The Call

More top risks for 2009

Here are six other risks from our Top Risks report that I’ll be watching closely in 2009: 1) Can Iraq remain stable as President Obama begins to draw down US troops and as Iraq militias like Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army come out of hiding to fill the vacuum? How will Obama juggle pressure from Congress ...

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Here are six other risks from our Top Risks report that I’ll be watching closely in 2009:

1) Can Iraq remain stable as President Obama begins to draw down US troops and as Iraq militias like Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army come out of hiding to fill the vacuum? How will Obama juggle pressure from Congress to keep his promise on speedy troop withdrawals and from those at the Pentagon who urge caution? How long can Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government keep the peace without compromises among Iraq’s various sects and tribes on the most pressing political problems facing the country: the status of the city of Kirkuk, demands for greater local autonomy in the southern provinces, a credible law that fairly distributes oil revenues among various groups? Worst-case scenarios — including full-scale civil war, the break-up of the country, and broader regional turmoil — are unlikely for 2009. But a sharp reversal of Iraq’s fortunes, and unexpected tests for Barack Obama, are not.

2) What happens to Hugo Chavez if he loses the referendum in February he wants to hold on abolishing presidential term limits? If he loses this battle, might he try to steer Venezuela toward deeper authoritarianism? Chavez has badly miscalculated in the past, but this misstep could deal him a blow from which he can’t recover.

3) Will Mexico’s drug wars expand into a greater risk to domestic security? Might Mexican drug cartels begin to target Americans and U.S. assets in retaliation for U.S. support for domestic Mexican law enforcement? Mexico has come to be known as one of Latin America’s most stable countries. An expanded conflict would put that stability to the test.

4) Can Ukraine’s warring political elites cooperate long enough to pull Ukraine out of its economic and financial crisis? Will the country’s internal divide between pro-Western ethnic Ukrainians and pro-Moscow ethnic Russians finally inflict lasting damage on the country’s social and political unity? Ukraine’s cohesion will be tested this year as never before.

5) Can Turkey’s Justice and Development Party-led government survive another showdown with secularists within the country’s media, business, and military elites? Will the country’s EU bid suffer a substantial setback in 2009? If so, will we see a backlash within Turkey? The signs are not encouraging, because the ruling party doesn’t seem to understand the scale of the challenges it faces.

6) What will the election of Jacob Zuma as South Africa’s next president mean for that country’s future and for South Africa’s role in the region? Will Zuma adhere to a market- and foreign-investment friendly policy path? Or will the need to appease supporters among the country’s communists and trade unionists reverse South African economic policy? Fears that Zuma will drive his country far to the left are exaggerated, but tackling South Africa’s growing list of challenges without reliable support from the communists and trade unions is impossible.

I and my colleagues at Eurasia Group will be using this blog to dig deeper on these and many other questions that will shape international politics over the coming year. In other words, check back in with us regularly.

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