2023 ended with two ongoing major wars, a worldwide military buildup, a realignment of most of the African continent as captive clients of China and Russia, and the self-inflicted destruction of some of the best establishments of learning in the Western world into places of hysteria, hate and irrelevance.
Whichever way you look at it, possibly with the help of two augurs and the sacrifice of a perfect white bull, the prognosis for 2024 is not so good. A columnist’s job chiefly consists in coming shortly after the fact and trying to make some sense of recent events, rather than impersonating a cross between the Sibyl of Cumae and Precrime Chief John Anderton: I offer no returns policy for inaccurate forecasts and broken-in-transit analyses.
Ukraine: the war will go on into its third year. No Ukrainian wants any part of the national territory occupied by killers, thieves, rapists, torturers and secret policemen; and as almost all citizens speak Russian, they have heard live the torrent of genocial abuse shouted night after night in Valdimir Solovyov’s talk show on Rossiya One Channel.
There is no trust either that any agreement would be respected by Putin. Zelensky’s popularity has plunged after over 700 days of bombardments, a slow-moving offensive in the East, and the feeling that his Great Communicator Magic has waned in Western capitals, mostly Washington. (Warsaw, Tallinn, Vilnius, and London hold fast).
Elections are due on March 31 2024, but the Ukrainian Constitution provides for a postponement in wartime. This makes sense: with almost 20 per cent of Ukrainians abroad, and Eastern regions under constant attack, holding proper elections seems almost impossible (and few international observers would take the risk when Russia is more than likely to bomb polling places).
It is unlikely that General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the commander in chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, whose bluntly-worded interview to The Economist two months ago expressed frustration with the progress of the war and revealed cracks in the unity of Ukraine’s leadership, would attempt to overthrow Zelensky, essentially because he understands how this could be exploited by Russia.
This is also the case with other Ukrainian political adversaries of Zelensky, including former president Petro Poroshenko, a polished, responsible leader with good understanding of the West and of the Russian threat. Vitali Klitschko, the ambitious Kyiv Mayor, is a different political animal, but he is far less popular than either Zaluzhnyi or Poroshenko. Which leads us to…
Washington DC, the place where Ukraine’s military capacity will be enabled or cut at the knees. Congressional opposition, led by Republicans, has delayed a crucial aid package to Ukraine, tying it to a commitment from the Biden Administration to securing the United States’ Southern border through which an astonishing 4 million illegal migrants have crossed into the country since 2021.
The likelihood is that this will be resolved (and the weapons sent), because 2024 is an election year and a majority of Americans oppose unchecked immigration. Whether this aid to Ukraine will continue in case of a Trump victory in November is unclear, because…
The US Presidential election is not yet a shoe-in for the Orange One. Not just because more and more recordings have surfaced (now in Michigan in addition to Georgia) of Trump pressuring officials not to certify Joe Biden’s victory in 2020, but because at the time of writing, Trump is now facing 91 charges across four cases and a civil lawsuit, and some of those will probably stick.
The Supreme Court of Colorado has ruled to keep him off the ballot in the State, and others will be considering similar action: there comes a time when you run out of Presidential Electors to stay in the game. In which case, now that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s momentum is melting like a snowball in Miami Beach, I predict a November contest between Joe Biden and Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina.
Ms Haley, 51, like British PM Rishi Sunak the daughter of Indian parents having immigrated for a better life through integration and hard work, was in 2017 and 2018 the US Ambassador at the United Nations, very much in the mould of her storied predecessor Jeane Kirkpatrick under Ronald Reagan. She has a shot at becoming the first woman president of the United States, and it won’t be because of tokenism of any kind. One of Haley’s many assets among US voters (as opposed to rioting Ivy League students) is her steadfast support for…
Israel: The current battle against Hamas in Gaza will continue into 2024 for at least a couple of months, as the Israeli military, having already achieved, in the classic definition, 80 per cent of their war goals with 20 per cent of the necessary effort, are now facing the last slog in which the remaining 20 per cent will require 80 per cent of their effort.
The Israelis will not falter in this, or listen to appeals to “moderation”, partly because October 7 was their 9/11, and partly because the demented accusations levelled at them by international institutions, NGOs, and a generation of spoiled Western children have convinced them that they will not get a fair hearing anyway.
They are comforted by their knowledge of the region, where most leaders, while uttering condemnations, actually hope they will destroy the heads and the capacities of Hamas for good: from Cairo to Amman to Riyadh to Abu Dhabi to Rabat, an end to the most murderous branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which wants their overthrow, will be welcomed. After which…
Bibi Netanyahu will get the boot from Israeli voters for good. Not only did October 7 happen on his watch; his entire diplomatic gamble, which looked so masterful for years — making friends with non-democratic world leaders in addition with the traditional democratic ones supporting Israel, from Russia and China in addition to India — has blown up in his face, as the number of Hamas visits to Moscow, the last one a week before October 7, have come to light. That Russia knew Hamas plans was a given, and never mind the decorations and honours Putin showered Netanyahu with, just like…
China, which would emerge as a clear winner of the recent attacks against Western interests, except that It’s The Economy, Stupid. NASDAQ disclosed between Christmas and New Year that 90 per cent of foreign investment into Chinese equity markets in 2023 has been withdrawn as trust crumbles amid concerns over the country’s growth trajectory and the impact of losses from the real estate sector.
This is even more worrisome for Xi Jinping than a possible loss of face over his support for Ukraine, a very personal decision not necessarily popular with the rest of the leadership. Xi’s CCP cronies find their personal fortunes impacted, as well as those of the middle class they want to keep docile.
Suddenly, after years of sabre-rattling in the China Sea, complete with naval manoeuvres with a warship fleet, the Chinese leader seems eager to reassure the world that he has no intentions to attack Taiwan. Reassuring (a bit) for the neighbourhood, but a definite admission of weakness: the Sibyl, having consulted her books, salvaged from the Palatine Temple some time around 362 (1115 AUC), expresses definite worry for Xi’s job, and possibly his capacity to breathe, in 2024. Or perhaps she just thinks he should take a long ski vacation.