My predictions for 2009
If I were sensible, I would take the following words as my guide:
"What happens next? I do not know. Nor do you. Desperate though we are to find out, we should be grown-up enough to admit there is no one to tell us. It makes life hard, but what would we be otherwise? Curiosity about what happens next is an essential part of the joy and anguish of being human."
They were written by the Financial Times columnist Michael Skapinker a couple of days before Christmas, and very wise words they are too. Nevertheless, fool that I am, I shall ignore them.
So, for your entertainment and edification, here are my global predictions for the coming year.
1. The fate of the global economy will dominate everything. It will be horrible. Enough said.
2. Gordon Brown will not call a general election.
3. Discussion about what to do in Afghanistan will increasingly become a discussion about what to do in Pakistan. Tension between Pakistan and India will escalate yet further as the Indian general election approaches. There may be more Mumbai-style attacks in India, as jihadis try to relieve the pressure on them in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border areas.
4. President Obama will start pulling US troops out of Iraq - but more slowly than some of his supporters would like. He will also announce that thousands will remain as "trainers".
5. He will announce his intention to close the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay - but then there'll be a huge fuss over who'll take the ex-detainees who can't or won't go back to their country of origin.
6. He'll make a major speech about his vision for the US's relations with the rest of the world, and especially with the Islamic world, probably in Jakarta, but maybe in Cairo or Amman.
7. There'll be growing social unrest in Russia - and China - over rising unemployment. Moscow may be tempted to deal with it in the time-honoured fashion: escalating a dispute with a neighbour (Ukraine? One of the Baltic nations?) to take voters' minds off the economic crisis.
8. The South African presidential election will see the newly-created party COPE (Congress of the People) do creditably but not outstandingly. Supporters of the likely new president, Jacob Zuma, will denounce the new party as a stooge of Western capitalism. Tensions between Zulu, who tend to back Zuma, and Xhosa, who are suspicious of him, will grow.
9. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will win the presidential election in Iran, but only after seeing off a serious challenge and amid allegations of widespread vote-fixing. It'll become increasingly clear that he wields little real power.
10. The 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet empire in eastern and central Europe will be marked by endless analyses and retrospectives along the lines of: Is The World Now a Better Place? I'll probably add to the outpouring.
I agree: it doesn't seem that there's much to look forward to. So here's what I suggest you do: enjoy the company of family and friends; admire the trees and the flowers in parks and gardens; count your blessings. And remember: only fools try to predict the future.
Happy New Year.