Some brief reflections on the year ending today:
The ripples of the misnamed "Arab Spring" continued to spread. Islamist parties and forces, the enemies of freedom and liberalism, reaped the greatest benefit. This was predictable--they were better organized and more ruthless than the Arab liberals. In some countries such as Egypt, the rulers tolerated the Islamists, partly to give themselves an element of religious legitimacy, partly to deflect pressure to liberalize from other countries: "There is no alternative to us, except the religious fanatics who would be a hundred times worse."
The triumph of the Islamists was predictable, but not inevitable. The liberal democracies should have pressured the new governments--dependent on outside aid--to establish liberal institutions like a free press and independent judiciaries--at least giving the liberals time to form parties and compete on a more level field--before contemplating holding any elections. But the liberal democracies inexplicably confuse mere elections with democracy, and democracy with liberal democracy. Thus, there was no serious effort to prevent the Islamists from taking power. The fact that they came to power via elections does not mitigate the danger. We've known since at least Hitler's election victory in 1933 that non-democrats can use democracy to destroy democracy. In Egypt the liberal forces are trying to avoid this result, but it may require a second revolution. And the Islamists will not be squeamish about putting down an attempted revolution with brutal force.
Non-Muslim minorities, principally Christians, continued to suffer in an increasingly hostile, militant Muslim environment.
Syria's Baath regime tottered, and is likely to fall in 2013. This may lead to the partition of Syria, with a coastal Alawite enclave, an independent or semi-independent Kurdish area in the north-east, and the rest of the country controlled by Sunnis, perhaps by al-Qaeda-affiliated groups. An interesting question could arise: Will that legitimate Israeli control of the Golan Heights, there no longer being any Syria to return it to?
This result could tend to weaken Hizbolla, and by the same token strengthen the other elements of the Lebanese government, which is devoutly to be wished for. On the other hand, an Islamist Syria, even if Sunni, could decide that supporting the Shia terrorist organization is desirable, viewing Israel as a common enemy.
The fall of Syria would tend to isolate Iran, and degrade its ability to project influence in the Middle East. But Iran could compensate by achieving its great goal of acquiring nuclear weapons. Increasingly harsh sanctions have done a pretty good job of wrecking the Iranian economy. But prostrating Iran's economy is not the object; the object of sanctions is to make it too painful or impossible for Iran to get nuclear weapons. By this measure, sanctions have so far failed. There is every indication Iran is pushing ahead with its nuclear program; negotiating about negotiations is a smokescreen, as it's been for the past decade.
The idea that US intelligence capabilities are so powerful and accurate that we can know that precise moment when Iran will cross our "red line," and we will then be able to successfully move to stop it in time, is unbelievably dumb. Yet that seems to be our policy, apparently based on our fear of the consequences of military intervention. The Iranian mullahs know this, which is why they press ahead. There would be nothing worse than a nuclear-armed Iranian mullocracy--yet there is a grave risk that 2013 will see exactly that.
The Palestinians are clearly giving up the pretense of negotiations, because they are giving up the pretense that they recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state, without which there can be no "two state solution"--if that is understood to mean that one of the two states will be Israel. As the Palestinian Authority draws closer to Hamas, Israel will have no reason to make any security-endangering concessions. What the Palestinians need is another intifada--not against Israel, of course, but against their own leaders, who consistently immiserate them with unrealistic dreams of the disappearance of Israel while doing nothing to actually better their lives.
Israel, with all its problems, remains a bright spot in the Middle East, a relatively normal country in a dodgy part of the world.
Saudi Arabia totters from one geriatric ruler to another; whether government support for reform will bloom or wither is unpredictable. Jordan's throne has till now withstood the buffeting winds of the "Arab Spring," but remains shaky. Iraq is sliding back into chaos, a predictable result of the premature withdrawal of American forces. Libya and Yemen are works in progress, with room both for hope and cynicism. Turkey remains a baleful influence.
Will 2013 be better than 2012? Damned if I know.