Okay, that's enough inside the beltway, who were the big
winners and losers around the world?
First, the losers:
and Palestinians: Sadly, these folks have ended up on this list so often
(or they would have had I ever done this list before) that they should be retired
from future consideration. Once again hope and hype has been followed by a
chilling dose of reality, an opaque "peace process," and in the end by the fact
that you can't cut a deal between two groups when one of them isn't
quite organized to either represent their views effectively or implement any
deals that actually get done. While the world wants to blame
it on the Israelis, the thing that slammed the break on this process toward the
end of 2009 was the fact that the Palestinians couldn't get their act together.
Karzai: The Taliban once banned
the use of paper bags because theoretically the bags could be made out of
recycled pages from old editions of the Koran. Oh, and they brutalized their citizenry
and offered a safe haven to those craven characters from al Qaeda. And they're still more popular than the
current Afghan government. They were our
enemy and we're still flirting with the idea
of how we can work with them because Karzai is THAT
It seems like years since this particular talking club has been truly relevant
but 2009 will be the year that gets carved on their
gravestone. Oh, they'll meet from time to time, but it'll be an exercise. The
world has learned you can't throw an economic party without the economies that
are actually driving global growth, home to the world's largest banks and the
world's largest bank accounts.
Somalia: While these two would almost certainly be finalists in any global
Shithole of the Year competition -- building a Denny's in either of them would
be a cultural transformation roughly akin to the onset of the Renaissance in
Europe -- things got worse this year. These two blighted corners of the globe
became the designated new havens for
the world's worst bad guys which means that they will soon be receiving some of
that extra special attention from the Untied States that has done so much the
other countries on which we paint big red "X.
Capitalism: Oh sure, we're recovering now. At least that's what helps me
sleep at night (after I tuck all my earthly possessions into the hidden
compartment in my mattress). But that's the problem, dontcha see?
The biggest problem with the recent financial crisis was that it was not severe
enough. The United States will continue to practice its form of lightly
regulated, inequality boosting, corporate giant driven capitalism ... but now
with all its flaws more exposed and, for the first time, while other approaches
to capitalism producing greater growth. Not only is the world's economic center
of gravity shifting ... so inevitably will be its philosophical center of
Walt and the Realists: No, this is not another boy group put together by disgraced
impresario Lou Pearlman. Instead it is a group of political scientists who
conjured up one of those self-congratulatory labels for themselves (like "smart
power" only even more insidious in how automatically dispatches anyone who
opposes it) -- "realism." They thought Obama would see them as the alternative
to the "idealism" of the Bush administration (how ironic can a label be?) But
instead they discovered -- despite support from big names in the
punditocracy-that Obama would defy labels (he rejected both "idealism" and
"realism" in his Oslo speech) as he defined new ground as the ur pragmatist. And
then on top of that, the core objective of realists -- ditching Israel -- didn't
turn out to work so well as the new administration discovered what all before
them have, we are allied with the Israelis not because they are perfect but
because all the other alternatives are so lousy.
who? A foreign minister with no
experience with foreign affairs? When a faltering institution picks leaders
whose only distinctions are that they are the least objectionable characters in
the room, they are casting a big vote for irrelevance. We hear you, Europe ... adieu, auf wiedersehen, ciao. You'll be around for a while but
just listen to your voice being drowned out in Copenhagen if you want to know
what's actually happening on the global stage.
dollar: Got a pair of pliers?
I think I still have a gold filling in there somewhere that I can get to...
Entertainment Idiots and Golf Journalists
(tie): Kanye disses
Taylor Swift which is a little bit like stomping on a kitten at a PETA
convention. And in the year he becomes
the first athlete to break the billion dollar barrier thanks to his
extraordinarily well-crafted public persona, Tiger Woods crashes his Escalade
into a fire hydrant and causes, I don't know, probably a
few hundred million dollars in damage.
And the only ones more red-faced than Tiger with the revelations that he
seemed to be playing more than just 72 holes every weekend have to be the media
who cover golf who have apparently known about the story for years but just
neglected to write it.
And, the winners:
Obama: Did I mention that he also has a lovely wife and family?
dog? Clearly, Barry O is the big winner of the year and the single
individual who made the biggest difference on the global stage during 2009. We
can tear him down in years to come but face it, the guy's a phenomenon and all
things considered, the entire planet is better off at the end of the year
thanks to the choices he has made as president.
I hate this cute hybrid name. Probably because I didn't come up with it. But
look at the scoreboard folks, in 2009 there wasn't a major challenge on the
global stage that wasn't in large part defined by how these two powers chose to
act. It's a watershed for weltanschaungs everywhere.
Taliban: See above. Nine years ago we went to Afghanistan to bomb these
guys into the Stone Age only to discover the only political infrastructure in
the country belonged to these women-hating living fossils of dark ages gone by.
Now, the search for Bin Laden has effectively been replaced by the search for a
Taliban." Why? Because one was the reason we went in and the other is our
ticket to get out.
Asif Ali Zardari: I'll
admit it, I'm no fan. He's a lousy president. He's totally unreliable. His
government is a feeble joke and barely keeps a lid on the most dangerous
country in the world. But he's still
alive at the end of 2009 and still in office and frankly, both defy the odds in
a big way. Everything's relative.
See the G8 above. (But face it; the G20 is really just a beard for getting
China, India and Brazil seats
at the head table. Everybody else there is just a speech the real
decision-makers have to sit through before they tell the rest of the members
what decision the big guys have agreed to.)
Superclass: This is just my way of sending a note of thanks to Lloyd
Blankfein for defending the premise of my last book (Superclass:
The Global Power Elite and the World They are Making) by turning the
biggest failure of the ruling class into yet another obscene payday. If you ever doubted their power, just look at
how they shrugged off government interference in markets until they needed it,
then profited on it and excused the government from further involvement. Oh sure, there
will be some financial reform ... but the big inequality driving, financial
system jeopardizing flaws in the system these guys have created to serve their
self-interests will remain ... and so will they.
And I will remain violently opposed to them until they co-opt me with a
big stinkin' check.
The IMF: For
sure they were a dead institution walking. The Asif Ali Zardari
of the global financial system. And like the Superclass,
they emerge as a big winner of the financial crisis. They have more
influence and people are even lusting after their SDRs. Which
just goes to show: it kinda helps to be the only game in town.
Admit it; you thought he would be disaster.But here's the reality, he
engineered the most remarkable bit of political kung fu in Israeli
history. All he did was turn Obama's initial realist-induced
skepticism into the first time ever that an Israeli government benefited by
having the United States seemingly turn against it. This in turn gave the Israelis
much more leverage in the on-going peace discussions. (That and the
problems with the Palestinians cited earlier.) Every time Obama or his
team would lecture against a Netanyahu
position, it would inadvertently help the sly Israeli PM.
When the economy is circling the drain and existential threats are everywhere
around you, posturing and slogans are seen for the window-dressing they
are. Isn't it interesting that a U.S. president primarily known for his
rhetorical gifts is crafting a presidency in which words are really secondary
and everything is about the deal. (Arguably, in some cases, to a fault.)
Damn, I got the filling but now I am going to have use it to pay
the dentist. Maybe I'll just wait until they extend
Medicare down to my age group.
reviews this week from London say this $500
may change the industry. Given
how lousy reality is, being able to conjure up entirely new ones (in 3-D even)
seems like a great idea.
PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images