James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

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The World Next Year: 2012 Edition

by James M. Lindsay
December 23, 2011

Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong use umbrellas to write "2012" (courtesy Reuters).

Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong use umbrellas to write "2012" (courtesy Reuters).

Bob McMahon and I sat down for our usual weekly podcast session but with a twist. Rather than discussing what’s on the horizon for next week, we talked about how things look to be shaping up for 2012.  We discussed the transition of government leaders across the globe; the ascent of political Islam after the Arab uprisings; the continuing economic turmoil in Europe and elsewhere; the looming crises of governance across the globe; the frayed U.S.-Pakistan relationship; and the possible emergence of Africa.

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The highlights:

  • 2012 is a presidential election year in the United States and France, and neither Barack Obama nor Nicolas Sarkozy are shoe-ins to be reelected. China, Russia, and Mexico are among the countries that we know will undergo leadership transitions. The fact that so many countries are in the midst of potential or actual leadership transitions will complicate diplomacy around the world. New leaders are likely to seek to consolidate power before tackling tough issues, and leaders up for reelection will likely shy away from decisions that could cost them domestic political support.
  • The uprisings that shook the Arab world in 2012 created new political opportunities in places like Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia, but they did not magically wave away longstanding economic challenges. Meanwhile, the Assad regime in Syria teeters on the brink, and the potential remains for political unrest to spread elsewhere in the region.
  • 2011 was a forgettable year in economics. The major issue was the eurozone crisis, which shows no signs of abating. Should Europe’s financial problems intensify, the repercussions will likely spread well beyond its borders and could trigger economic and security crises elsewhere around the globe.
  • The crisis of governance that was visible around the world in 2011 will likely continue into 2012. Governments are caught between high public expectations on the one hand and what they are able to deliver on the other. The result has been growing public disenchantment that has no obvious outlet.
  • The successful raid by U.S. Navy Seals on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan last May highlighted just how problematic the U.S.-Pakistan relationship has become. Washington will try to repair relations with Islamabad in 2012. Don’t be surprised if that effort fails. One wild card that could scramble everything is a terrorist attack on India that originates in Pakistan.
  • Most discussions about Africa involve violent conflict and humanitarian disaster. While some of those problems persist across the continent, there is also good news to watch in 2012: a growing middle class, better governance, and improved infrastructure.
  • Bob’s Figure of the Year is Angela Merkel. My Figure of the Year is $14.3 trillion. Listen to the podcast to find out why.

Of course, December is the time for “best of” and “top ten” lists. Time has the top ten everything of 2011. Yahoo picks the top news stories of 2011. CFR.org picks eleven world-shaking developments in 2011. Booz Allen identifies what it sees as the top ten cyber security trends for financial services in 2012. The Institute for Human Rights and Business has its top ten business and human rights issues. Joshua Keating lists the ten worst predictions for 2011, thereby saving me some time in compiling the Friday File. Thank you, Joshua. The New York Times Book Review names the top ten books of 2011, some of which I have read. The Atlantic.com has the most important economic graphs of the year and what films to look forward to in 2012. Frommer’s has its top travel destinations in 2012. (Curacao sounds mighty appealing right about now.) BaseballInstinct.com lists the Boston Red Sox’s top ten prospects in 2012, one or more of whom will eventually break my heart. That’s the only prediction I know I will get right.

Bob and I are taking a break next week from podcast duties. We will be back on January 5. In the meantime, we wish you and yours a safe and happy holidays.

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