The ‘long view’ sequel — it still hurts

“It’s arthritis,” grinned the evil hand specialist, releasing my wrist. He was nice enough to wait until I scraped myself off the ceiling, after he twisted my hand in just the right way to send a bolt of pain shooting through it.

This has to do with Syria, Obamacare, Iran, and spying, as well as my hand. We’ve been here before.

A year ago I wrote an article called “The long view of personal and political issues.” It was about how an extensive operation on my left hand had left me less ambidextrous than before, in a lot of pain, and wallowing in self-pity.

My hand a year ago

My hand a year ago

Then, bravely, I looked ahead a year to now, and predicted where those issues would stand, and how my hand would be functioning.

Well, the year is up, and so it’s time to give me some grades:

  • A year ago, Syria had agreed to give up its chemical weapons. I said that by this time, the weapons would be mostly gone, and Syria would have no means to produce more.
  • Obamacare had experienced a disastrous rollout, its website crashing and frustration mounting. I predicted that would all be forgotten, as the health insurance reform (as opposed to the health care reform that was needed–seethis article from 2008) would be chugging along, enrolling millions of Americans who had not had health insurance, and Obamacare would be off the political agenda.
  • Iran was the trickiest, since talks over its nuclear program were in progress a year ago. I noted that already then, it was impossible to keep Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and the emphasis should be on diplomacy to keep it involved in the world instead of isolated.
  • A spying scandal rocked US-European relations a year ago, and I predicted it was going to blow over, since everyone knows that everyone spies on everyone else.

So how did I do? That depends on your grading methods.

If you take the narrow view, I’m pretty good. There’s no evidence that Syria has much in the way of chemical weapons, Obamacare has achieved its initial, modest goals, Iran is still negotiating, and the spying scandal is rarely mentioned.

But we’re taking the long view here, and what we learn from that is that issues like this rarely develop in a linear way. They go off on all kinds of tangents.

Israel is warning that the deal being finalized between the West and Iran will put nuclear weapons into the hands of a terrorist state. In other words, not much has changed in the past year, but it might, and soon, either in the direction of Iran’s becoming a rogue nuclear power or a monitored member of the world community.

No one is talking about Syria’s chemical weapons these days because the focus on the civil war there has completely shifted. Now the world’s attention is on the role of Islamist extremists like al-Qaida and ISIS, leaving the tyrannical Assad regime, improbably, as one of the good guys.

Obamacare might be working, but it continues to be a political issue, kept alive by its opponents, who regularly pass measures to repeal it. It’s a sign that in 21st-century America, nothing actually gets resolved.

The spying scandal is mostly over, but US-Europe relations are complicated in new ways, including by the ISIS issue.

All this didn’t stop me from making another prediction in September. I even did it on the radio. I challenged my listeners to make a calendar entry for September 2015 that says, “What was ISIS again?” I expected it to be off the Western agenda.

ISIS is an internal Arab problem, ISIS does not seriously challenge the US or Europe, and certainly Israel can handle it if necessary. ISIS is likely to take over parts of the Arab world, and then it will probably break up into many squabbling factions and lose whatever limited effectiveness it had in the first place.

What I didn’t take into account was the total misreading of the situation by the West, especially the US. Washington reacted to the beheading of two of its citizens as a credible threat, instead of understanding it as a horrific, barbaric and detestable publicity stunt meant to draw the US into the conflict as a “common enemy” to unite the people behind ISIS.

So the US started its bombing, and then it started sending in “advisers,” and we have a new Iraq war on its hands, possibly spreading into Syria.

That means that next September, I am going to have to write another article, making fun of myself for naively believing that the geniuses in the State Department would understand the ISIS threat in the context of regional realities. And this after I wrote a whole book, “Broken Spring,” explaining how and why the West consistently gets everything wrong in the Mideast.

And finally, my left hand, the one that suffered through that operation. I got that mostly correct. The pain is gone, some strength has returned, my index finger still does what it wants to on the keyboard, not what I want it to. Just as I predicted.

But as another proof that politics, international relations and life are not all that predictable — that arthritis that the specialist so painfully diagnosed? It’s in my other hand.


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