13 Foreign Policy Challenges (and Predictions) For America in 2013


1) Syria: No other conflict will reverberate farther across its own borders as will the Syrian civil war. Latest estimates put the death toll at 60,000 (which far exceeds the number killed in the brutal crackdown carried out by Bashir Assad’s father Hafez in the Syrian city in Hama in 1982). It has become ground zero for geo-political struggle; a struggle that includes the Sunni-Shi'a conflict, as well as the competition between the West and Iran. In addition to these, Syria's civil war has contributed to the deteriorating security and rise of radical Sunni Islamist networks along the borders of neighboring countries in TurkeyJordanIsrael and Iraq.

Prediction: Many more will die in Syria but, like his father, Assad will survive to see another day.

2) Israel/U.S./Iran: The recent Israel-Gaza conflict has set into motion events, such as the PA President Abbas' appearance to the UN General Assembly that granted the PA "non-member state" status which was followed by the Israeli announcement of a new settlement project in the E1 region between East Jerusalem and the major Israeli settlement in Maale Adumim that would render a contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank impossible, that will set the stage for an actual war between Israel and Iran. An intifada in the West Bank, coupled with an American reluctance to take the lead in a possible attack on Iran, could provide Netanyahu the political cover with which to strike Iran in the context of a broader Islamist war against Israel.

Prediction: An open war between Israel and Iran with a third Palestinian intifada as the precursor.   

3) Jordan: Should the Sunni insurgency continue in Syria and a third intifada emerge in the West Bank, Jordan's home grown Brotherhood movement may very well attempt its own "spring" a la Egypt.

Prediction: Lots of turbulence, with the Hashemite Kingdom pulling a page out of the Bahrain playbook.  

4) Lebanon: The future of Lebanon in 2013 is tied to the outcome of the Syrian civil war and the low-level Israel-Iran conflict. If it appears that Assad would fall and/or Iran is attacked, Lebanese Hezbollah will inadvertently drag Lebanon into a conflict that could undermine the political integrity of the Lebanese state itself.

Prediction: Heightened internal tensions fueled in part by regional events but no actual conflict in 2013.

5) South Sudan: Few regions in the world are as battle-scarred as is South Sudan. Its generation long conflict with Northern Sudan threatens to reinforce a common truism that is known in IR theory as the "resource curse."

6) Afghanistan: The performance of the Afghan government in 2013 will serve as a precursor for the embattled country's political future. As of now three things are certain: 1) the transition of combat duties from US-ISAF to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) will continue as scheduled through 2013 and be complete by the end of 2014, 2) the country will undergo nationwide parliamentary elections in 2014 and 3) Afghanistan is a major non-NATO US-Ally.    

7) Iraq: The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will continue to tread water as the region's low-level Shia-Sunni conflict continues to reverberate within Iraq. Unfortunately, "treading water,” means a continued authoritarian streak as well as tension between Bagdad and Iraqi Kurdistan. Events beyond al-Maliki's control, particularly the ongoing Syrian civil war and the low level conflict between Israel-Iran, will play a decisive role in shaping the character of Iraq's political system (which is scheduled to hold Parliamentary elections in early 2014).      

8) Israel/Palestine: The two sides in the most famous ongoing conflict in the world are destined for an armed struggle in 2013. Recent actions by both Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2012 have set the tables for 2013.

Prediction: a Third Intifada.

9) Egypt: The current political trajectory of the most populous and powerful Arab State in the region is far from clear. While Egypt acted as a responsible mediator for the recent Israel-Gaza conflict, the current trajectory of Israel-PA relations will test Egypt's neutrality in the years ahead.

Prediction: Expect confrontation between President Morsi and the Brotherhood and Egypt’s military.

10) East Asia: A new generation of leadership, an increasingly dynamic region, an unresolved set of territorial and maritime issues, and the ill-advised nature (particularly the "Trans-Pacific Partnership" or TPP) of the U.S. pivot to East Asia equals an increasingly contentious East Pacific in 2013.

11) Euro zone: The economy remains highly sluggish as the continent struggles to preserve the welfare state in an increasingly competitive global economic environment.

Prediction: Further crisis with a possible Greece exit from the Euro zone.   

12) Global Economy: Due to a lack of political will (in the U.S. and Europe), rising political tensions in key economic regions (see Persian Gulf and East Asia) and the emergence of non-Western economic blocs (BRICS, MERCOSUR, Eurasian Union), the future of the liberal global economic order is not assured. While all of these challenges are serious, none are as critical as the need for the U.S. to get its fiscal and economic house in order.   

Prediction: U.S. will continue to kick the fiscal can down the road.       

13) Russia: Solid economic growth coupled with a persistent anti-liberal political culture will continue unabated.

Prediction: Status quo at home with a growing assertiveness in the Middle East as Syria continues to unravel.