It’s time once again to peer ahead at the global political and economic horizons this year. The political landscape offers both promise and peril, but much of the problem is that many of the outcomes will fall to the judgment of leadership.

Afghanistan: The Obama administration has publicly signaled an end to U.S. combat operations. Whether President Hamid Karzai’s government is up to the heavy lifting and rigorous reform needed to fight off Taliban insurgents remains doubtful beyond the medium term. Moreover, Pakistan’s double-game of supporting Afghan cross border militants will keep the pot boiling. Sadly after so much American blood spilled, this will not end well

Africa: In the sub-Saharan state of Mali, an Islamic takeover in May allowed an al-Qaida regime to take hold and the trashing of legendary Timbuktu. France, the former colonial power and still the power broker did shamefully little to reverse it. Six months later the U.N. Security Council has authorized an African peacekeeping force to presumably retake the north from the fundamentalists.

East Asia: The region holds much promise after some significant elections in 2012. Taiwan re-elected Nationalist Party (KMT) President Ma Ying-jeou.

Japan’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) returned to parliamentary power by a landslide and re-appointed Shinzo Abe as prime minister. Abe has called for stronger ties with the United States and promoted long-overdue economic revitalization. South Korea elected its first female president, Park Geun Hye. Both countries saw more nationalist and conservative politicians elected.

In the People’s Republic of China, the ruling Communist Party selected its new leader Xi Jinping, who must steer the regime between simmering territorial disputes with Japan and a domestic economic downturn. As a political ploy, Beijing may continue to stir territorial tensions with Japan over the disputed Senkaku Islands and far more ominously reassert its spurious claims to the South China Sea, which is a threat to maritime states.

The North Korean dictatorship of chosen heir Kim Jong Un faces a widening food crisis as the regime chooses nuclear prowess and missiles over nutrition and meals for its population, a large minority of which depends on U.N. humanitarian aid. But don’t expect the new South Korean government to play patsy to Pyongyang’s perpetual crisis by offering a humanitarian lifeline unless Kim’s communists show some overdue quid pro quo.

Europe: The deep economic crisis continues as debt burdens in many European Union states are deadweight to economic growth and an albatross on the euro currency. The U.S. can hardly lecture the Europeans given the Obama administration’s dismal economic record.

In Germany, one of Europe’s still strong economies, there’s resentment over near perpetual monetary bailouts. As national elections approach, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats may face a strong challenge to their power.

Latin America (Brazil, Argentina, Chile): The Obama administration hasn’t seemed to notice that they have received scandalously little attention. It’s time for Washington to take heed.

Middle East: The promise of the Arab Spring, which swept the region like a sandstorm, has turned into the Arab Winter. The much heralded Egyptian revolution has gone through predictable phases and seems to be listing toward a dour entrenched Muslim brotherhood regime.

Though elected, President Mohamed Morsi has moved this pivotal country from a secular and secure friend of the U.S. toward authoritarian rule. A new hardline Islamic constitution, though narrowly passed, puts Egypt on the contentious path to conflict with its minority Christian community and, in the longer run, possibly Israel. The extraordinary events in Egypt over the past two years mark a major setback for U.S. regional interests, which few in Washington wish to acknowledge.

The carnage in Syria continues and approaches its second year; more than 50,000 people have died. Though the Assad family dictatorship seems doomed despite Russian help, Syria’s Christian minorities face a tragic fate.

No matter what the eventual outcome, extremist fundamentalist operatives may be part of a future regime. Syria’s humanitarian crisis will be the story. With the onset of winter, U.N. humanitarian sources estimate that “Well over 2.5 million people have fled their homes seeking safety both inside and outside the country. The number of those in need of assistance inside Syria has quadrupled from 1 million in March to 4 million in December 2012.”

Moreover, the world may confront a nuclear Iran, the tragic price of diplomatic dithering.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of “Transatlantic Divide: USA/Euroland Rift” (University Press, 2010). Contact: jjmcolumn@earthlink.net

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