2012: What a year and it’s just starting!

John J. Metzler

NEW YORK — It’s once again time to peer into the foggy crystal ball and try to decipher the future political trends and events. Indeed, after the roller-coaster year of 2011, it’s hard to imagine that 2012 could hold some equally disquieting social, political and economic turmoil. But few predicted the sweeping Arab Spring, the wide-ranging economic and financial tremors rocking Western Europe, or the devastating natural disaster tsunami and subsequent nuclear crisis affecting Japan.

So let’s look thematically at a number of key issues affecting the world.

Transitions— After the death of North Korea’s dictator “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-Il, the dynastic mantle passed to his son Kim Jong-Un, aka “The Great Successor.” Instability in North Korea’s bizarre Marxist Monarchy poses a clear and present danger to prosperous and democratic South Korea. Will Jong-Un keep his restive military under a tight leash, shall he loosen the socialist economic system and copy Mainland China’s reforms, or can North Korea remain in its totalitarian time-warp?

Women use sparklers to draw "2012" for photographers as they celebrate New Years Eve in Manila on Dec. 31. /Romeo Ranoco/Reuters

As for the Arab Spring, the political season has now turned to Winter. Egypt’s fate hangs in the balance as hard-line fundamentalist forces are certain to gain from elections. Libya, though well-rid of the tyrant Col. Gadhafi, has yet to solve the regional and tribal divides which have long plagued this North African land. Syria spirals towards civil war.

Significantly, American forces are now out of Iraq, yet the results of the conflict, so costly in U.S. blood and treasure, remain inconclusive given the political tensions and infighting among Iraqi political factions. The imbroglio in Afghanistan continues with military success against the Taliban insurgents, but remains hampered by a weak and corrupt central government in Kabul.

Flashpoints — Probably the biggest challenge remains Pakistan, once a close U.S. ally which has morphed over the past few years into a seething and embittered partner. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, its web of support to Islamic radicals in Afghanistan and Kashmir, its domestic inter-Islamic strife, and dysfunctional government presents a combustible recipe for continued chaos.

The Islamic Republic of Iran tirelessly pursues the nuclear genie and threatens to close Straits of Hormuz petroleum jugular vein. The Obama Administration’s political naiveté and strategic myopia has allowed Teheran’s rulers more time to pursue nuclear proliferation, but time to stop it is running out. The stars may be in alignment for a military strike on Iranian regime.

Personalities — Turkey’s Islamic-lite Prime Minister Recep Erdogan is set to play (and probably overplay) his role in the Middle East. Once a stalwart NATO ally and reliable partner, Turkey under Erdogan has become a free agent, some would argue loose-cannon, in regional affairs. Despite being democratically elected, Erdogan exhibits an authoritarian aura in many of his speeches and relishes challenging Israel and now France. This is not your father’s secular and staunch Turkish Republic ally.

Prime Minister David Cameron unexpectedly rose to defend British sovereignty over the growing fiscal homogenization of the European Union; Bravo, about time!

In what may be a political charade, Russia’s Vladimir Putin is running for President again but under a cloud of blatant electoral fraud. Will this career KGB crony ride the wave of Russia’s petroleum-and-gas bling-bling prosperity and return to power?

Elections — Crucial contests are slated this year in France (April), Russia (March) and the USA (November). In the United States the choice will be between the incumbent Obama administration offering status quo Statism and a challenger who promises to return America to its traditional individualistic and entrepreneurial values.

In China, the 18th Communist Party Congress, gathers in Beijing to select the once in a decade political transition from Hu Jintao as the paramount leader of the People’s Republic. Conversely on January 14th, the people of Taiwan will elect their president from among fiercely competing democratic political parties.

Economics — the recession continues in the USA despite the occasional sugar rush of good economic news. Massive government spending has failed to stimulate a moribund economy or significantly cut unacceptably high levels of unemployment. High energy prices and regulatory red-tape equally serve as a political dead weight to faster economic growth. Energy independence is unquestionably held hostage to hyper-regulation.

In Europe the EURO currency has stayed afloat after innumerable breathless crisis meetings and last minute bailouts of a number of the debtor countries. Sustaining the cost and the benefits provided by The State, has exhausted many European nations. Finger-pointing aside, most European countries are guilty of massive unsustainable government spending and are now paying the piper on a path to insolvency.

Despite the global turbulence, may my readers have a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous 2012!

John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He writes weekly for WorldTribune.com.