The world in 2011: a look at the year ahead

BOSTON – The New Year is a time for predictions, so here are a few for 2011. U.S. President Barack Obama will not earn his Nobel Peace Prize retroactively by bringing peace to the Middle East this year. Israel will not halt its settlement activity, and the Palestinians will not enter serious negotiations.

The United States will pressure Israel and the Palestinians to talk about the borders of a Palestinian state, but these talks will fail when the Israelis refuse to put East Jerusalem on the table, and the Palestinians fail to meet Israel’s security demands.

Tensions between Israel and Hezbollah will heighten, but stop short of another round of war. Hezbollah will obtain rockets that can reach Tel Aviv from Lebanon.

Turkey’s economic boom will continue to outpace Europe, but prospects for joining the European Union will virtually die. The Turks will continue their eastward policy of strengthening ties with Iraq, Iran and Pakistan. Plans for upgrading a railroad linking Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and Turkey will be announced.

Security in Iraq will deteriorate in 2011. Political and ethnic rivalries will continue on their destructive path, with the center of violence shifting to the Kurdish north. Tensions between Kurds and Arabs will strengthen. The withdrawal of American troops from Iraq will continue on schedule.

Security will improve in Afghanistan’s Helmand and Kandahar provinces because of American fire power, but will continue to deteriorate in the rest of Afghanistan. The drifting away of our NATO allies will pick up its pace. Support for the war among the American people will weaken, but the gain of Republican war-party strength in Congress will lessen the political pressure on Obama to reduce troop strength. There will be another major Afghan review, but the Obama administration will delay any major decisions until after the 2012 general election.

Pakistan will bend to intense American pressure to allow more U.S. special operations teams to enter the tribal territories on the Northwest Frontier, hoping it can be done below the radar of Pakistani politics. But word will leak out, increasing anti-Americanism in Pakistan and enabling the Taliban. Terrorist attacks will increase inside Pakistan, further destabilizing the country.

An Indian Taliban will began to stir among India’s oppressed Muslims, brining recriminations from India that Pakistan is behind the spread of extremist violence.

Secret efforts will be made to bring a solution to the Kashmir question, but WikiLeaks will expose them and all talks will cease among recriminations and finger pointing.

North Korea will commit another outrage against the south, despite China’s call for calm, but retaliation will be avoided. North Korea will increase, and continue to flaunt, its nuclear arsenal.

Sanctions against Iran will tighten, but Iranian activity toward making a nuclear weapon will not slacken. Israel will continue to threaten, but will not bomb Iran without American approval, which will not be forthcoming in 2011. The West will make plans for containing Iran, and the United States will offer to extend its nuclear umbrella over the Persian Gulf States.

China will continue to increase its naval strength in its march to create a “Mare Nostrum” in the China Seas. There will be continuing incidents highlighting territorial disputes with neighbors over scraps of rock and islands which might or might not have oil deposits.

The world economy will continue to falter as the Euro crisis deepens. No European country will default in 2011, thanks to the German taxpayer, but the single-currency will come under increasing political attack, becoming a major factor in European politics. The American economy will grow, but disappointingly, and unemployment will stubbornly hover at just under 10 percent.

Britain’s coalition government will fall apart as disgruntled Liberal Democrats begin to desert. A general election will be called, but with the Labor Party still floundering under a lack of strong leadership and message, the result will be a hung parliament with Conservatives trying to rule with a majority.

Sarah Palin will declare her candidacy for president of the United States, but not before Mitt Romney has thrown his hat in the ring, declaring undying loyalty to Tea Party ideals. Influential Republicans will try to persuade Gen. David Petraeus to become their standard-barer. Mayor Michael Bloomberg will unconvincingly deny any interest in running for the nation’s highest office.

A successful terrorist attack on the United States will be made and, although not highly lethal, it will shake and weaken the Obama administration as it heads into the next election cycle. Guantanamo Bay will not be closed.

Robert Gates will step down as secretary of defense, and Hillary Clinton will be offered the job.