What will happen in 2009 on the various news fronts? For example, whither the economy—both national and global? What about international events? Where will the news come from? Where will the hot spots be? What will be the major national stories? I have shaken the bones and cast them upon the sands. Here’s what they say.

By Ronald E. Yates

The World

Without a doubt the big story in 2009 will continue to be the global economy. As the U.S. economy goes, so goes the world. There is a wonderful saying in Mexico: “Mi Pobre Mexico! Tan lejos de Dios, y tan cerca de los Estados Unidos!” Translation: Poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the United States.”

Much of the world will feel the same when it comes to the U.S. in 2009. Geographic distance will not protect the economies of other nations. The global economy is too intrinsically linked to American financial institutions, policies and markets.

With the global economy contracting, the river of capital that provided life for so many developing nations will dry up significantly thereby exacerbating already fragile and damaged political systems. That in turn will lead to more unrest in regions already suffering from violence, instability and economic depression.

Sorry to be so gloomy, but this is reality as 2009 begins. Perhaps—but don’t count on it—things will be a bit better by the end of 2009.

Those expecting a miracle from newly elected President Barak Obama will be sorely disappointed. When it comes to the economy, he is faced with an almost impossible task. It’s a bit like trying to turn an aircraft carrier around in the Panama canal. It is possible, but in order to do you will have to destroy a large section of the canal.

Because so much of the U.S. economy has already disintegrated, much of the destruction has already happened. But Obama must still get the ship turned around. And while he is working on that, he will be faced with a litany of global challenges, not the least of which will be America’s military adventures in Afghanistan.

I covered Afghanistan back in the late 1980s when I was the Chicago Tribune’s Chief Asia Correspondent. I can tell you this is a place that repels invaders like a duck repels water. We may not view ourselves as invaders, but believe me, the Afghanis do—even those who actually like us. True, they consider us “benign” invaders as opposed to the Russians who were anything but benign. But we are still the hated foreign presence. Why do you think the Taliban—who were almost as brutal to their people as the Khmer Rouge were in Cambodia—have actually grown in power and population?

Ultimately, the Afghani people are always motivated to drive away the foreign invader—benign or not. It’s been that way since Alexander the Great sent his army into the Hindu Kush mountains and through the 33-mile Khyber Pass almost 2,500 years ago.

Nevertheless, President Obama has already said he plans to at least double the number of American troops currently on the ground in Afghanistan. As a result, I predict that Afghanistan will be to Obama what Iraq was to President Bush—a perilous liability.

What else can we expect in 2009?

  • The conflict between Israel and Hamas will not go away and the Gaza Strip will continue to be a blood-soaked reminder that Jews and Muslims simply cannot co-exist under current political arrangements. As a result the existing rift between the United States and the Muslim world will continue to widen.
  • Iraq will continue to suck billions of dollars from the U.S. treasury while the U.S. military will sink deeper into the shifting sands of Iraq’s fractured political center. Iran will continue to exert some kind of influence over the Shia regime in Baghdad and over the physical region of eastern Iraq.
  • Pakistan and India will continue their dangerous nuclear faceoff over the Kashmir where three major wars/conflicts have been waged since partition in 1947. The recent tragedy in Mumbai, most likely carried out by Kashmiri separatists, was an indication of just how tense and unstable this region is.
  • Russia will remain under the iron grip of Vladimir Putin and as a result, its relationship with Europe and the U.S. will likely grow even more irritable. NATO’s idea of bringing the Ukraine and Georgia into the alliance will likely lose some traction, but the damage—at least in the eyes of Moscow, has been done. Look for Russia to try to pull both politically unstable countries back under its influence.
  • Iran will be high on the radar screen as it continues push ahead with its nuclear program—and the ability to make weapons. This will continue to be a concern to Israel and it is not unlikely that Israel might engage Iran in some kind of military operation. That scenario could be disastrous for the U.S. because it will then likely be pulled into the conflict creating a situation where the nation has combat troops in three Middle Eastern nations.
  • The world will not be able to ignore the crises in Africa—specifically Dafur, Somalia and Zimbabwe where hundreds of thousands are either starving or being killed in some of the worst genocide the world has ever seen. Some expect British and possibly U.S. military intervention in one or all of these nations.
  • China has ridden the global economic boom into new and uncharted territory with annual double-digit growth. But the express train that has been the Chinese economy has already begun to slow down considerably as China feels the impact of global recession. The engine if the Chinese economy is its enormous growth in exports. With the world no longer buying what China makes, this will create more and more pressure on the Chinese government to keep the domestic economy humming. When it becomes obvious that it can not do that—despite the many infrastructure projects it has on tap—the Chinese people will be restive if not downright riotous.

Not a pretty picture to be sure. And I am not a pessimist by nature. In fact, I am normally wildly optimistic. But of course, as someone once said: “An optimist is someone who thinks the future is uncertain.”