2014, a year of fury and future warnings from the East

The global conflicts of 2014 will reverberate for years to come. It is a year of politics, war and race stirring together and, in some cases, erupting in a furious crescendo. From shattered borders of the Middle East and in the streets of the 'land of the free', these dark clouds gathering on the horizon are a sign of what is to come. The East was the region that defined the year, and it will determine much of how the decade will develop. From the wars engulfing the Arab world to the growing unrest in China, 2014 was the year the East set the course for global politics and new nightmares to come. Already the year began with rumors of war as Ukraine experienced a turbulent revolution that resulted in a new, pro-West regime taking power and Russia responding by annexing the territory of Crimea. Once again, Russia became the ultimate bad guy from the East in American eyes with popular perception casting Russian Czar, ahem, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as a villain out of a James Bond film. However the White House seemed to resemble more and more the characters out of Stanley Kubrick's classic dark comedy about near nuclear apocalypse, "Dr. Strangelove."

Weak sanctions were imposed on Moscow and world cop NATO went so far as to state they're in for war if Russia pulls any assault on any members of the bloc. While President Obama has proven to be trigger shy with Putin, he has set the stage for war by committing the U.S. to intervene in any conflict between NATO members or clients and Russia. In March the White House assured NATO members that the U.S. would abide by Article Five of the NATO charter, which essentially commits the U.S. to war if Russia violates any of the alliance members' territories. All it will take is one wrong move, one dumb act by one side or the other.

It is fitting that 2014 marked the 100th anniversary of World War I since once again, major world powers are making moves on the global chessboard that could easily lead to a major conflagration.

The summer became a horrifying, bloody opera as the Middle East saw horrifying conflict on two fronts: Syria and Gaza. In Syria and Iraq the border between both nations was erased by the sudden, violent rise of the Islamic State or ISIS, a ferocious, messianic rebel army of fundamentalist Jihadis determined to establish an extremist order in the Levant. The Syrian revolution against the regime of Bashar al-Assad has now deformed into a terrifying, sectarian war with regional implications. Already Turkey is feeling the enclosing fires as floods of Syrian refugees stream into its borders as ISIS wages battle to take over the neighboring Kurdish territories.

The great irony is that the rise of ISIS exposed the futility of U.S. hostility towards Iran. Iran, the region's major Shia power, will not allow an extremist Sunni group to dominate Iraq and Syria (two nations with governments allied with Tehran). Instead of finally recognizing Iran's independence and allying with them in the fight against ISIS. The U.S. is still demanding Iran make deep concessions in its nuclear development program, despite the lack of evidence it is making any kind of nuclear weapon. An impressively backwards move.

Instead, Obama decided to push a vague foreign policy which involves bombing raids across Syria and Iraq, and sending troops back into the Middle East. Predictably, the bombings have only fired ISIS to execute more U.S. captives and, surprisingly, helped them recruit followers from even Europe, who are angry about the renewed U.S. presence in Iraq.

If the Obama White House insists on pretending it can control the Middle East like a traditional, imperialist power, it will be met by the realities of a region still in post-revolutionary turmoil that is not seeking the democratic advice from the west.

There's also the case of Israel.

From mid-July to early August, the right-wing regime of Benjamin Netanyahu unleashed an incinerating war against the besieged Gaza strip. It was a classic eye for an eye conflict involving Hamas rockets versus Israel's air power, and a ground invasion that leveled entire city blocks with flashes of guerrilla war. 3,000 Palestinian deaths later, it is obvious more than ever that the Israel-Palestine conflict, always seen as hopeless, is now at the edge of a more disturbing, explosive abyss.

Since the shaky ceasefire established in August, the extreme right-wing parties led by fanatics like Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Lieberman, have been instigating a more religious-tinged tone to the conflict. With more liberal-minded parties bolting, the Israeli government has now dissolved and elections will be held in March to form a new coalition.

If the new Israeli government elected next year keeps Netanyahu in power with a coalition formed by purely radical, right-wing parties, then any hopes for peace will become even dimmer. Before the current dissolution of the government a new law was already being proposed declaring Israel a "Jewish State" with the word "equality" to be erased from its charter as reported by Israeli writers like Uri Avnery. Driven by nationalist daydreams, an even more right-wing Israeli government could evolve into a Prussia of the Middle East.

Israel has a number of apparent choices: End the occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza, allow the Palestinians to form a state, or march towards a regional war, or other catastrophe. While the Palestinians feature armed, radical parties such as Hamas, the continued extension of the conflict only fuels the resentment and violence that allows such parties to function.

Amid all this, the White House, left in official lame duck status by the Republican midterm sweep of Congress, has stepped back from any peace proposals until after the next Israeli elections.

Even in that distant but rising Middle Kingdom, China, a small but determined prairie fire broke out in Hong Kong this fall when student protesters initiated an occupy movement demanding democratic freedoms for the territory. The Chinese state predictably responded with the use of police forces, unleashing tactics and attacks against the encampments which remain there to this day.

China poses an interesting question for the future: Can a state survive as a thriving capitalist power with an authoritarian, one party government? As the protests continue, the contradictions of what is considered to be the world's rising super power become more apparent. Despite the luxuries capitalism offers, true democracy remains a demand of the masses.

To say the entire year was dreary of course ignores positive developments that did indeed take place. But the course charted by the larger events described above should be our focus, because they will shape 2015 and beyond. When the great Chinese uprisings of the late 19th century erupted, Karl Marx warned European observers that the real question was how the upheaval would affect Europe. This kind of sober observation is just as crucial today, as the tremors of the East will no doubt have a great impact here at home.


OpinionAlci RengifoComment