Scary new year, thanks to Iran
Richard Bernstein of the IHT doesn't go out on a limb when he predicts Iran will aggressively pursue nuclear weapons, but his description is chilling nonetheless. Read his other predictions for the new year, too.
[...] To begin with, the most dire: Iran will move to acquire the technology to enrich uranium gas into fissionable uranium, even as European negotiators will, finally, give up on talks with Tehran and bring Iranian violations of the Nonproliferation Treaty to the Security Council.The Schroeder years are finally beginning to be seen in Germany as a disaster. Now if only some journalists could point out that his failed policies are still being championed by the SPD and Greens....
This is probably the most important event that will take place next year, because the world will not have prevented Iran from moving decisively to become a nuclear power, and Iran's becoming a nuclear power changes everything in the Middle East.
After Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia will go nuclear too, and just when the post-Cold War world is supposed to reduce its nuclear stockpiles, a nuclear arc will be forming from India and Pakistan in the East all the way to North Africa, and it will be forming in the most politically explosive, death- and extremist-prone region of the globe.
What will have gone wrong? For the final few weeks of 2005, the negotiations between the EU-3 and Iran have essentially turned into a public relations campaign aimed at what both sides recognize as a sort of global parliament.
The Europeans keep talking in order to give the Iranians a chance to show how truly belligerent and uncompromising they are, and thereby to isolate Tehran from the countries that form its natural constituency, most importantly Russia and China, the two permanent Security Council members who, until now, have been opposed to sanctions.
The Iranian game is the inverse: it is to keep talking, and to throw in the occasional concession, to provide some hope that the negotiations can succeed - an example being the announcement Wednesday in Tehran that Iran would give the so-called Russian ideas to enrich Iran's uranium in Russia and re-export it to Iran "enthusiastic" study.
Iran wants to give Russia, China and the nonaligned countries that form Iran's home group the pretext they all prefer in any case, to maintain business as usual, rather than move to sanctions that will hurt them at least as much as they hurt Iran. [...]
On the brighter side: As Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac lose their luster, the luster of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, will brighten even further. Blair and Chirac suffer badly from what the French call "usure," a wearing out from too much exposure, like quilts left out in the sun. Merkel is not only a smart and capable politician, she has the decided advantage of having an easy act to follow.
Just how easy was made clear by the news in Germany this week, namely that the much-proclaimed Hartz IV reforms, on which Gerhard Schröder staked his chancellorship and lost it, have utterly failed, according to studies by independent research institutes. The goal was to decrease unemployment, but unemployment has risen. As the mass-circulation Bild Zeitung put it, referring to the former Social Democratic-Green coalition government, "Red-Green's most important reform is one big disaster."
The fundamental problem, as the economist Wolfgang Nowak put it some time ago, is that it does no good to try to force people into work if there are no jobs for them to be forced into. That realization, put into cold statistics by the report on Hartz IV, will induce the Social Democrats to agree to Merkel's reforms, focusing on reducing the cost of labor and labor market flexibility. But Merkel here will have to be bold and tough. It will be her opportunity and her test.Given the initial low expectations for Merkel, 2006 may well be the year she eclipses Chirac (practically a given) and Blair. She certainly lacks the ties to Bush that hurt Blair so much in the public's mind, which means she is well placed to be the bridge between the US and Europe.
Internationally, following her stellar performance in cobbling together an unsatisfactory compromise at the EU budget talks a couple of weeks ago, Merkel will be the European honest broker. The French and the British have abandoned the possibilities of European leadership by pursuing narrow national self-interest. Merkel becomes the new European leader by default. [...]