A big world out there, and messy

As we look out upon the world in 2013, with a baleful eye toward Washington and its doings, we can reliably predict a very messy world.

All our local headlines that do not dwell on auto wrecks, inane Washington and Charleston politics and drug arrests are currently talking about Syria and Egypt. And so, a word on those two, and then a précis of global issues.

Despite the advice of the toughest ambassador in our service, Anne Paterson, who controls our policy there, Egypt’s President Morsi is rushing through a national vote on a new constitution. Egypt really needs a constitution, but one with widespread support. The Egyptians, with a hopeless economy, are addicted to massive demonstrations —what else to do with your day if you have no job? It is a diabolic mix, with the army, crazy and dangerous Salafists, Muslim Brotherhooders who have evolved into mostly an eclectic group wanting to control government and its perks and a heterogenous opposition who want something like human rights and democracy but don’t really know what those things mean. I confidently predict that anyone who predicts what will happen there has no idea. Let us see what happens.

Meanwhile, Syria is wild and brutal. Hate and intolerance and power. The killing going on there sickens me deeply — so many children are dying. It shows again what awful things we humans can do. The key there is tribal warfare, mostly Sunnis against Shiites, but also Sunnis against Kurds. The Sunnis are in the vast majority and so they will win, but the whole Sunni effort is so messy. We need to worry about the chemical weapons. I helped negotiate the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1991, which Syria never joined. Those weapons are monstrous. Alas, I predict no cessation of the killing within the next year or two, as Assad pulls into a ring on the Lebanese border and then the factions go at each other. The best we can hope for is that the warlords, some of whom we are secretly arming as I write this, will mostly stay beholden to us as the mess works its way out. I do get a chuckle when simpletons say, “Well, Obama and Hillary, do something about it, stop this thing, employ diplomacy.” That’s not so easy. Apparently Hillary has gotten the Russians to back off, a bit of a help. But messy situations simply can’t be resolved by waving the word diplomacy at them. What diplomacy? How — threats or inducements? That is tricky business. The mess there will continue.

Other big challenges facing the world are: The energy demands and effect on the environment of a billion people moving in to the middle class in India, China, Brazil, Turkey and other countries; harrowing adjustments to the world economic crisis caused by untrammeled greed of a cabal of money people; U.S. statecraft resources cut to the bone by dumb budgetary cuts, which means our influence to keep the rocky boat going will greatly diminish; and lest we forget, terrorism, hate and intolerance nourished by religion.

— Bob DuBose is a retired 36-year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service. He is currently president of Jefferson County Community Ministries. He lives in Harpers Ferry.

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