Where to start on a subject encompassing so much it’s impossible to fit it all in? – A month – a country? OK- January – the USA.
The 45th President was sworn in and swore to always put America First. Much of the world was alarmed – but the realities of power constrain all Presidents, even this one. The border wall project with Mexico still has no funding, China has not been declared a ‘currency manipulator’, a major trade war was averted, the USA is still part of NATFA, the Iran nuclear deal has not, yet, been torn up. Contrary to most analysis there has not been a rapprochement with Russia. There was probably never going to be, realpolitik meant it was unlikely, but the investigation into Trump’s 2016 election campaign contacts with Moscow ensured there was no ‘reset’ of relations. The year ended with unemployment down and the stock exchange up.
President Trump did get his tax plans approved, and he did agree to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem without sparking the massive wave of violence some predicted. It caused huge anger, but that was tinged with the resignation that is a fait accompli. What many missed in the Trump announcement was that he did not say that Jerusalem was Israel’s ‘undivided’ capital’. The way is still open for a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
The USA again saw mass shootings, for example those of 59 concert goers in Las Vegas in October, and 26 churchgoers in Texas in November. The storm season was particularly severe this year as Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria barrelled through Texas, Florida and the Caribbean.
The downfall of Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein opened the way for the #MeToo movement in which the scale of sexual harassment in all walks of life, in many parts of the world, became public.
Back on the political front tensions with North Korea grew all year as Kim Jong Un unleashed a series of missile tests, and Donald Trump vowed to ‘deal with it’. That showdown is looming. In a bid to prevent war the Americans are pressing China to reign in its neighbour… So far—
no deal – despite President Xi ending the year as the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao. The Communist Party’s 19th Congress ensured he is no longer first among equals – he’s akin to an Emperor.
In the Middle East, the year saw no end to violence, but the faint glimmerings of (eventually) a more peaceful future. The terror group ISIL saw its caliphate smashed and its fighters on the run. They were driven out of Mosul in Iraq, and then Raqqa in Syria. The downside of this is that thousands who survived may have found their way back to Europe, the Caucuses, Central Asia, and other Middle East countries. At the same time as the caliphate was taken apart the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iraq began to improve as many countries in the region saw the rise of Iran as a threat to all of them. The year ended with the Arab Sunni powers mostly agreeing they need to co-operate to push back Iranian and Turkish plans to expand influence.
The coming to power of the young Saudi Crown Prince ,Mohammed Bin Salman, suggested an acceleration of the ideas about a new Middle East in geo-political, economic, and social terms. However, the Iranians helped the Russian secure President Assad position in Syria, and they are now planted in the middle of the Middle East, as indeed is Russian influence again. It has secured its naval base in Tartus in Syria along with a lease on an airbase in Latakia. Arms sales to Egypt and other Arab countries helped grow Russia’s power. Also, firmly planted in the region remains the ideology of religious terror – an horrific example came in Egypt in November when more than 300 worshippers at a Sufi Mosque in Sinai were murdered, it’s thought, by a gang affiliated with ISIS. Egypt’s Christians were also targeted on a frequent basis.
Another troubled year for EU countries with many cities hit by terror. A concert hall in Manchester was bombed, 22 people were killed. There were other ISIL inspired attacks in London, Stockholm, Barcelona and elsewhere. This played into an anti-immigration narrative across the continent which saw gains for the extreme right in the Dutch, French, Austrian and German elections. Unity was hard to find – especially in Spain after a vote in Catalonia led to a declaration of independence. The status of Northern Ireland and Scotland within the UK complicated Brexit negotiations, but Brexit remained on track.
2018 looks like being another difficult year as the EU struggles to hold itself together.
Time is against 2017, so that was, some, of the Year That Was… see you next year.