Jack’s 2017 Forecast, December 2016

TAG President Jack Devine provides his 2017 forecast, including his predictions for Trumpism, increasing growth, a big power showdown, the Middle East mess, ISIS, and more.

Jack’s 2017 Forecast

Enter Trumpism. Trumpism will be the coin of the realm for at least the next four years. Despite their current protestations to the contrary, many political and government officials will adopt his traits and positions. His slogans, policies and values will permeate American society. Public figures will increasingly use social media/Twitter and plain/tough talk in supporting the “forgotten man”. This will drive the media and establishment political elites up the wall, and they will be hamstrung on how to deal with it.

Social Media President. President Trump will continue to tweet. This needs to be recognized as the revolution and danger it might be. President Andrew Jackson once was hailed as the flag carrier for democracy when in the early 1800s he opened the White House to the public and allowed “the people” to traipse through. Today, everyone in America with a cellphone will be able to receive communications directly from the President, bypassing the media and political elites and even his own administration. This will be a new and powerful way for the President to set the agenda. However, for the good of the country, self-discipline will be needed to prevent this powerful tool from becoming a means of bypassing the policy vetting process or from becoming an instrument of demagoguery.

Potential Pitfalls. In getting his sea legs, Trump could step into a major political gaffe or run afoul of a conflict of interest in his business enterprise. But as he has shown during the campaign, he has an amazing ability to ride out major snafus.

United Front. With Congress behind him, Trump will have a virtually clear runway to carry out his policies. Despite the pundits’ doubts, Trump will try to deliver on his major campaign promises. He will build a wall along the border with Mexico and try to put the brakes on globalization and liberal trade agreements. At the same time, he will work with Congress to develop legislation to punish companies that take jobs abroad. He will try to muscle foreign competitors into more favorable trade arrangements and press US interests. They will bend for the most part, including China and Russia.

Hacking, Yes; Meddling, No. Russian hacking will remain a front line story for the next several weeks, but gradually will fade into the back pages as Trump assumes office, and Russia and the US try to sort it out behind closed doors. They will reach a modus vivendi. Hacking will continue, but interference in internal politics will dissipate. However, because of the politics driving the hacking issue here at home, it will spike from time to time over the next year.

Domestic Trends. Obamacare will be overhauled, but some of the key provisions will remain in place. The Supreme Court balance will move right during the next four years, during which time Trump may be able to select 1-2 more judges beyond the replacement of Judge Scalia. This will set the Supreme Court direction for a generation.

Increasing Growth. The US economy is already showing signs of renewed health, and Trump may well find ways to further stimulate the economy and GDP growth, perhaps above 3% per annum.

Big Power Showdown. There will be a greater emphasis on big power relationships, and Trump will try to use carrot and stick diplomacy with the top competitors, especially Russian President Vladimir Putin and China President Xi Jinping. They both will agree to a reset, but will quickly test the Trump Administration’s resolve. It will come sooner than expected. Putin and Xi’s nationalist agenda are built on expansion and competition with the West. Because of this, Trump, before too long, will find himself needing to continue the post-cold WWII war policy of “containment,” albeit with a more aggressive stance.

Bumpy Road Ahead. Despite relative economic stability in Russia and China, serious cracks could develop in their internal leadership control. There are greater political and economic problems below the surface than generally recognized, which could threaten stability.

Foreign Entanglements. Trump will try to lower our military footprint around the world, but the circumstances on the ground in the Middle East will make this a slow and problematic effort. Foreign leaders will be careful in probing him, and rightfully worry he will respond with force wherever he perceives an attack on US interests.

Ideologues vs. Pragmatists. The Trump Administration will be fraught initially with debilitating infighting, especially in the national security arena. There will be much tugging and pulling between the State, Defense, CIA and NSC establishments and the arch-conservative political appointees who joined the Trump camp early. There will be seemingly unending conflicts within the Administration between the pragmatists and the ideologies.

Pragmatists Win Out. This will be especially the case on policies relating to the Middle East and particularly Iran. The policies surrounding the Middle East could well turn out to be the Achilles’ Heel of the Trump Administration. A misstep that puts the Administration outside of legal lines, à la the Iran Contra Affair during the Reagan Administration, would inspire the Democratic Party to clamor for impeachment. However, this situation is unlikely to develop in the near term. This struggle will be tamped down with the inevitable personnel changes that will come about during the first two years of the Trump administration, as it shifts toward a more pragmatic foreign policy.

EU and NATO Persist. Europe will continue to feel the pangs of nationalism and resistance to liberal immigration policies. Virtually all the governments in Europe will feel strong pressure to move to the right, but the EU, led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, will hold together albeit frayed around the edges, and NATO will persist. Negotiations over Britain’s exit from the EU will continue to dominate headlines, and the legal separation of Great Britain from the EU will take more time than many may want.

Afghan and Middle East Mess. Afghanistan will drift and a Taliban comeback is in the offing. Afghanistan, like the Middle East, will remain a mess for a decade or more. Iran will continue to exercise great influence in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. Syria will remain largely a quagmire with Assad steadily gaining the upper hand. Trump may try to cut a deal with Putin that accepts a Russian foothold and enduring influence in Syria in exchange for easing Assad toward the door. But, this is likely to fail unless an unexpected “Black Swan” event occurs in Russia which weakens Putin at home and pushes him to relax his aggressive posture. The weakening economy in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and terrorist incidents in Turkey, may cause additional stability problems in the region.

ISIS Lashes Out. While ISIS will increasingly wither on the ground in Iraq, Syria and Libya, there will be a commensurate increase in the terrorist risk across Europe and the US as ISIS, in desperation, attempts to pull off high profile attacks. We will need to remain alert for threats at home. ISIS will want to undertake a sophisticated multi-pronged operation, but may well have to settle for stirring up self-radicalized domestic terrorists.

Democratic Party Vacuum. On the Democratic Party front, the departure of Hillary Clinton from center stage will create a deep vacuum which will be difficult to fill. Neither Democratic House representative Nancy Pelosi, Senator Bernie Sanders nor the firebrand Senator Elizabeth Warren will fill the bill. The Democrats’ inability to bring back Reagan Democrats into the fold will set the Democratic Party on a fractious and weak path for some time. Because of this, and the lack of a fresh and compelling message, the Democrats could take serious losses again in the 2018 Congressional races.

Happy New Year!

“What Will Be Latin America’s Biggest Hotspots in 2017?” Latin America Advisor, December 2016

TAG President Jack Devine and Senior Director Amanda Mattingly respond that the likely 2017 hotspots in Latin America will be Venezuela and Mexico in the December 23, 2016 issue of the Inter-American Dialogue’s Latin America Advisor.

What Will Be Latin America’s Biggest Hotspots in 2017?

“If Russia Influenced Election, ‘Game Changer’,” Jack Devine on Bloomberg Markets AM, December 2016

TAG President Jack Devine gives his analysis of the Russia hack and the impact of Trump’s current anti-CIA stance in an interview on Bloomberg Markets AM with Pimm Fox and Lisa Abramowicz on December 14, 2016.

If Russia Influenced Election, ‘Game Changer’

The Outlook For Democracy, December 2016

TAG examines the outlook for democracy amid a resurgent nationalist populism in Europe and recent election results in Lebanon and Ghana.

The Outlook for Democracy

The Rise of European Nationalism?

Analysts have decried the waning of progressive Western democracies in the face of a resurgent nationalist populism, while casting nervous eyes toward Russia. However, the recent Presidential vote in Austria saw the more moderate, pro-European candidate Alexander Van der Bellen, soundly defeat the far-right candidate Norbert Hofer. In France’s conservative primaries, voters opted for a moderate technocrat in Francois Fillon whose campaign will make it significantly harder for the far right’s Marine LePen to prevail in next year’s Presidential elections. These developments buck the current populist trend and will provide some reinforcement for European institutions and alliances that are grappling with a sclerotic economy and a pressing refugee crisis. Yet the recent constitutional referendum in Italy that prompted the ouster of Italian PM Matteo Renzi, will make it harder to manage its indebted banks, which will weigh heavily on the European economy. How Europe fares economically in the next few months will be determinant for German leader Angela Merkel and for the direction for Europe in general. No one is watching these developments more closely than Vladimir Putin. Putin is seeking any opportunity to bring bordering states further into his sphere of influence and capitalize on cleavages within the European alliances to woo certain heads of states, like Mr. Fillon, into adopting a more accommodating tone toward Russia, lifting sanctions and generally weakening NATO.

Elections Results You May Have Missed

A New Balance of Power in Lebanon

The recent appointment of General Michel Aoun as Lebanon’s President and Saad Hariri as its Prime Minister is a positive auger for restoring stability in Lebanon. Without a functioning government for the past two years, and in the shadow of Syria’s civil war, Lebanon’s endless challenges have only gotten worse. Many speculate that it was Hariri’s diminished fortunes that drove him to make a deal to endorse Aoun. Others say that it was the rapprochement of Aoun with his main Christian rival that forced Hariri’s hand. An entirely different possibility is that the Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian civil war has greatly diminished its capacity to control Aoun, leaving Hariri to draw him away from Iran’s circle of influence toward a more pro-Western and pro-Saudi position. Whatever the actual case, none of the major players are operating from a position of great strength. We may be seeing a very new balance of power emerging that leaves the key players dependent on internal alliances rather than only external influence. And this may present an opportunity for the Lebanese people: Lebanon’s ruling elite may actually have to govern.

Another Peaceful Election in Ghana

The leading opposition candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo, won Ghana’s December 2016 presidential election last week. This election marks the third peaceful change in party power in Ghana – an important symbol of stability in an otherwise politically volatile region. President John D. Mahama’s government was plagued by accusations of widespread corruption and citizens have remained disenchanted with their country’s economic performance for much of his tenure. The Ghanaian economy has declined in the last four years, due to a slump in prices for exports of cocoa, gold, and oil. The incoming government supports the International Monetary Fund’s current efforts to restore fiscal stability amidst an increased budget deficit, high public debt, and inflation. Akufo-Addo has also promised to crack down on government corruption and is seeking to spur economic growth by providing each district with funds to spend on development projects.

“Does Argentina Have a Good Plan to Fight Drugs?” Latin America Advisor, September 2016

TAG Senior Director Amanda Mattingly responds to a question about Argentina’s plan to fight drugs in the September 21, 2016 issue of the Inter-American Dialogue’s Latin America Advisor.

Does Argentina Have a Good Plan to Fight Drugs?

“The Jig Is Up, Mr. Maduro,” Amanda Mattingly, World Policy Blog, June 2016

TAG Senior Director Amanda Mattingly writes about the economic, political, and security crisis in Venezuela in an article published by the World Policy Blog on June 27, 2016.

The Jig Is Up, Mr. Maduro

Delta Air Lines Plans to Apply for Direct Flights to Cuba, Amanda Mattingly on WABE 90.1 Atlanta, February 2016

TAG Senior Director Amanda Mattingly discusses the potential for direct Delta flights between Atlanta and Havana on WABE 90.1 Atlanta on February 24, 2016.

Delta Air Lines Plans to Apply for Direct Flights to Cuba

“The Changing Face of Cuba,” Amanda Mattingly, World Policy Journal, Winter 2015/16

TAG Senior Director Amanda Mattingly writes about the changing face of Cuba following the resumption of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba in the Winter 2015/16 Issue of the World Policy Journal.

The Changing Face of Cuba

“Defeating ISIS Will Take Unity on the Part of the Civilized World,” Jack Devine, Houston Chronicle, December 2015

TAG President Jack Devine writes that the United States, Russia, European allies, Arab allies, China and Israel working together is the only answer to defeating ISIS in an article published in the Houston Chronicle on December 12, 2015.

Defeating ISIS Will Take Unity on the Part of the Civilized World

Putin Seeking Power in Syria, Jack Devine on Bloomberg Radio, September 2015

TAG President Jack Devine discusses Russia’s air strikes on Syria, Putin’s push for power and influence, and the disappointing results of the U.S. engagement in Syria on Taking Stock with Michael McKee and Kathleen Hays for Bloomberg Radio September 30, 2015.

Putin Seeking Power in Syria