New Year’s Eve was a Thursday night this time, and New Year’s Day was a Friday, so the New Year really wouldn’t begin until Monday, when everyone gets back to work, which left people far too much time to think about what the New Year will bring – to worry, really. Too much empty time does that, and provides ample time to read the predictions from here and there. Trends in music and fashion do not, however, cause dread, and this may be the year that the Chicago Cubs finally win the World Series, but that doesn’t matter very much – but this is an election year. We will choose someone to lead us to peace and prosperity, or ruin – at least some of us will choose that someone. This is the year that, in many states, minorities and students and the elderly will suddenly find it very hard to vote at all – the Republicans who control more than half the states, and get to adjust the rules about such things, take care of their own. But someone will be chosen, one way or the other. That’s where things get dicey. What will this year bring? No one knows anymore.
Politico has its POLITICO Caucus – a “collection of the top activists, strategists and operatives in the first four states that will cast ballots next year” – and they are all over the place:
Donald Trump will win the GOP presidential nomination and pick Mike Huckabee as his running mate. The FBI will file criminal charges related to Hillary Clinton’s use of a home-brew email server as secretary of state. A Ted Cruz-Nikki Haley GOP ticket will defeat a Hillary Clinton-Tim Kaine Democratic ticket to claim the White House.
Needless to say, there’s no consensus:
“Donald Trump! I wake up every day thinking ‘This is it! He will drop in the polls!'” one New Hampshire Republican said. “But every day I am disappointed. I want to trust the voters, but this is scary.”
But when that Republican – who, like all respondents, submitted their answers anonymously – was asked to make a prediction for the New Year, wishful thinking won out.
“Donald Trump WILL NOT be the Republican candidate for president,” the Republican said. “Obviously I am a hopeless romantic.”
That staves off the dread, but there was this:
One Iowa Republican offered a quasi-apocalyptic prediction: “The Beltway chattering class gets back from the holidays and the first week of January they are in meltdown panic mode with one question: What in the world are we going to do with Trump? Until now he’s been an illusion. He’s been off their radar. Why? Name one presidential candidate who has spent less time in D.C. Has he been there at all? And yet they went home and everywhere they went – their family, childhood friends, shopkeepers and restaurant servers – all of them brought up Trump. There were no other candidates discussed. And now, they come back to reality, talk to each other, and everyone heard the same thing at their respective hometowns, in all 50 states. The question is: What now? And nobody will have the answer.”
“Cruz will fail to win Iowa, opening the door to Trump sweeping all four early states,” predicted another Iowa Republican.
But many Republicans – and some Democrats – are still convinced Trump will flame out. And soon.
“Trump will not have a victory after the first four states and will exit the race,” a Nevada Republican predicted.
“Donald Trump fails to win any of the four early states, showing he’s nothing but a big loser. He then throws a temper tantrum against all of America and moves to Russia, because Putin loves him, and builds a big beautiful wall around his new dacha, which is huge,” a New Hampshire Democrat joked.
Joking is the only good option now:
One Nevada Democrat jokingly predicted 2016 would bring confirmation of a long-running Republican conspiracy theory: That Trump is a Democratic plant who is destroying the GOP from the inside: “Trump picks Bill Clinton to be his vice president, confirming the two were co-conspirators all along.”
And, in a prediction apolitical but no less bold, a South Carolina Democrat bypassed Trump, Clinton and everything else and said 2016 would bring the end of a 108-year curse: “The Cubs will win the World Series.”
Hey, it could happen, but the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson offers this:
My fingers balk at typing the words “President-elect Trump” because I don’t think such a thing will actually happen. But at this point I’m wondering how to justify ruling anything out.
A year ago, was there anyone on earth who predicted that Donald Trump would utterly dominate the Republican presidential race? That the boastful billionaire would be setting the nation’s political agenda? That Jeb Bush, armed with more campaign money than he could possibly spend, would be drifting helplessly toward the single-digit wings of the crowded debate stage?
Nobody saw this coming, least of all the GOP establishment grandees…
But, oddly enough, that’s just fine:
Trump’s legions turn out for his revivalist-style rallies, but will they actually vote? If they do – and if the establishment-approved candidates keep pulling one another down like crabs in a barrel – then Trump is the likely GOP nominee. There, I said it.
That doesn’t make him our likely next president, though. Most Americans are appalled by notions such as forcibly deporting 11 million undocumented migrants or hanging a “No Muslims Allowed” sign on the Statue of Liberty. Quite a few dyed-in-the-wool Republicans asked to support a candidate whose platform amounts to ethnic cleansing, surely would sit this one out – or even vote for the Democratic nominee, probably Hillary Clinton.
Trump vs. Clinton could be a wipeout defeat for the Republican Party on the scale of the 1964 Barry Goldwater debacle.
Still, this would be painful, and Robinson sees other pain:
What else could go wrong in 2016? Well, politics isn’t the only realm in which we have to shift our thinking from “no way” to “please make it stop.” Climate is another. Scientists confidently predict that 2015 will prove to have been the hottest year on record, perhaps by a considerable margin. And this week, temperatures at the North Pole may have reached the melting point – roughly 50 degrees above normal for this time of year.
Also this week we’ve had deadly tornadoes in Texas, bad flooding in the Mississippi Valley, worse flooding across South America and hurricane-force winds in the North Atlantic. On the bright side, there’s been no plague of locusts, far as I can tell.
It is true that the proximate cause of most of this anomalous weather is believed to be an unusually strong El Niño phenomenon in the Equatorial Pacific. I am obliged to include the disclaimer that no one weather event can be definitively blamed on climate change – not even the fact that I saw people in Washington wearing shorts and sandals on Christmas Eve.
That said, let’s be real. At this point, anyone who rejects the scientific consensus on human-induced global warming is either a blinkered ideologue, a Republican presidential candidate or both.
And then add this:
In other news, what could go wrong in Congress is obvious; the same things go wrong every year. What could go wrong in foreign affairs is too depressing to contemplate.
But it’s not all doom and gloom:
The economy continues to grow – slowly, perhaps, but steadily. Crime is at or near historical lows. About 90 percent of Americans have health insurance, which is closer to universal coverage than we’ve ever been. Budget-busting medical costs have slowed their ranks’ rise.
There is that, so no will talk about such things, not in an election year. Republicans will simply concede all that and talk about ISIS and Benghazi and how everyone hates the police these days, for no good reason, and tell us why, once again, everyone should carry a loaded gun these days, to keep us safe from madmen who carry loaded guns these days. All you have to decide is who the madman is and who the patriot is, before individual citizens open fire in public places. Good luck deciding which is which. It’s going to be that kind of year.
But one thing is certain. Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee, no matter how ordinary her politics and how unpleasant she seems to almost everyone, including Democrats. In fact, Slate’s Sady Doyle says this:
I’ve come to believe that saying nice things about Hillary Clinton can be a subversive act.
Kevin Drum gets it:
So what accounts for Doyle’s affection for Hillary? Basically, the fact that Hillary is still alive and kicking after spending nearly her entire life on the receiving end of attacks that would turn most of us into sobbing wrecks who refuse to answer the doorbell.
That’s about right. Here’s Doyle:
It’s almost as if, after a quarter-century of being attacked for her appearance, personality, and every waking move, breath, and word, Hillary Clinton is highly conscious of how she is perceived and portrayed, and is trying really hard to monitor her own behavior and behave in ways people will accept. Which is “disgusting,” of course. We want “authentic” candidates. Remind me: How well did the public and media react the last time she appeared in public without makeup? Or raised her voice? Or laughed? Or went to the goddamn bathroom? Or did any “authentic” thing that a real-life person does every day? …
Honestly, ask yourself: How long would you make it, if people treated you the way you treat Hillary Clinton? Would you not just be furious by now? Would you not have reached levels of blood-vessel-popping rage and despair? She’s been dealing with it for decades, and keeps voluntarily subjecting herself to it, and knows exactly how bad it will get and exactly what we’ll do to her, and yet she is running for president again, and – here’s the part I love, the part that I find hard to wrap my head around – she might actually win. That is awe-inspiring.
I view her as nearly the exact opposite of her reputation in popular culture. She’s not cunning or devious. In fact, she’s the farthest thing from that. She’s dutiful and always has been. She wants to do good. She’s demanding of herself. She’s not naturally extroverted, but forces herself to do what needs to be done. She’s not naturally brilliant, but she’s a studier and a hard worker. And I imagine that the relentless attacks she’s put up with have indeed wounded her pretty deeply. Unlike her husband, she’s not the kind of person who can brush them off as just part of the game.
Do I like Hillary because of all this? Sure, though not in any deep sense. I don’t really like people I’ve never met. But I sure as hell admire her. She could have ended up like Richard Nixon, but she didn’t. She keeps gutting it out, over and over. For that, she’ll always have my esteem – and maybe even my affection.
That may win her the election, and Drum looks at the other side:
One of the things that kind of fascinates me about Donald Trump is the fact that he doesn’t even pretend that his attacks are real. His latest two-minutes-hate has been directed at Bill Clinton, and he’s pretty much admitted that he doesn’t really believe the stuff he’s saying. But if Hillary attacks him, he has to attack back.
That is what he said – “Had to mention her husband’s situation. And now it’s the biggest story on television by a factor of 10. So you have to do it.”
Drum finds that telling:
He had to do it – delivered with the usual Trumpish shrug of the shoulders. That’s all. And if Hillary stops, he’ll stop. It’s business, not personal.
This is an odd quirk in Trump’s personality. He seems to have an ironclad rule against ever attacking someone first – even Vladimir Putin. Putin says nice things about Trump, so Trump has to say nice things back. Opposing candidates who don’t attack him are “great guys.” But if you attack first, then he has to fire off a nuclear retaliation. There’s an odd kind of chivalry at work here, and I suppose it also provides people with a motivation to leave him alone.
This may also be responsible for the odd silence about Trump from everyone who knows him. I’ve been wondering for a while whether Trump has any friends. Real friends, that is. Not family members, not people who work for him, and not celebrity buddies who have a casual acquaintance with him. I’m talking about people he’s worked with frequently and who like him. People he hangs out with regularly – people from his childhood or college years that he’s stayed close to. Are there any?
Drum sees no evidence of that:
Nobody from the New York development community seems willing to say anything about him, which would make sense if they all dislike him but don’t want to trigger a temper tantrum. Who needs the grief, right? How about childhood friends? Not that I’ve heard of. Trump seems to view people almost entirely transactionally, as assets to be deployed, so it would hardly be surprising if none of them had stayed close. Given his penchant for demanding sycophancy, and lashing out instantly against even a hint of criticism, I suppose it would be hard to have any real long-term friends or even any long-term business pals. It’s kind of sad, actually.
Will that essential sadness cost Trump the presidency, should he win the Republican nomination, as seems likely now? Drum does not predict that, but the implication is there.
All that, however, is a bit fanciful, given the latest news from Afghanistan:
In September, the Taliban briefly seized Kunduz, the first city to fall since the demise of its regime, prompting the U.S. military to dispatch Special Operations troops and stage airstrikes to help the Afghan security forces retake control.
Now, the insurgents are on the doorsteps of several provincial capitals, applying more pressure on urban areas than in any year of the conflict. The clashes in Helmand have reflected the Taliban strategy that led to the takeover of Kunduz – seizing surrounding districts before moving in on the provincial capital. Already, the Taliban are in the enclave of Babaji, within the borders of Helmand’s capital, Lashkar Gah. …
Afghans, including senior military officials, no longer even pretend that they can fight the Taliban effectively on their own. “When the foreigners were here, we had plenty of facilities and equipment,” said 1st Lt. Naseer Ahmad Sahel, 30, a civil-order police company commander who was wounded last month in a firefight in Marja. “There were 100 cameras overlooking Marja alone.”
Faqir, the commander of the 215th Corps, said, “We don’t have the air support that we should have.”
Drum takes that more seriously:
There isn’t a single country from Libya to Afghanistan where American military intervention has succeeded, nor a single country where American military training has been anything but a disaster. We can’t do counterinsurgency on our own, and the troops we’ve tried to train are too divided in their loyalties to be effective.
But we’re supposed to believe that if only we’d picked a side in the Syrian civil war two years ago, that would have made all the difference? Or that if only we’d kept a few thousand more troops in Iraq for a few more years, ISIS never would have become a threat? Spare me. How many times does Lucy have to pull away the football before Charlie Brown finally figures out what’s going on?
The Washington Post’s David Ignatius sees where that is heading:
The next president will propose a more assertive U.S. foreign policy. Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, has often sounded nearly as hawkish about the use of military force as the Republican contenders.
But what would a new U.S. assertiveness mean, in practical terms? What can U.S. military power do, realistically, to combat the Islamic State and other threats more effectively? How can China and Russia be checked militarily? The rhetoric of U.S. power will be flexed during the campaign, but what about the substance? Projecting power will be harder than many candidates seem to realize.
There’s campaign swaggering and then there’s reality:
The first reality check for a new president will be the Pentagon. This generation of military leaders has been through traumatic wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They’ve cautioned President Obama about the potential cost in lives and money of new commitments in the Middle East, and they’ll do the same with the next commander in chief. If you want to hear arguments against deploying a big U.S. ground force in Syria, just ask a general.
There are the professionals:
Half-baked ideas about projecting power aren’t likely to survive long in a new administration. There will be continuity in military advice, given that Gen. Joe Dunford and Gen. Paul Selva likely will remain into 2017 as chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, respectively. A new roster of combatant commanders, including the Central Command chief who will oversee U.S. military forces in the Middle East, will be appointed by Obama before he leaves office.
That leaves only political options:
My guess is that before Obama departs, he will adopt some of the more aggressive military options he has been resisting, such as “safe zones” inside Syria and more aggressive deployment of U.S. Special Operations forces. That’s partly because the United States is likely to face more jihadist-inspired terror attacks in 2016 – increasing public pressure on the president to retaliate. A weak White House response, among other things, would undermine the Democratic candidate’s chances.
As usual, the tail will wag the dog. That’s always a safe prediction in an election year:
If the United States may be compelled by circumstances to escalate its tactics against the Islamic State, there’s an argument for doing so sooner rather than later – so as to maintain better control of U.S. military actions and not be forced by a panicky public into overreaction. The next president will also want to control options after the inauguration rather than be a prisoner of events – adding to the likelihood of early requests to the Pentagon for new military options.
But it’s not all doom and gloom:
The Middle East will remain a military muddle for the next president, as it has so often been for the past two. But in dealing with China and Russia, the next administration will have clearer choices about projecting military power. The next White House will also face less resistance on these fronts from military commanders, who are well-schooled in the Russian and Chinese threats and believe they have the military tools needed to confront them.
To contain Russia, the next administration will probably examine whether to deploy U.S. forces in Eastern Europe, as a tripwire against Moscow’s aggression. That move would likely have Pentagon support. The military would also welcome more active moves to contain China’s actions in the South China Sea, including closer cooperation with allies such as Japan and the Philippines, which are bolstering their own defenses.
They know how to do such things, and will do them well, but there is another thing that has been predicted:
The trickiest military questions for the next president will involve what strategist Michael Mazarr calls “gray-zone conflicts.” In a recent article published by the U.S. Army War College, Mazarr argues that China, Russia and Iran have been using these “gray” strategies to frustrate U.S. goals without openly committing military force.
U.S. adversaries exploit power gaps. It’s easier for Russia to invade Ukraine with irregular forces out of uniform, the so-called “little green men,” than to send a conventional army that would challenge NATO. It’s easier for China to assert its maritime power by creating artificial islands in the South China Sea than by defying the U.S. Pacific Fleet with an aircraft carrier. It’s easier for Iran to send Lebanese and Iraqi Shiite militias to Syria than to commit its own military directly.
God knows what we’ll do about that. No predictions are possible, although Salon’s Simon Maloy predicts this:
A spate of high-profile terrorist attacks and the slow, steady escalation of the undeclared, U.S.-led war on the Islamic State have all but guaranteed that the 2016 election will be a fight over national security policy. Republicans succeeded in turning the trumped up Syrian refugee panic into a wedge issue, dividing Democrats in Congress who were concerned about looking weak in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. It was a return of the Bush-era national security politics, in which the looming specter of terrorism was invoked to cow Democrats into backing “tough on terror” Republican policies.
We’re seeing a return to this chest-thumping form of politics in the presidential race, with candidates defending the use of torture tactics, threatening to provoke a war with Russia, bragging that they’ll “carpet bomb” the Islamic State, and promising to rip up the nuclear agreement with Iran on “day one.” The instinct among reporters and commentators is to describe this sort of rhetoric as “tough,” and the people who deploy it as “serious.”
Maloy is not pleased:
It’s not. It’s alarmist and ridiculous, and designed to exploit public anxiety over terrorism. National security is an issue area that is uniquely vulnerable to hysterical overreaction (remember the ebola panic?) and a candidate who advocates a disastrous foreign policy should not be given points for sounding “tough.”
And here’s a safe prediction. Any candidate who advocates that one even more absurdly disastrous foreign policy idea WILL be given points for sounding “tough” – so expect more of the same – and that’s the problem with predictions for the New Year. We actually know what’s coming. We just wish it weren’t.