7
Jan

Those of us who’ve worked on foreign affairs for decades disagree often and about much, but the advent of 2016 finds us all in agreement, to the point of cliché, on one thing: We’ve never seen a world so chockablock full of complex, dangerous and interlocking issues. For anything comparable in modern times, you’d have to go back to the late 1940s and the chaos following World War II.

Prediction now is as perilous as it was back then. Dozens of issues are rushing toward us, headlong, but we’re plunging in and highlighting the five biggest global issues of 2016: Syria, Iran nukes, China, Russia and the EU, and oil prices. In each of these areas, changes in one direction or another would be truly consequential — that is, they would ripple out broadly, like rocks thrown into the geopolitical pond.

To be sure, other issues, like cybersecurity, North Korea and climate change, will have short- and long-term effects, and, of course, no one is thinking about what inevitably will surprise us. Still, it’s a safe bet that the following five will absorb much of the world’s foreign policy attention in 2016. Here’s why:

1. Dealing With Syria

The country, now heading toward year five of a gruesome civil war, must come first. How the conflict evolves in 2016 will affect everything from the fate of the Islamic State to the European migration crisis, the stability of regional neighbors, volatility on the oil market, the status of Russia, and the terrorist threat level inside the United States.

The U.S. is pursuing a two-pronged strategy: gradually increasing military pressure on the IS by bombing, while seeking a diplomatic settlement satisfactory to Syria’s competing factions and the major powers trying to protect their conflicting interests — the U.S., Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The big benefit of this strategy is that it minimizes the United States’ chances of getting sucked into a quagmire.

But the big risk is that it is eminently gradualist — and assumes that the Islamic State is gradualist too. That is wrong. The IS continues to grow rapidly and expand geographically. Despite some recent setbacks – Iraqi forces appear close to recovering Ramadi city – the IS will likely achieve the capability to carry out or inspire more attacks like those on Paris and San Bernardino long before our gradualist strategy achieves its goal. Read more…

 

Published in  on Jan. 4, 2016 in http://www.ozy.com/

By John McLaughlin

The author, deputy director and acting director of the CIA from 2000 to 2004.

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