My crystal ball got a little cloudy in 2019, so as the new year dawns, join me in what the late, great New York Times columnist Bill Safire liked to call the “office pool,” where, as he put it, “every reader becomes a pundit.” Some of my suggested answers are fanciful, some entirely serious. But whatever the news brings, a happy 2020 to all.
1) During 2020, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will: (a) take the additional title of prime minister and declare elections for a Saudi parliament; (b) offer China a larger role in the development of his futuristic city of NEOM; (c) expand commercial and academic ties with Israel and announce an interfaith study center in Riyadh; (d) create a royal commission to ensure that the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi could never happen again.
2) For North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, the biggest challenge of 2020 will be: (a) establishing a Central Committee department to research possible “quid-pro-quos” to offer President Trump; (b) worrying about what life might bring if his “great friendship” with Trump doesn’t endure past Inauguration Day 2021; (c) signing an accord on the White House South Lawn for a joint U.S.-North Korean nuclear research and real estate investment program.
3) Iranian politics will be rocked during 2020 by: (a) Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s nomination of hard-line chief justice Ebrahim Raisi as his chosen successor; (b) a campaign by Quds Force leader Gen. Qasem Soleimani to blame the “authorities” for instability and violence in Iran; (c) a comeback try by former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pitching Trump-style populism; (d) all of the above.
4) Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will demonstrate his impulsive independence during 2020 by: (a) secretly helping Russia install a new government in Libya, replicating Moscow’s Syria intervention; (b) threatening to impound U.S. nuclear weapons at Incirlik unless he can keep U.S. F-35 fighters and a Russian air-defense system to shoot them down; (c) building a lavish “Turkey Loves Trump” spa and resort in Bodrum run by Trump family pal Mehmet Ali Yalcindag; (d) annexing the northern Cyprus territory that has been under Turkish control since 1974, with Putin’s acquiescence, in return for recognizing Russian annexation of Crimea.
5) Chinese President Xi Jinping’s biggest headache in 2020 will be: (a) stopping Hong Kong protests without killing thousands of Chinese demonstrators; (b) suppressing internet and press freedom in Taiwan following the reelection of President Tsai Ing-wen in January; (c) resisting pressure from the People’s Liberation Army to abolish the rival Ministry of State Security and incorporate its intelligence functions within the PLA; (d) all of the above.
6) The economic surprise of 2020 will be: (a) the Justice Department files an antitrust suit against Amazon; (b) the Dow Jones Industrial Average falls below 20,000; (c) Facebook merging with NBCUniversal; (d) the European Union announces that, because of the unpredictability caused by overuse of U.S. sanctions, all European finance will be “de-linked” from the dollar; (e) the corporate debt bubble begins to burst as a result of several high-profile downgrades and defaults; (f) none of the above.
7) The political surprise of 2020 will be: (a) Donald Trump replacing Mike Pence with Nikki Haley as his running mate; (b) Joe Biden announcing that, if elected, his vice presidential nominee Stacey Abrams will attend all NSC and CIA Briefings; (c) California Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, defeated for reelection to Congress, opening a global private intelligence group called “NeverSteele”; (d) Trump ordering the U.S. military to guard polling places to prevent “massive voter fraud” on Election Day.
8) The “sleeper” military crisis of 2020 will be: (a) Russian deployment of hypersonic nuclear weapons for which the U.S. has no defense or counterpunch; (b) Chinese space weapons that can blind U.S. spy satellites, hack communications satellites and limit projection of military power; (c) new bioweapons being developed by China, Russia and other countries that can target specific populations — and create super-empowered warriors that are tougher, faster and smarter than others on the battlefield; (d) all of the above.
Extra credit: By the end of 2020, which country will have eradicated “extreme poverty” as defined by the World Bank? Which will have the largest economy, as measured by the CIA and IMF? Which will lead AI competitions for voice recognition, facial recognition and financial technology?
Answers: 1) all except d; 2) a; 3) d; 4) a; 5) d; 6) f; 7) b; 8) d; Extra credit: China, China, China.