With only hours left of 2008, this seems to be a good time to summarise the year that’s gone by, and perhaps to take a quick look at what is coming. Last year, I had this to say about the future:
The defining issues of 2008 will be whether the U.S. will stay in Iraq long enough to ensure continued relative stability; the outcome of the turmoil in Pakistan; whether the protectionist voices will be heard and tariffs increase; what happens in the Balkans over the next 6 months or so, when and if Kosovo declares independence. And, of course, the U.S. presidential election — among many things, expected and unexpected.
It’s always hard to predict the future, and given the financial troubles we’ve had there has certainly been other issues at the forefront. The U.S. has stayed the course in Iraq, and the new administration does not seem to intend to change strategy, so my expectation for 2009 is that things will continue to stabilise, allowing for a substantial reduction in the number of soldiers on the ground. Pakistan on the other hand, remains uncertain and could quickly become problematic. I have no idea what to expect there. The same thing goes for Kosovo and the Balkans; while things appear stable at the moment there are conflicts hidden under the surface. Chances are they can be managed, but it’s quite possible that they will explode in our faces leading to another tragic episode in the region. As for free trade, economic woes are seldom good for it, as people turn to populistic protectionism. I’m not optimistic.
Overall 2008 has not been a particularly good year for liberty, with governments using the financial crisis to increase their scope. There is also the ongoing trend of stronger surveillance, less driven by terrorism fears and rather more by clumsy attempts to adapt legislation to new technology. I’m specifically thinking about copyright protection — a legitimate concern — that has been taken on by a considerable weakening of the protection of the private sphere.
The economic recession will continue far into 2009, perhaps longer than that, but I feel the main danger lies in the regulations that may arise from this. The recession will pass over if left alone, but laws that stifle innovation and risk-taking could well continue to hurt us for decades. In particular it will be interesting to see what approach the Obama administration will take. I’m expecting an overly activist policy, probably along the lines of that of Bush, but with a different rhetorical slant.
In international policy the major challenge will be in dealing with Iran. 2008 has been a lost year, and I fear 2009 could be as well. The key, I believe, to an improved Middle East, will be convincing the Arab countries — especially the smaller but more moderate ones — that it is in their interest to align themselves closer to the West than with Iran. This is a tough challenge, especially while observing the current Iran driven violence in the region. Offering strengthened economic ties might be a good way in, providing a chance for better economic conditions for the citizens of the region while also giving ourselves better leverage in negotiations. Plus, economically speaking, it would provide a net benefit to us. As for the current violence, a cease-fire must first be achieved and Palestinian rocket launching prevented, before fruitful talks can be held. Trying to achieve peace the other way around — by first talking and then asking islamists to stop bombarding Israeli civilians — as a lot of Western media seem to suggest, is entirely backwards.
Overall, one year from now, I think things will largely be what they are. But then again, anything could happen. Personally speaking, I’ve had a really good year, and I hope you have as well. Blogging, unfortunately, has been slow and while I hope to improve I can’t promise anything. Even so, I hope you have enjoyed my scribblings this year, and that you will continue to do so in 2009.
Happy new year!