I don't see much to celebrate in terms of our country's foreign policy in 2006. As we look to 2007, here's my top-10 wish list, in no particular order of plausibility.
10. A certain Latin American leader passes quietly, with no evidence of American involvement. Not Hugo Chavez, who's rather harmless in his backfiring attempts to resurrect socialism down south but rather Fidel Castro, whose impending death finally sets in motion a political evolution that should generate America's 51st star within a decade.
9. An "ABC" (anybody but Chirac) France rejoins the West. Most of our disdain for Europe over the past few years is directly attributable to France's obstructionist stances on everything from Turkey's accession to the European Union to reducing Europe's huge agricultural subsidies in World Trade Organization trade negotiations. Jacques Chirac's presidency has been a disaster for France, turning it into a power non grata. No matter who comes next, the world is far better off.
8. The first boss of U.S. Africa Command arrives armed with more than just the stars on his shoulders. The Pentagon will get this new command sometime next year, and many Americans will correctly surmise that it signals increased security commitments to the region. This long war against the global jihadist movement will inevitably head south, so prepping that battlefield makes good sense.
7. Vladimir Putin loses that chip on his shoulder and any ambition of remaining Russia's president beyond 2008. The former KBG officer should take his cue from Singapore's Lee Kwan Yew and step back into the political shadows once his second term ends rather than perverting Russia's political system any more than he already has by re-nationalizing the economy's energy sector. Putin should instead satisfy himself with becoming the new CEO of Gazprom - almost a promotion.
6. Gen. John Abizaid's replacement at Central Command possesses half his smarts and twice the freedom to do what needs to be done in Iraq. Abizaid recognized that an occupational force's legitimacy among the locals is both fleeting and irreversibly degraded by time, so he endeavored to turn the fight over to the Iraqi government as quickly as possible. Now, as the Bush administration plans troop increases, that goal appears more distant than ever.
5. Bashar Assad is recognized - and exploited - as a potential reformist leader in Syria, winning a get-out-of-jail card for helping America in the region. Assad is desperate to reform his moribund economy now that its parasitic presence in Lebanon has been radically diminished. Rather than regime change, the Bush administration should pry Syria from Iran's influence with incentives, just like it flipped Libya's Muammar Qaddafi a while back.
4. Iran's Holocaust-denying president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continues losing the trust of the mullahs and suffering the protests of Tehran's angry students. Now, more than ever, Bush should be targeting Iran for the soft-kill option of increased connectivity across the board, ending our decades-long isolation strategy that only empowers hardliners.
3. Iraq's Shiia and Kurds decide on an acceptable strongman to crush the Sunni-based insurgency and end sectarian strife. All White House rhetoric aside, Iraq will effectively split into its three constituent parts no matter what America does at this point. Like Pakistan, this fake nation will eventually need a tough guy on top, and whether it's a military officer or a cleric, we'll finally be able to pull our combat troops back.
2. Beijing's bosses decide they've had enough of North Korea's Kim Jong Il and engineer a coup d'etat from within that kleptocratic regime. This is not a fantastic scenario but one China's communist leaders are actively exploring, with our quiet encouragement. If done right, there should be an East Asian NATO born on the far side, which would improve our global security posture immensely.
1. Robert Gates shows far more backbone that Donald Rumsfeld ever did as secretary of Defense and does the right thing for our Army and Marine Corps. Rummy never made the hard budgetary calls in this unfolding long war, refusing to shift resources from the "big war" Air Force and Navy to the "small wars" ground-pounders. We need fewer smart weapons and many more smart soldiers.
I know I'm asking for a lot of help from the world at large next year, but frankly, with our current set of leaders, America desperately needs it.