The new year, 2009, dawns with all the grimness and evil portents of a Shakespearean tragedy. The proud towers of Wall Street have fallen, disgorging packs of thieves and fraudsters. The mighty United States suddenly exposed as the proverbial king without clothes. Uncle Sam is bankrupt.
If 2008 has been a disaster, a second 1929, the new year may be even worse.
Here are world hotspots we should be watching in 2009:
*America's $13.7 trillion bubble economy will continue collapsing. After decades of intoxication on the steroids of reckless borrowing and cheap credit, America is going to have to go into rehab and detox, enduring enormous, prolonged pain.
Today, North America faces deflation -- in the short term. But the US Treasury's reckless printing of billions and billions must eventually create a storm of inflation. A debased US currency, rising unemployment, and destroyed savings will encourage extremism and political violence in the US and around the world. One need only think of post-World War I Germany and Italy for examples. Or the recent riots in Greece's cities staged by hooligans, the unemployed, and anarchists.
The Pentagon may not get the $534 billion it wants to continue global domination. Or to wage the $15 billion per month colonial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama is already backing away from election promises to withdraw US forces from Iraq. There is no end in sight to either conflict. America is not yet ready to give up its neo-imperial role unless forced to -- as was its predecessor, the British Empire -- by economic collapse.
*Russia is in a surly mood, feeling under siege by an aggressive NATO. US and NATO attempts to bring Ukraine and Georgia into the alliance risk igniting a truly dangerous crisis and encouraging extreme anti-western elements in Russia. Thanks to the ruinous squabbling of Ukraine's democratic politicians, that wobbly nation courts possible breakup, civil war, even re-absorption into Mother Russia.
*Nuclear armed India and Pakistan, who fought three wars over divided Kashmir since 1947, are again at scimitars drawn over the Himalayan mountain state. Tensions are rising fast. Pakistan's Army is growing restive at being forced to serve as a mercenary force to support the US war in Afghanistan. Pakistan is redeploying troops away from the Afghan border back to the eastern front with India.
The Mumbai massacre last November, likely conducted by Kashmiri separatists, underlines the urgent need to settle this crisis. Kashmir remains the world's most dangerous nuclear confrontation. Between 40,000 to 80,000 Kashmiris, mostly Muslims, have died since an anti-Indian independence struggle erupted in 1989.
*Iran continues to advance its nuclear program to the point where it could make weapons, if it so desired. Israel is pushing the US to attack Iran even though US intelligence says Iran has halted weapons programs. Israel may attack on its own, hoping to draw the US into war against Iran. This would expose US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan to heavy attacks and even closure of the Gulf, which supplies some 40% of the world's oil. Whether the new Obama administration allows Israel to continue to set the course of US Mideast policy, as it has under Bush, remains to be seen.
*Africa's worst humanitarian crisis is not in Darfur but in Somalia. Half its ten million people face starvation. Somalia's only modestly effective government in the past decade, a moderate Islamic movement, was overthrown by a US-Ethiopia invasion two years ago, creating anarchy and the ongoing wave of Somali piracy. The US and Britain may soon intervene militarily in Somalia and Zimbabwe.
*The 60-year Palestine conflict will continue, dashing hopes for peace. American supporters of Israel's right wing parties, led by Likud, have already blocked efforts by the new Obama administration to press Israel into land for peace concessions. This conflict will keep poisoning America's relations with the Muslim world.
Israel's ferocious attacks on Gaza and efforts to destroy Hamas appear to have put paid to any chances for peace in the near term. They have also exposed the pro-American dictatorships and monarchies of the Arab world to the fury of their people. West Bank Palestinians are now led by puppets installed by the US and Israel. But the 1.5 million Palestinians of Gaza and their democratically elected Hamas government refuse so far to be starved and bombed into submission. Hamas won't recognize Israel until Israel recognizes the 5 million Palestinian refugees.
*The aged Husni Mubarak's long rule over Egypt could end in 2009, igniting a major power struggle. Egypt could face an Islamic revolution led by the Muslim Brotherhood, or a nationalist uprising led by a later-day Gamal Abdel Nasser. The most likely outcome, however, is Mubarak's son, or a new, US-installed general or intelligence chief.
*Iraq will remain a violent, splintered wreck, under some form of foreign occupation and divided, de facto, into three mini-states. Two million Iraqi refugees remain abroad, and two million internally. Large numbers of US troops appear set to remain under the guise of being `trainers.' Meanwhile, Iran is tightening its grip on Iraq.
*Afghanistan will be to President Obama what Iraq was to George Bush. Pentagon plans to double the number of US troops there by spring will intensify the war and spread it ever deeper into Pakistan, which is already a smoking volcano of violence and rebellion. Obama's pledges to expand the war in Afghanistan have deeply dismayed many supporters and suggest his policies may not be so different, after all, from those of Bush and Cheney.
Afghanistan is to be President Obama's war. So far, the US had no political strategy for war-racked Afghanistan, large parts of whose population face disease and famine. The US is also proud owner of the world's leading narco-state, heroin-heaven Afghanistan.
*China's rapidly falling exports, the engine of its near 10% annual growth, are already sparking growing social unrest. If China's`social capitalism' falters, watch out for an internal explosion. Watch also for rising tensions in Thailand and Korea, where the death or overthrow of ruler Kim Jong-il, followed by `unanticipated reunification,' scares the wits out of Seoul and Tokyo.
What my cloudy crystal ball does not yet show are the major changes in the global balance of power that will be caused by the decline of US economic and military power. But it seems likely the globe will be an even more unruly, dangerous and nasty place in 2009.
Eric S. Margolis