This is always a useful exercise, if only to see how wrong you are next year. So let me go on record.
These are in no particular order.
1. There will be some kind of power-sharing deal in Iran before the end of the year.
Why: Andrew Sullivan’s superb coverage suggests to me that the regime is increasingly facing a mobilized population pushing for something like a color revolution. Given the the regime is divided too – which is a strong hallmark that it may lose the gathering contest – it seems highly unlikely the troika dictatorship of Ahmedinijad & cronies, the clerics, and the Basij can survive entirely intact. The won’t be swinging from the lamposts, but look for something shaky and transitional like Zimbabwe’s messy on-again-off-again coalition government.
2. Israel will not bomb Iran.
Why: I have always found this possibility wildly overrated. The logistics are atrocious, the military value is mixed at best (b/c Iran has de-concentrated its nuclear program, unlike Iraq’s Osarik), the Americans oppose it, the Palestinians will go ballistic, it would save the mullahs from the own currently rebelling people.
3. Japan will disappoint everyone in Asia by doing more of the same – more moral confusion over WWII guilt and wasteful government spending that does nothing meaningful to reverse its decline.
Why: The DJP did not really get elected to change things, but more to make the status quo work again. The Japanese growth model was great until 1988, and then the Japanese locomotive just went off the rails. But I’ve seen no evidence of the socio-cultural revolution in attitudes toward consumption, education style, the construction industry, lifetime employment, government debt, etc. that means the Japanese public actually wants to reform Japanese social structures. In fact, Hatoyama wants to roll back the one big change of the LDP in the last 20 years – the privatization of postal service cum government slush fund. On education, e.g., various Japanese figures have said for decades that the Asian mandarin system of memorization is rigorous and suffocating. (Koreans say the same.) But nothing has happened.
As for the apology tour everyone in Asia wants from Hatoyama? Forget it. Again, there is no public opinion data from Japan that suggests that Japanese really want a Willy Brandt-style Asienpolitik to heal wounds with China and Korea. East Asians still retain 19th C notions of race, and the Japanese are still tempted by the rightist spin on WWII that it saved Asia from white imperialism and brought modernity to Korea, China, and SE Asia. If Japan really apologizes – particularly to Koreans on whom they look down as weaker and backward – then a central myth in the conservative pantheon of Japanese race and history will shatter. The Japanese elderly and conservatives are not even close accepting this normative shift; there’d be riots in the streets.
4. North Korea won’t change at all.
Why: If there is one thing we all seem to expect all the time, but never happens, it’s this. Everyone has predicted the implosion of North since the early 1990s. The end of Soviet aid, the Chinese recognition of SK, the death of Kim Il Sung, the weakness of the playboy son Kim Jong Il, the famine, the placement on the axis of evil, Jong Il’s stroke – all were supposed to bring the much-prophesied end.
I see only one faint shred of evidence of movement –the pushback on the currency reform of December 2009. The regime sought to reign in private markets – emergent as an alternate food source after the 1990s famine – by dramatically shrinking the money supply. There has been resistance, especially in the Chinese border regions. But that Kim felt that he could simply roll back 10 years of under-the-radar marketization suggests how strongly the regime feels it is entrenched.
5. The US drawdown from Iraq will be softened, hedged and qualified to be a lot smaller than Obama seemed to promise.
Why: If there is one thing post-Saddam Iraq has always needed, its more US troops, not less. I agree that we seem to have turned a corner there. But Thomas Ricks seems worried, and I think he scoped Iraq’s problems better than anyone, including DoD under Bush. We are supposed to leave by August 31, 2010, but are they taking down those mega-bases we put up? Are the contractors pulling up stakes? If more contractors simply fill the US hole, isn’t that cheating? A fairer way to put it is that the US will be there in a different capacity – training, protecting, arming, flying, fighting (semi-publicly and less though) – kinda like the way we stayed in Vietnam even after Nixon and Laird declared Vietnamization. So, I will agree that US combat troops will shrink somewhat, but the US presence will stay massive, and I bet that combat troops will hang on for awhile under various escape-hatch provisions about ‘conditions on the ground’ and what not.