New year, but old problems

New year, but old problems

Revisiting the previous year and trying to foresee what is coming in the new year is a daunting task, though one needs to do just that in order to make sense of where the world is evolving to. Even to simply remunerate all the events that occurred in 2012 is impossible within the confines of this column. Yet, a short assessment of the most significant developments might illuminate the path ahead.

Undoubtedly the tumultuous environment of the Middle East has been occupying the agenda of international politics since the beginning of the Arab uprisings and will likely to continue to affect it in 2013. So, let’s see what the region still has in store for the world in 2013.

The uprisings that were triggered throughout the Middle East at the end of 2010 by the local population’s quest for freedom, equality and better life conditions have not quieted down yet. If anything, it got worse in Syria during 2012 and became complicated in Egypt toward the end of the year, and signals of further trouble are coming everywhere from the region. The Syrian unrest has turned into a full-fledged civil war and the death toll has surged dramatically. Even if Bashar al-Assad finally opts for a life in exile, there will be no easy way out for Syria. The convoluted nature of bargaining between greater powers about Syria after al-Assad threatens the peaceful future of the Syrian people.

There are several additional conflicts in the region that will continue to pose a threat to peace and stability in the Middle East in 2013. In addition to the danger of the Syrian conflict spilling over into Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, the forthcoming conflict in Iraq between the Shiites and the Kurds, possible clashes among the Palestinians and between them and Israel, as well as Iranian tension will continue to pose real threats for entire region.

With the withdrawal of the U.S. forces from Iraq at the end of 2011, the ensuing power struggle triggered the sectarian fissures in the country. Kurdish groups have been trying to gain economic and political advantages against the central Shiite-dominated government, which increased the fears regarding a breakup of Iraq. With the possibility of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s total incapacitation due to a stroke he had few weeks back, the lack of a central conciliatory figure has become an acute problem.

Although it is clear by now that the Obama administration is increasingly willing to give diplomacy one more chance regarding Iran, the nuclearization of Iran will come back to the international agenda as soon as the forthcoming Israeli elections in early 2013 are over.

The volatility of the Middle East will no doubt suck much of America’s energy, even though president Obama wishes to concentrate on the Asia-Pacific in his second term. Still, Obama’s ability to influence events in the Middle East will be limited in the new year due to U.S. economic problems, domestic fatigue about U.S. international involvements and the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Recent news coming from the Asia-Pacific, such as China’s military buildup, its activism in the South China Sea and North Korea’s successful launch of a satellite will no doubt attract more U.S. attention to the region, away from the decades-old problems of the Middle East. Similarly EU members, still struggling with the euro crisis, could not be active in the Middle East, even if they are interested. Russian involvement, in contrast, would not be welcomed by the West; and would not likely to produce any meaningful solution either.

This leaves countries like Turkey, on the edge of the Middle East, alone to deal with such deep-rooted and tiresome problems as best they can. Otherwise predictions for the future of the region and the surrounding areas are not very optimistic for 2013.