2011: The year that never was
I think I have done more lists of meaningful events in 2011 than there actually were meaningful events in 2011. In fact, I’m almost certain that was the case because as I look back on the year, I see a year in which many of the most important stories were in fact things that didn’t ...
I think I have done more lists of meaningful events in 2011 than there actually were meaningful events in 2011. In fact, I'm almost certain that was the case because as I look back on the year, I see a year in which many of the most important stories were in fact things that didn't actually happen, didn't unfold as predicted in the headlines, or were frauds. In fact, we might label 2011 "The year that never was." Which leads me to one final list for the year: the headlines that didn't pan out.
I think I have done more lists of meaningful events in 2011 than there actually were meaningful events in 2011. In fact, I’m almost certain that was the case because as I look back on the year, I see a year in which many of the most important stories were in fact things that didn’t actually happen, didn’t unfold as predicted in the headlines, or were frauds. In fact, we might label 2011 "The year that never was." Which leads me to one final list for the year: the headlines that didn’t pan out.
Nothing captures the zeitgeist of this year of illusions, confusions, and deceptions better than what happened on December 30, 2011, in Samoa. Which is nothing. Because, as you may have read, Samoa determined to skip ahead in time in a way that had them sidestepping this day altogether. So, for them, in their island paradise, today is the day that never was. I’ve had some days like that myself, but usually they were followed by a hang-over that led me to believe something had actually taken place. In Samoa, today was as invisible and ephemeral as any U.S. Congressional proposal to balance the budget…or to do anything for that matter, but I get ahead of myself.
Here are are a few other non-events for the year:
- The U.S. Defaults on Its Debt — You remember these headlines from the summer. It made the markets crazy as Congress dithered. But there was never the slightest chance of it happening. The U.S. still produces, despite all our economic misadventures, the world’s one true reserve currency. And that means we could always print the money we needed. Further, the rest of the world has been screwing up as badly or worse than we have so as ugly as our debt has looked, someone else’s always looks uglier.
- (Tie) The Eurozone Collapses Triggering Economic Mayhem Worldwide and The Eurozone Produces Breakthrough Solution to Its Problems — We’ve been told by the Chicken Littles that the end of the Eurozone was around the bend for months now. But the Eurozone was never going to truly break up because it is not at all in the interests of any of the big players for it to do so. In the same vein, the regularly announced "drop dead" dates for a solution have been accompanied by much balleyhooed solutions. Yet the solutions weren’t solutions and no one dropped dead.
- The Arab Spring Triggers an Outbreak of Democracy Across the Middle East — You can’t blame the world for its optimism. And there’s no certainty that the Arab Spring will only result in the enshrinement of more autocrats or oligarchies or creepingly illiberal democracies. But so far, for every headline announcing the arrival of reform to the region there has been a dozen cracked heads, jailed journalists, molested women protesters, or worse. Hope lives on as it should, but the headlines have promised more than has been delivered.
- Israel Launches Air Attacks on Iran to Silence Its Nuclear Program…Thus Triggering World War III — For years folks have been writing these attacks were around the corner. But they haven’t come. (Yet.) They haven’t had to because the U.S., the Israelis and their friends have been waging a stealth war against the Iranians all year long. It’s not only a war without a declaration, it’s a war without even an acknowledgment. And it seems to be working, holding the Iranian nuclear program back or slowing it in key respects. Still, while everyone knows it is going on, Iran hasn’t responded with the "world war" some have anticipated would result from challenging them. Why? Because they are isolated and comparatively weak, a regional power with some clout within the Mideast but almost none that comes without costs it actually can bear.
- China Collapses — Even FP has carried stories about this regularly predicted event recently. Prediction for growth next year: 9 percent. Is everything rosy in China? No. Will reform happen? Yes. Have they been uncanny at avoiding hard landings (because such landings are in no one’s interests)? Yes…and that’s likely to continue to be the case.
- The NBA and the NFL Strike and Their Seasons are Canceled — For months there were stories about how US sports fans would be sitting in front of their 60 inch flat screens with nothing to do but…gasp…read a book or talk to their families. Fortunately for all concerned neither debacle took place. The athletes got their millions, the owners got their billions, and the fans got their mind-numbing violence and cringe-worthy showboating.
- Pakistan Suffers a Coup — Even I have been predicting this regularly. And sooner or later, it’s bound to happen. But it is one of the most frequently repeated or implied threats in foreign policy journalism this year and, well, it didn’t happen.
- The U.S. Ends Its Involvement in Iraq…Successfully — Within days of leaving Iraq it was clear that our intervention neither successfully stabilized the country nor did it appreciably advance democracy to the point that it has good odds of surviving out the decade (or 2012). The likelihood of conflict within Iraq and its centrality in the region still makes it likely that just as we have visited the country with our troops in each of the past two decades that we will be involved there one way or another in the decade or so ahead again.
- The U.S. Makes Progress in Afghanistan — Generals say it and reporters write it down. But as 2011 ends it is clear that when we leave Afghanistan it will revert to being the failed state that has been sucking in foreigners and spitting them out for centuries.
- Kim Kardashian Gets Married — It made headlines. It made great TV. It lasted less time than a Tootsie Pop. It is the perfect illustration that we live in the Age of Ephemera. Philosophers would say it has always been thus and that it is an illusion or self-deception to think that any event is significant in a universe that is bracketed by oblivion on either side. But some meaningless events are less meaningful than others and this was a year in which the difference between big doings and the eternal void were even smaller than usual.
Happy New Year.
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