I came across a pre-Islamic Arabic poem describing a camel running across the desert.
Suddenly, the camel freezes in mid-stride. First, it looks back in fear at what it was running from and then it turns its glance forward – also in fear – towards its unknown destination.
This image comes to mind as 2018 draws to a close and I consider what might unfold in the new year. We began and ended 2018 with a US government shutdown, owing to Trump’s insistence that Congress agree to fund a wall on the Mexican border, despite opposition from Democrats and some leaders in his own party.
Trump baulked at a potential deal and upped the ante demanding, in addition to his wall, an end to the diversity lottery and family unification - making disparaging remarks about immigrants from the African continent in the process. He also dramatically reduced the number of refugees admitted to the US and imposed new hardships on those seeking asylum.
Added to this has been the Administration’s “family separation” policy, which produced the nightmarish result of thousands of little children being taken from their parents at the border and sent to far-away locations.
At year’s end, we once again have a government shutdown, no wall and no indication that the White House is willing to compromise.
In 2018, Trump also repeatedly upset international relations - alienating allies both East and West.
He frustrated Europe by walking away from the Iran nuclear deal; outraged Arabs by moving the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem; imposed stiff new tariffs on imported steel and aluminium; acted unilaterally in bizarre love fests with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and Russian President Vladimir Putin, causing unease with Nato and South Korea and Japan; and then surprised everyone by
announcing he was pulling all US forces out of Syria and drawing down US forces in Afghanistan.
There was also upheaval within the Administration. Trump lost or fired his Secretaries of State, Defence, Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs, and Interior, the Attorney General, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Security Adviser, the United Nations Ambassador, the White House Chief of Staff, Legal Counsel, Director of Communications and a dozen other senior White House officials.
Trump spent the year besieged by the growing threat to his presidency posed by the investigation being conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Five individuals who worked with the Trump campaign have been found guilty of crimes ranging from conspiracy to making false statements under oath. Trump’s personal attorney pleaded guilty to financial crimes in which he implicated Trump – and the investigation is still underway.
Like the camel in the poem, we can only feel apprehension as we run head-long into 2019. The New Year will bring forward the results of Mueller’s investigation into Trump campaign collusion with the Russians in 2016 and whether Trump attempted to obstruct justice by impeding the investigation.
What else can happen?
Will Turkey take advantage of the US departure to attack Kurdish forces in Syria?
Will Israel attack Lebanon?
Will Iranian-backed militias in recently “liberated” areas of Iraq provoke a resurgence of Daesh2.0?
Will the Taliban see the US draw-down as an opportunity to launch a spring offensive?
Will Netanyahu win again, will he be indicted and will Palestinians react to the unbearable pressure they face at the hands of the Israeli occupation?
Will the “deal of the century” ever see the light of day?
And will Congress continue to apply pressure Saudi Arabia? What impact will that have on the devastating war in Yemen?
Then there’s China’s expansionist moves, Iran’s regional meddling, Russia’s continuing aggression in Ukraine – and what about Brexit?
This list of challenges is by no means complete, but it’s enough to know we are hurtling toward an uncertain future with good reason to be apprehensive.
Just like the camel, I’m nervous and already exhausted.