2016: Light vs darkness, time to solve Syria, opportunity in Latin America, rising China threat

Special to WorldTribune.com

By John J. Metzler

NEW YORK — It’s time to consult the crystal snow globe for a look at both the likely and unexpected events which will shape the New Year.

Serious strife both in the Middle East, and Africa to a lesser extent, have expanded leading to a culture of conflict with the ensuing reverberations of refugees which have swamped into neighboring countries and deeper into Europe. The appalling violence affecting Syria is no longer a regional crisis but widened through humanitarian challenges and international players, thus creating a serious threat to the global status quo. Let’s look at the map.

Middle East and Terrorism

First and foremost the USA, the Arab states, and Russia must redouble their efforts to solve the Syrian conflict which has taken 300,000 lives. While recent United Nations efforts to bring the warring parties together for a durable cease-fire seem quixotic, there’s simply no alternative in stopping this spreading political cancer. Syria must be solved this year.

SyriaBeyond the pure carnage, Syria offers a grisly playground for Islamic State and a gaggle of other terrorist groups. According to the UN relief agencies, over four million Syrians have fled their country and another 6.5 million are internally displaced; that’s half the entire population! Over one million Syrian migrants have flooded into Europe, mostly going to Germany and Sweden. Millions more are camped in neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Refugees at Europe’s borders pose a searingly poignant reminder of a problem needing solution.

ISIL is stirring this witches brew through its occupation of large swaths of Syria and Iraq.

But beyond the calculation of conflict, the wider human tragedy is often not seen. Persecution and attacks on the ancient Christian communities in Iraq, Iran and Syria continues in 2016! And killings, rape, and persecution of other groups such as the Yazidi minority, highlights a particular target of Islamic State intolerance. ISIL’s attacks on Christians and Yazidis pose a glaring case of Darkness versus Light.

Beyond the region, Islamic jihadi terrorism has carried out two major attacks in France as well as the USA in the recent San Bernardino, California killings. While Barack Obama may have wished ISIL away, the terrorist group persists and poses a clear and present danger to the U.S.

The security ramifications of the controversial Iran nuclear “deal” are unfolding; since the accord the Islamic Republic has tested two ballistic missiles. Moreover Teheran has flexed its political muscles both in Iraq and Syria. Afghanistan also poses a serious challenge for global interests; shall the central government hold on against the fundamentalist Taliban terrorists or shall this land descend back into the darkness?

Latin America

There’s an amazing opportunity here if Washington seizes it. Elections in Argentina have led to a positive change in government away from the Christina Kirchner’s socialist/statist regime to a free market and U.S. leaning administration of Mauricio Macri. Here’s a great chance for the USA to revive once close ties with Argentina. Equally, legislative elections in Venezuela, repudiated the Chavez socialist party, creating conditions for long overdue better U.S. ties with Venezuela. Sadly, Latin America has long been an afterthought to the Obama Administration.

Looking through the wider lens President Barack Obama, now in his last year of office, remains committed to close the Guantanamo terrorist detention facility, 107 captives remain in the prison. But beyond the security ramifications closing the center, the President may decide to return the actual Guantanamo Naval Base to Cuba, through Executive Action. While the American presence in Guantanamo dates to the Spanish/American War, part of the wider diplomatic deals between Washington and Havana concern the status of this facility. Cuban diplomats visiting the UN have hinted at a deal with the U.S. over this lingering dispute.

East Asia

Actions by the People’s Republic of China in the South China Sea pose a looming danger to global maritime states. Beijing’s occupation and expansion of islands and reefs in the disputed Spratley Island group impinge upon the interests of six Southeast Asian states including Vietnam and the Philippines. Moreover, PRC policies to put the South China Sea under Beijing’s sovereignty, a Mare Nostrum, pose a wider threat to trading states such as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. The USA must support the Freedom of the Seas doctrine in this vital region.

On the electoral side in January, the Republic of China on Taiwan will hold free presidential elections, the outcome of which will greatly impact on the balance of peace across the Taiwan Straits between the Mainland and democratic Taiwan.

Significantly the U.S. Presidential election holds the key to either reinvigorate the American economy and reengage the USA as a global political player or to look inwards and create a wider balkanized social dependency culture. The hinge of fate comes in November.

At this time let me wish our readers a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous 2016!

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014).