Having previously enjoyed myself immensely on New Year's Eve when on ABC's Nightline various pundits had their political predictions played back to them before blithely charging once more into the breach of ignorance, I will now entertain anyone willing to read this blog with my own predictions for 2014.
1) Narendra Modi will defeat Rahul Gandhi in national elections in India later this year. This will be the third electoral defeat for a member of the Gandhi dynasty--Rahul's grandmother Indira was defeated in 1977 after having declared a state of emergency in 1975 and ruled for 18 months in a highly-autocratic fashion. She came back to win again and served as prime minister from 1980-84. Her son Rajiv, Rahul's father, followed her as prime minister following her assassination in October 1984. He was defeated in 1989 and campaigning for a come back when he was himself assassinated in 1991 only a week before the election. If the Congress Party in 1989 was like the Israeli Labor Party in 1977, today it is like the Labor Party in 2001. Merely having another Gandhi on the ticket will not be enough to save Congress from defeat this year. Here is why.
I don't know much about Modi or how he will behave in office. But the 1998-2004 BJP government was much more moderate than would have been predicted solely from their rhetoric and campaign actions over the years. This was due largely to the actions of Prime Minister Atal Vajpayee and Jaswant Singh, the latter of whom served in a number of ministerial capacities including defense minister, foreign minister, and finance minister. If we look at Israel's Likud Party, predictions about it were much more dire before it took office in May 1977 than turned out to be the case in practice. Both Menahem Begin and Ariel Sharon proved to be much more moderate as prime ministers than their previous political careers and rhetoric would have led one to expect.
2) John Kerry's mediation effort in the Middle East will be practically disowned by President Obama leaving the initiative an orphan. Neither Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas want to make peace at this time. Netanyahu is opposed to giving up the West Bank for ideological reasons. He also does not want to imperil the stability of his ruling coalition. President Abbas does not have the support to give up the Palestinian "right of return" for refugees to Israel. Without this concession, the Palestinians would never get an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. Obama will decide that he cannot afford to antagonize independent voters before the 2014 elections, and afterwards he will need the support of Republicans in Congress.
3) With the failure of the private mediation effort by former Bush diplomat Richard Haass and Harvard Professor Meghan O'Sullivan at the end of 2013, the five parties in the Executive will muddle on. The peace will remain intact but cooperation between the nationalist Sinn Fein and the unionist Democratic Unionist Party will remain limited and loyalists will remain worried about a united Ireland. Elections for the Assembly will increase this instability.
4) The territorial dispute between China and Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands will escalate verbally but stop well short of actual warfare. Neither China nor Japan is interested in actual war, only in mobilizing their respective publics. If accidental collisions occur, they will be resolved by diplomacy as was the conclusion between Chinese and American aircraft earlier this century.
5) There will be further terrorist attacks by Pakistani terrorist groups in either Kashmir or India proper in order to help destabilize and weaken civilian rule in Pakistan. The Pakistan military does not want civilian rule to become a success--or a habit. This will lead to contingent and limited cooperation with the jihadists by the military over Kashmir while the military and Pashtun Pakistani Taliban continue to battle in the Federally Administered Territorial Areas.
6) The Syrian civil war will continue with the ruling Baathist regime increasing its control over the corridor between Damascus and the Alawite area on the Mediterranean coast and the jihadists increasing their control over the military opposition especially in far northern and southern Syria. The Geneva Conference on Syria will either never convene or will quickly fail as the Syrian National Council/Free Syrian Army backed by the West continues to lose support within the country.
7) The Syrian civil war will expand into Lebanon leading to a weakening of Hezbollah's position within Lebanon. But Lebanon will stop short of returning to the all-out civil war that raged from 1975 to 1990.
8) Political maneuvers by the Afghan government will lead all but a few American troops being withdrawn from Afghanistan by 2015. The Afghan state security forces will begin to fall apart leading to further expansion of areas under the control of the Taliban and the Haqqani network.
9) Following the 2014 midterm election, Obama will make the traditional transition to a seventh-year president concentrating on foreign policy. If an agreement with Iran is reached this year, he will concentrate on relations with Russia and on salvaging something out of Afghanistan. Otherwise, he will concentrate on reviving diplomacy with Iran and reaching some sort of agreement on Iranian nuclear efforts before he leaves office.
10) If Republicans and a few Democrats succeed in passing additional sanctions against Iran, efforts at reaching an agreement on Iran's nuclear activities will collapse. If the sanctions bid fails, there is a 50/50 chance of reaching an agreement--too close for me to call.
11) The Arab "Spring" will advance to another Arab country in 2014--possibly Lebanon, possibly Jordan. Egypt will continue to experience instability and the Muslim Brotherhood will go underground and be supported by al-Qaeda.
12) The merger between Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Beitenu and Netanyahu's Likud--Likud Beitenu--will fail to lead to a new party and Lieberman will become Netanyahu's most serious threat in Israeli politics. Lieberman will attempt to coordinate with Naftali Bennett of Jewish Home (the old NRP).
13) The Israeli Labor Party under the leadership of new leader Yitzhak Hertzog will experience a limited revival, but it will not be a potential threat to rule by the Israeli Right. Kadima will not revive and will not long outlast its founder, Ariel Sharon, who will not live through the middle of January.