2013 in Review (Or, A Cliche but Highly Traditional Way to Ring in A New Year)

I’ll be off on holiday for the next few weeks, so there’ll be no updates until January 6, 2014.  So why not end this year with a review of that which happened, that which didn’t happen, and that which might come next, in a final geopolitical round-up of the year.

It was shit to be Egyptian

Egypt was all kinds of messed up at the start and remains all kinds of messed up at the end.  Overthrown president Mohammed Morsi managed to piss off just about everyone but his Muslim Brotherhood, who, by spring, organized into the Tamarod movement, led at first by the same liberal youth as before but quickly growing to encompass just about everyone but the MB.  The military hears their cries as they storm the streets in June and surrounds the presidential palace, arresting the president and starting a rather horrible purge.

The pendulum didn’t 100% swing back to pre-revolutionary days, but it sure felt like it at times.  Egypt will have another rough one in 2014.  Its economic crisis is easing as the military restores stability.  But the fact that the military still feels the need to have a referendum on its new constitution is proof enough that some bits of the original Arab Spring live of.

It felt a bit better to be Iranian

Meanwhile, Iran has a presidential election, of sorts, and decided it was time to buckle down and negotiate.  With sanctions hammering the regime and rumors of war starting to look less and less like rumors, the Iranians finally came to the negotiating table and surprised just about everyone with a deal in November.  While this story is not over, the long term implications are clear – Iran might just have a future in the Pax Americana after all.

Syria somehow got even worse

Syria continued its bloodbath, highlighted by Hezbollah’s successful May incursion that turned the tide and bolstered Assad’s fledgling armed forces.  But it was Assad’s ghastly chemical attack in August that brought the conflict to the international stage, and where the geopolitics really kicked in.  Putin rushed the rescue; Syria will soon have no more chemical arms.  But the war will grind on until the sides can agree on a future.  That may come this year; the bloodshed is reaching a threshold where society might just finally force their warriors to put aside their weapons.

The Gulf Arabs quaked and worried

In the Persian Gulf, Saudi Arabia felt ever so betrayed by America’s changing priorities – and, worse, America entered the game as an oil giant in the summer.  How long ’till people stop caring about Saudi Arabia?  Perhaps not as long as once originally thought.

Meanwhile, in the background, al-Qaeda lurked ineffectively.

Ukraine got back to the headlines

Ukraine was a big one this year, much to everyone’s surprise.  The soft power of the European Union looks like it’ll win out, despite Russia’s desperate attempts to the contrary.  People power still counts, and will count more and more in the future.  Russia as a traditional nation-state will become less effective, despite Putin’s little wins in Syria and elsewhere.  The fundamentals just are against it.

North Korea was not to be forgotten

With more missile tests, threats, and general insanity, North Korea ended the year with a very public purge, making everyone really worry about what’s going on inside the Hermit Kingdom.  Jokes aside, North Korea’s fucking dangerous if its leader is actually crazy.  Nobody will likely know the full story until they’re picking up regime secrets from the ruins of their bunkers.

China got rather uppity

With its new Air Defense Zone, China clearly was hoping to up its power and to push American influence a bit back after Obama’s Asian Pivot was announced.  But that didn’t quite work out.  This was the year people started to notice the dragon was looking rather tired.  Sure, they stage managed a leadership transition pretty well, but their economy is slowing bit by bit, and how long can it be until a crisis erupts?

America stayed so #1 that it hardly noticed the outside world

Completely obsessed with internal politics, America and Americans hardly bothered with much internationally this year, except continuing to grind on in Afghanistan and blow up terrorists in random places.  It was Edward Snowden who made Americans look at a map this year, as he jumped from China to Russia and spilled the beans on the NSA’s secret surveillance.  Syria briefly made Americans wake up to the fact that Middle East is still a really fucked up place at times, but the government shutdown followed by the Obamacare website scandal really made domestics far more important than international stuff.  Obama, in a groping kind of way, seemed to realize China could not be allowed to get away with its power plays, but likely his term will end focused inside the country rather than outside it.

Pretty nasty year, overall

With the first usage of chemical weapons since 1988, Iran’s nuclear deal notwithstanding, this year was a mixed bag at best.  But for Egyptians pining for democracy, Americans pining for stability, or Syrians pining for a world minus a psychopathic government, it wasn’t a great 2013.

What next?  God knows

Anybody who pretends to know the future is a fool.  But you can guess away!

Happy 2014 everyone!  We should be able to avoid nuclear war this holiday season again.


2 thoughts on “2013 in Review (Or, A Cliche but Highly Traditional Way to Ring in A New Year)

  1. There is no such PAX AMERICANA today. In fact, The United States of America are loosing influence and leverage around the world, mainly economic influence. The United states government is so afraid about it that pushes efforts in military and technological fields instead of economic cooperation. In the future de government will rely more and more on militar and technological capabilities to maintain its influence outside the eurozone.
    Ukraine is a victim in the geopolitical game played between NATO and Russia. Why on earth the European Union would find atractive a broken economy such as Ukraine? The real intention is not about trade and economic integration. Its about to isolate russia military and economically in order to reduce its geopolitical power which will permit the USA to focus on Asia.
    On the other hand, the syrian civil war is now waged mainly by extremists financed by Saudi Arabia. It’s true that Assad is a genocide and should have been removed a couple of years ago, but the conflict degenerate into a proxy war between Israel-SaudiArabia and Iran.

    1. I agree with your points, with one exception – the idea of Pax Americana. This term means a cessation of war between great powers – something that hasn’t happened on a large scale since 1945. From 1945-91, it was the bipolar power environment of the Cold War that prevented great power wars, but from 1991 onwards, it’s been the threat of American power intervening in any conflict that’s reduced the threat of interstate war. This is the Pax I refer to – similar to the one the Romans enforced in the Mediterranean during the 1st and 2nd centuries, a time when rebellion and civil strife was not uncommon, but struggles between great powers were.

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