Foreign Policy Blogs

2009: The world in transition

It’s been, indeed, a transitional year for the world. In the midst of a devastating global economic downturn, Barack Obama took the U.S. presidency January 20. In many ways, it has been the year of Obama. A strategic review of Afghan policy in March ended with sending more troops—and President Obama doubled down on a troop buildup at the end of the year. Pakistan has been just as headline-worthy: the phrase that seemingly everyone using these days is AfPak. But the American excursion in South Asia has hardly been the only story that caught the eye this year.

There was no shortage of political turmoil in 2009. Widespread protests in Iran after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was reelected by a fraudulent vote, a coup in Honduras, a new President for Somalia (really the President of about 10 square blocks of Mogadishu), an Afghan presidential election “marred by fraud”, an Israeli-American row over a settlement freeze, and many, many more stories caught our attention.

Through it all, China and India enjoyed strong economic growth, Russia plummeted, Brazil got the Olympics, and Europe got a President and Chief Diplomat.

Undoubtedly, President Obama has dominated headlines all year, all across the world. Great excitement was matched by great expectations—perhaps too lofty. His speech in Cairo promised a new relationship with the Muslim world. But an apparent backtrack over Israeli settlements, and an escalation of the Afghan conflict, has cast doubts on his claims. Despite the attention, the President has operated quietly and slowly—for the most part, he has lived up to his “No Drama Obama” moniker. With a year of his presidency under his belt, will President Obama step more boldly on to the world stage in 2010? It remains to be seen.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was expected to coast to reelection in June. Instead, the gap between Ahmadinejad and his primary challenger, Mir Hussein Mousavi, tightened dramatically in the closing days of the race. When election results showed Ahmadinejad with a comfortable win, the opposition alleged widespread voter fraud had rigged the election. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the streets in weeks of protest to follow—brutally suppressed by the hard-line regime, but not before the world saw a much different side of Iran.

Heading into 2010, attention will be focused on the aforementioned suspects: AfPak, negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, and gridlock in I-P. But beneath the surface are rising nationalist tensions in disparate regions, the increasing impact of global climate change, and the green shoots of a new 21st century economic model.

Events the world would be better off without: Terrorist attack in India turns the Indo-Pak cold war very hot; Israeli airstrikes on Iranian nuclear facilities plunges the Mideast into conflict; belligerents in “Africa’s World War” (the most horrific conflict since World War II), now in its 15th year, ramp up ethnic cleansing campaigns; increasingly worse global economic trends; the Afghan “surge” fails.

But on the potential bright side: Afghan Security improvements influence an Indo-Pak détente; reasonable settlement over Iran’s nuclear program opens the door for the Islamic Republic’s further integration into the world system; the 2010 World Cup in Africa inspires the forgotten continent towards a new future; a prisoner-swap deal brings Hamas into the peace process, Marwan Barghouti unites Palestinian factions as the successor to Mahmoud Abbas, and Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu pulls a Menachem Begin.

Finally, two potential global game changers (a.k.a. wild predictions): Osama Bin Laden or Ayman Al-Zawahiri are captured by special forces or killed by an American drone strike, or a Russian economic collapse splits Medvedev and Putin, throwing Russia into turmoil.



Andrew Swift

Andrew Swift is a graduate of the University of Iowa, with a degree in History and Political Science. Long a student of international affairs, he is on an unending quest to understand the world better.