in KOSOVO with recognition following from the USA and some, but not all members of the EU.

In that case we would predict ABKHAZIA doing a UDI in GEORGIA, and being recognized by RUSSIA - and possibly some CIS states, such as UZBEKISTAN and BELARUS.

It is altogether possible that TRANSNISTRIA also would do a UDI in MOLDOVA, with 'the usual suspects' recognizing it. Bloodshed is unlikely, but the REPUBLIKA SRBSKA will look for Serbian support and perhaps get it, if SERBIA is bereft of Kosovo.

SILK ROAD SUPREMACY
An interesting development in the post soviet phase of Central Asia is what might be called Silk Road supremacy. Taking the examples of widely dispersed regional power houses, Dubai and Singapore, Central Asian rulers observe that there is quite a long distance between those two and that way could be said to be the Silk Road. Moreover their territory might be exactly the right place for such a Central Asian powerhouse.

Kazakhstan with its oil wealth sees itself as the place. It's former capital Almaty has taken on the role of financial capital - the 'Shanghai' to Astana's 'Beijing' perhaps, and seeks to set up a Stock Exchange affiliated to London and a host of financial instituions. Astana is a brand new city full of prize-wining architecture and so has something of the customized capital city atmosphere of a Brasilia, combined with the wildness of an oilfield exploration 'frontier'- it is already the wild-east nightlife capital of central Asia. Industrially, it plans to transform its vast wilderness via manufacturing, and always of course mining, since within its territory it is said, that every mineral exists that is known to man.

Uzbekistan has a less buoyant economy, not being a significant hydrocarbons exporter, although not for any want of exploration. It is largely dependent on the cotton industry, which it must be conceded is less in demand or profitability than oil. However Uzbekistan has a big population - significantly larger than Kazakhstan and it's main city Tashkent, is the former capital of the region known under the Tsars as Turkestan, from where the Central Asian emirates - now the 'stans created by Kremlin planners - were run by a military governor. Earlier history is also on their side. Uzbekistan's Samarkand was once the capital of much of the known world under the Turkic conqueror, Timur the Lame, (Shakepeare's Tamurlaine).

But there is another contender. China's western-most province Xingkiang, once known to the west as Chinese Turkestan, is the railhead for Chinese industry and commerce. Although the population is historically Uighur, a Turkic-speaking people, Han Chinese have systematically been moved in by Beijing for many scores of years, so the population now is about 50:50. Its westernmost city Kashgar, is close to the borders of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan; but also India and Pakistan, even Afghanistan. It was long a famous key staging-post on the silk road, once travelers from the west had crossed the Tien Shan or Karakorum mountain ranges, or were preparing to cross them in the other direction. Its proximity to India and Pakistan gave it access to another branch of the traditional silk road going to south Asia. Xinkiang has also spotted the opportunity to become the focal point of central Asia, so the competition is now on.

SOUTH AFRICA: The elections including the presidential elections, take place in 2009. Jacob Zuma, currently vice-president is already nominated well ahead of time by the ANC to whose presidency he has just been elected. The problem is an enormous one. Zuma stands accused of a massive corruption charge relating to South Africa's buying of armaments from European suppliers. His bagman and man-of-business is already in prison for a fifteen year sentence, for collecting the ill-gotten gains on Zuma's behalf. Zuma, through legal technicalities has been able to delay his own trial, but not we are told, for much longer. His many and powerful political supporters have tried and continue to seek to politicise and usurp the criminal justice process. But South Africa, a new democracy, has the separation of powers expected in democracies, and although the ANC - a political movement, has effectively been synonymous with the government since the collapse of apartheid, it is still not that government. It is expected that President M'Beki cannot save Zuma from facing trial, even if he was disposed to do so.

If by some unseen sleight of hand Zuma can avoid trial or is found innocent, then unless the process has been transparent and seen to be just, the political opposition are unlikely to accept a Zuma government. We would in fact also predict a break up of the ANU in those circumstances, (which might happen anyway), as a sizeable number of their supporters could not go along with a whitewash to install him as President.
This new nation's democracy is on the line over this matter.

Publisher - Clive Lindley