Dissecting the Middle East with a Poor Man’s War Room

I have three vices: board games, the news, and forecasting tournaments. The third one is new. I took a crack at Good Judgement Open about a year ago. Despite my amateur status I can say that I at least beat the median score. Unfortunately I took my eye off the ball back in October because of an on-site analyst gig. Then the holidays came. By the time I returned, my Brier score had tanked. This would not do.

I was determined to not only crawl back to the smart side of the median, but overtake the pack completely. After updating some obviously dumb predictions, I assembled the necessary components for peering into the future: coffee, board games, a carefully curated playlist of “thinky” music, and the news. All the news.

I’ve done this sort of thing before with all the predictions about global epidemic events. This time I’m going to use the board in question, from Labyrinth: The War on Terror, to build a big-picture view of the whole scene before making my predictions.

Will Bashar al-Assad cease to be President of Syria before 1 March 2017?

Will Bashar al-Assad cease to be President of Syria before 1 March 2017?

Not a chance. I never gave it more than a 7% chance that he’d be ousted, but now it’s functionally impossible. Neither Trump nor Putin give a damn about Assad’s human rights abuses, but even Dem starlet Tulsi Gabbard seems to back the devil we know. And now that the US is threatening to cut off the UN, they’re less interested in becoming the world’s police. He’s not going anywhere in the next month.

Which party’s candidate will win the next presidential election in France?

Which party’s candidate will win the next presidential election in France?

The National Front’s Marine Le Pen and Republican François Fillon are fairly neck-and-neck, depending on which polls you read. So far, no one has produced any damning dirt on Le Pen, but Fillon is being investigated for paying his wife to do nothing with government money. On top of that, last year’s attacks in Nice, Paris, Valence, Magnanville, and Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray are still fresh in voters’ minds. Unless somebody uncovers that Le Pen gets her funding from Russia, she’s the populist to beat.

Then again, the populism sword is a double edged one. It also can swing to the left, like it is in Italy and Austria. Emmanuel Macron has a shot, as does the Left Front candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon. The Social Party’s candidate, who I refer to as Whats-His-Name, is mostly dead in the water.

For now, I’m giving the Socialist Party a 2% chance, “None of the Above”, meaning Macron or Mélenchon, 26%, the Republicans 32%, and the National Front 40%.

Will Egypt’s GDP growth rate for their 2016/2017 fiscal year equal or exceed 5%?

Will Egypt’s GDP growth rate for their 2016/2017 fiscal year equal or exceed 5%?

Economics is not my strong suit, but I know that having three presidents in six years can’t be good for business. Egypt hasn’t broken 5% since before the Arab Spring, and military coups are rarely good for an economy. No way.

When will the United Kingdom invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty?

When will the United Kingdom invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty?

At the last minute if at all possible. The government isn’t even close to ready, but the people have spoken. The Brexiteers want to get on with it, and May promised that they’d pull the trigger by the end of March, but parliament’s the one that has to make it official, and they’re not interested in keeping May’s promise. Still, if they drag too much, the people will remember. Unless they come up with a brilliant excuse to continue the stall, it’s a near certainty they’ll do it by July.

Before 1 July 2017, will the US endorse a peace plan which allows Bashar al-Assad to remain in power?

Before 1 July 2017, will the US endorse a peace plan which allows Bashar al-Assad to remain in power?

That’s a loaded question. It assumes that a peace plan will even be on the table. Again, Trump doesn’t care about war crimes, even if Mattis does. If Syria can help crush ISIL and whatever comes after it, our administration will endorse him. If there was a plan and the US didn’t endorse it, it would only be because Trump wants a “better deal”. Keep in mind the the US’s endorsement may matter as much anymore. All that being said, I’ll go with the consensus on this one. 35%.

Will negotiations on a China-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) free trade agreement be completed before 1 October 2017?

Will negotiations on a China-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) free trade agreement be completed before 1 October 2017?

These talks started in 2004.

Let that sink in. 2004. Over a decade. And now the two parties are apparently trying to sprint to the finish line. Then again, the new China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is probably going to light a fire under the Gulf States. Trade with China is becoming a must. All the cool kids are doing it. And the REALLY cool kids get to name everything “One-Something”. One China. One Belt, One Road. Singular whatevers are definitely China’s bag, man.

Still, the chances of crossing the finish line before October is slim. There is no recent news about upcoming talks, and no sign that this deal is coming to a close. I give it about half the chance the consensus does. 30%.

Will negotiations on a China-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) free trade agreement be completed before 1 October 2017?

Will China begin land reclamation activity at Scarborough Shoal or in the Macclesfield Bank before 1 October 2017?

It depends. Does China fear American intervention? If so, then no. If not, then yes. China will test Mattis and Trump’s resolve sooner than later. And if the US doesn’t get involved, China will not care about anyone else. I give it a 70% chance of China making a move.

Before 1 November 2017, will the US impose economic sanctions on Iran for activities related to a nuclear program?

Before 1 November 2017, will the US impose economic sanctions on Iran for activities related to a nuclear program?

Trump is itching to do it just to prove a point, and Tillerson is likely to agree just to hide the fact that HE DOESN’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT NATIONAL SECURITY. Also, he doesn’t have a financial stake there, so fuck it. If Iran gives him an excuse, Trump will do it. That said, Iran is changing in light of the lifted sanctions. Iranians are more interested in jobs and a higher standard of living than continuing pissing contests with their neighbors. Iran might not be that interested in sticking it to the West anymore. Going with the consensus: 30%.

When will North Korea next conduct a nuclear test?

When will North Korea next conduct a nuclear test?

As soon as humanly possible. Kim Jong Un can’t wait to take his seat at the big kids’ table, and North Korea is working double-time now that Trump is in office. The consensus is probably right about the short-term chances, but it’s almost certainly going to happen this year.

Will Saudi Arabia list shares of Saudi Aramco in an initial public offering before 1 January 2018?

Will Saudi Arabia list shares of Saudi Aramco in an initial public offering before 1 January 2018?

Almost certainly nope. They said they wouldn’t and they don’t need the cash right this second.

Before 2018, which country will be the first to experience two or more anti-government mass protests within one week?

Before 2018, which country will be the first to experience two or more anti-government mass protests within one week?

The Arab Spring is over. Egypt’s anti-protest laws have scared most dissenters away. Sure, there will be protests, but not two in the same week. The rest are even less likely. Morocco’s royal family, on the other hand, is using the carrot of more reforms to appease the crowd. While Moroccans are still angry, the fact is Morocco’s royals did deliver some of the reforms promised during the Arab Spring, so these new commitments seem legit. Jordan’s stable for the moment, other than the anger about refugee camps. As for Tunisia, a lack of jobs and increased homelessness is tolerable as long as you’re not being brutally oppressed at the same time. In short, it’s just not enough to spark Arab Spring: Part II. Mostly likely, none of them will have two protests in a week (66%). Basically, what the crowd said.

Will Syria hold UN-backed elections before 1 January 2018?

Will Syria hold UN-backed elections before 1 January 2018?

I never gave this much of a chance, and now it’s even less likely. Why would they? Trump’s position on Assad almost makes this null and void. That position being, “He’s a monster, but we could do worse”. And Russian doesn’t care as long as the country is stable. There’s no talk about elections because Syria wouldn’t survive a regime change at this stage of the game. 0% change of this happening.

Before 1 January 2018, will Yemen’s Houthi rebels sign a peace agreement that includes provisions about the establishment or recognition of a single, national government?

Before 1 January 2018, will Yemen’s Houthi rebels sign a peace agreement that includes provisions about the establishment or recognition of a single, national government?

There is no news about the Houthis’ considering anything but a government takeover. Now that the US is involved, Iran might leave the Houthis hanging. Plus, Egypt is still supporting the government in exile. In short, the Houthis aren’t in the position to agree to anything other than surrender, if that’s even offered. 2% chance of this happening.

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Editor of The Ugly Monster. News junkie. Obsessed with game mechanics. Godless heathen. Sci-fi devotee. Anti-conservative. Societal disaster.

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Oscar

Oscar

Editor of The Ugly Monster. News junkie. Obsessed with game mechanics. Godless heathen. Sci-fi devotee. Anti-conservative. Societal disaster.

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