Middle East tinderbox
The Iraq War was supposed to spur a kind of benign democratic domino effect: American troops are welcomed as liberators, the Middle East gets a model democracy, freedom spreads through the region, etc. Hasn’t quite worked out that way, huh? Today, Iraq has a full-fledged civil war; the Palestinians are inching toward one of their own; Syria is trying to bring down the Lebanese government; the Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan; Egypt is cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood; and Iran is playing a game of brinksmanship with the US. How ugly will things get if the Bush administration decides to attack Iran? Even if this doesn’t happen, will Iraq’s festering Sunni-Shiite conflict go regional? Whatever happens, Democracy doesn’t seem to be on the march.
Moderately risky prediction: in late 2007, as the US prepares for its first significant troop withdrawals since the issuance of the Iraq Study Group (ISG) report, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calls for a pan-Shia state uniting Iranians with their co-religionists in Iraq. Pissed that he ever listened to the ISG, Bush orders missile strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Hillary versus Barack
The old Hillary-centric narrative went like this: Clinton has the money and the organization and the 2008 Democratic nomination, unless the party faithful decide she’s unelectable and turn to one of the sundry anti-Hillarys (Evan Bayh? Mark Warner?) for last-minute salvation. But now — following a rock-star reception during his first visit to New Hampshire, which evoked comparisons with Bobby Kennedy — Illinois senator Barack Obama suddenly looks capable of wresting the nomination from Clinton. Not by serving as a fallback for skittish Dems, mind you, but by out-organizing and out-fundraising and out-inspiring his New York colleague. Of course, neither Clinton nor Obama has actually said they’re seeking the nomination — and even if they do, another candidate (John Edwards?) could nab it in the end. That said, Clinton and Obama will be circling each other like wary heavyweights for the next few months, looking for angles of attack while trying to avoid possible missteps. And the media will cover their face-off in exquisite detail.
Moderately risky prediction: Obama spurns an offer to run as Hillary’s VP, then drops out mid-year after raising mass quantities of cash — which he promptly socks away for a run in 2012.
Mitt’s excellent adventure
No need to get dewy-eyed when the governor makes his ceremonial State House exit next month. Now that Mitt’s a bona fide contender for the Republican presidential nomination in ’08 — thanks to killer salesmanship, shameless ideological opportunism, and implosions by rivals George Allen and Bill Frist — we’ll be hearing about his activities ad nauseum, whether he’s channeling Ronald Reagan for the Spartanburg (South Carolina) Republicans or bellyaching about threats to traditional marriage at some Iowa hoe-down.
What’s that? You’re wondering if a Mormon can be elected president? We shall see. For now, note that the media’s obsession with Romney’s faith has an upside: national journalists covering Romney focus on the Mormon Question when they’re questioning his viability, instead of his paltry gubernatorial accomplishments or seeming dearth of genuine convictions. This may change — the New York Times recently noted that Romney’s shift on gay issues trouble some conservatives — but the prediction here is that Mitt’s deceptively slick aw-shucks manner will put skeptics at ease.