Belmont Club

Gazing into the New Year

Leaders from all around the world offered varying predictions for the coming New Year. North Korea  ended its period of mourning on a characteristically blood-curdling note, with the Party vowing to use the population as “human shields” to defend their new leader, Kim Jong Un, if necessary as “human bulwarks and human shields … unto death.”  On a more upbeat note, official Pyongyang predicted that parts of the country would soon be “turned into socialist fairylands” once the small matter of starvation was attended to, a matter that might soon be amended since North Koreans were in the midst of talks with the United States to provide food aid.

the message acknowledged the country’s food crisis, saying “the food problem is a burning issue.” North Korea had been in talks with the United States on food aid, but they stopped because of Kim Jong Il’s death. The United Nations has said a quarter of North Korea’s 24 million people need outside food aid and that malnutrition is surging, especially among children.

North Korea was still miffed at Seoul’s failure to send an official delegation to the late Kim Jong-il. The Washington Post noted that Pyongyang threatened “a ‘roar of revenge’ against South Korean President Lee Myung Bak” for this act of disrespect.

In Venezuela, every cell phone beeped out a text message from Hugo Chavez for Christmas. He said, “each December, we have victoriously celebrated our unstoppable march towards the Good and Pretty Fatherland…Full of happiness, justice [sic], and social equality. Merry Christmas, comrades. Hugo Chavez.”  Whether he paid for the mass texting or the telecom companies anted up was not revealed.

For Chavez himself the New Year held little prospect of cheer. The Venezuelan leader, who is sick, recently accused the United States of causing cancer among a number of Latin American leaders, himself included.

“Would it be so strange that they’ve invented the technology to spread cancer and we won’t know about it for 50 years? …

Chávez said he had received words of warning from Cuba’s former leader Fidel Castro, reputedly the target of dozens of failed and often bizarre assassination plots including a fungus-infected diving suit and an exploding cigar.

“Fidel always told me, ‘Chávez take care. These people have developed technology. You are very careless. Take care what you eat, what they give you to eat … a little needle and they inject you with I don’t know what,'” he said.

What must the world think of America, which is seemingly at once so omnipotent yet so helpless; which alternately feeds North Korea yet supposedly fears it’s tinpot leader; which is said to cringe at the invincible Chavez while apparently (or so he himself believes) is able to kill him at silently at the drop of a hat?

The ambivalence toward America was on full display in Pakistan, where people simultaneously long to be its friend while proud to be its enemy. The Associated Press reported that a secret US unit operating out of the embassy was supporting moderate Muslims in the internal fight against Jihadi militants.

The U.S. has created a new unit in Pakistan that aims to leverage such grassroots efforts by working with local moderates to counter violent extremism — the first of its kind set up by an American embassy anywhere in the world, according to U.S. officials here. The existence of the unit has never before been reported …

The unit is just now ramping up operations, said officials. It was funded with an initial budget of $5 million that officials hope will grow. Officials declined to provide details on specific programs they are funding or plan to fund, for fear that publicly acknowledging U.S. involvement would discredit their partners.

That’s a major worry in this country where anti-American sentiment is rampant. Any cleric known to be taking U.S. help is likely to be shunned by many … Militants responded the next day by calling the Muslim cleric … and warning he could be killed.

That’s very informative and goes to show how important it is that the secret American unit never before revealed should be allowed to continue its work in private so that those it clandestinely supports can avoid being killed. But as the old British Field Marshall Viscount Slim once said, “a general’s job is simply to make fewer mistakes than the other fellow.” For all America’s faults in 2011 its greatest saving strength is its apparent inability to win the race to the bottom. As inept as some of America’s leaders are they are rank amateurs compared to the losers out there.

For all the tumult of 2011, the coming year appears ready to surpass it. Hezbollah took the occasion of its year end visit to Maronite Patricarch Beshara Rai to warn that “turmoil in Syria could spill over into Lebanon and called on rival Lebanese factions not to interfere in internal Syrian affairs.” Translation: nice country you’ve got there, it would be a shame if anything happened to it.

But Samir Geagea, head of the largely Christian Lebanese Forces, is not intimidated. He believes Hezbollah should worry about its own doom. He predicted that 2012 would be the year of Lebanon’s independence from Syria as Assad’s grip loosened over Beirut.

Hariri’s ally, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, said that Lebanon will begin a process of state building following the collapse of the Assad regime, which he predicted would likely happen in 2012.

“Following the fall of the Syrian regime, we will enter a complicated political process before we create another political system that is well defined and capable of building relations between Lebanon and Syria as two [separate] states,” Geagea told a gathering of his party’s general committee in Maarab at the weekend.

“The year 2012 will witness the fall of the Syrian regime. This will have a significant impact on Lebanon’s situation and will result in another balance of power,” Geagea said.

“Presumably, after the fall of the Syrian regime, we should start the process of building a state,” he added.

Perhaps its a matter of perspective. Since Geagea spent 11 years of his life in solitary confinement at Syria’s behest, 2012 will look to him like a step forward. Anything would. The world has never been a perfect place, but the challenge, as some anonymous person once put it was to “leave it better than you have found it.” That turns out to be a hard thing to do. Unfortunately things may get a little worse before they get a little better.


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