Possibilities and probabilities: What may lie ahead in 2006

New Year's resolutions (lose weight; give up chocolate; walk the dog more often) tend to erode fairly quickly.

New Year predictions are fraught with danger for the columnist in this age when everything is preserved for posterity on the Internet. What may seem to the reader prescient in January could by December be pretty "lame."

So here, treading on safer ground, are some thoughts about possibilities, and a few probabilities, on the national and international stages that will capture the headlines in 2006.

On the home front, President Bush will have a narrow window before the midterm elections. He probably will fail to push through Social Security, but he may get tax reforms. On illegal immigration he may get support for strengthening the border with Mexico, but will probably face strong opposition to legalizing in some manner the presence of 11 million illegals already in the country.

The elections themselves are unlikely to wrest either the House of Representatives or the Senate from Republican hands. With a Republican majority of some 30 seats in the House, Democrats would have to get a landslide to oust enough incumbents to change the balance of power. The story is pretty much the same in the Senate where Republicans are probably safe.

After the elections it will be pretty much downhill for a lame-duck Bush administration. Congress will be distracted by posturing and maneuvering for the 2008 election. Candidates who claim they have not given a thought to running for president will suddenly emerge. Hillary Clinton will be one of them on the Democratic side, John McCain on the Republican side. They must contend with a string of other suddenly emerging candidates who think they can do better than either of them.

On the foreign front, Iraq will still be central in 2006. By the end of the year, Saddam Hussein will have been found guilty of enormous crimes against humanity and given the death sentence. US troop reduction will have begun, and troops remaining will be less engaged, having propelled Iraqi units into the forefront of the campaign against terrorists, Baathists, and foreign fighters. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will probably have left office. What the state of Iraqi politics will be, nobody dares guess. But whatever it is - whether it be civil war, a narrow Islamic state, or a fledgling democracy - it will be the Iraqis, not the US, who will make it so.

Elsewhere, the Italians will have conducted the Winter Olympic Games without an Al Qaeda disruption.

North Korea or Iran - and more likely Iran - will have acquired a nuclear weapon or weapons.

Fidel Castro may have vanished from the scene in Cuba, and Cubans spearheaded by the military will be resisting a rush of Cuban exiles from Miami who want to return to Cuba to reclaim properties of which they were dispossessed.

The United Nations, having undertaken marginal reforms, will be seeking a successor to the outgoing Kofi Annan. The US will press for someone with the energy and clout to achieve further reforms, but the Asian and Latin American blocs will be jousting for someone congenial to their own agendas.

Tony Blair, who has stood so strongly with the US on Iraq, will have come to the end of his prime ministership in Britain and will be on a lecture assignment at some think tank or university of distinction in the US.

India's economic strength will continue to grow fast. As US companies farm out more and more high-tech work to India, salaries there will escalate, and US companies will start looking for alternative lower-salaried workers in other countries.

China's economy will start cooling off, but China must still be reckoned with as a coming superpower. Its ruling regime will try to maintain internal authority with a communist system, but will be increasingly challenged by capitalism in the market place and a younger generation using the Internet as a window on the outside world.

Modern technology in communications and transportation will continue to develop at a rate almost beyond our comprehension. Much of the good new stuff under the Christmas tree in 2005 will be overtaken by amazing new stuff by Christmas 2006.

Newspapers will still be around despite the Internet, because the Internet will have little to attract without the content and information that news organizations supply.

Thus, unfortunately for me, this column will still be on file somewhere for readers to determine how close my possibilities and probabilities came to reality in 2006.

John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, is editor and chief operating officer of the Deseret Morning News.

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