2016 started with a strong possibility the United States would elect its first female president, but by the end of the year an outsider with no political experience, an unorthodox campaign style had tapped into discontent with establishment politics and ascended to one of the most powerful positions in the world.
If 2015 was the “year of the protest,” 2016 could arguably be dubbed the “year of the response,” especially at the ballot box in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere.
"In some ways, perhaps 2017 will be the ‘year of the wall.’ A reaction, in the First World, against immigration, against the pressures of a growing population, and political tumult in the Third World,” Joshua Landis, the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma and the author of the blog Syria Comment, told KGOU’s World Views. “And we're seeing that in the United States. This entire shift words populism, towards the right wing, towards anti-immigration is going to lead to bigger walls not only physically, but also probably spiritually."
Rebecca Cruise, a security studies and comparative politics expert and the assistant dean of the College of International Studies at OU, says two other elections parallel the dissatisfaction the U.S. – the UK’s “Brexit” vote to leave the European Union, and the initially unsuccessful referendum to end Colombia’s civil war against FARC rebels. Cruise also pointed out the unanticipated consequences for women in power. Taiwan elected its first female prime minister, and Britain elected Theresa May head of government amidst Brexit fallout.
“At the same time we saw two female presidents impeached this year as well – in Brazil but also in South Korea,” Cruise said.
The activism of 2015 and this year’s response have driven some minority, underrepresented, and marginalized groups to coalesce around issues like the environment, women’s rights, and immigration. There’s a lot of fear, Cruise said, and that’s leading people to rally around issues important to them.
“That’s always the hard thing, is to continue to keep people mobilized and and continue to keep them working in a similar direction,” Cruise said. “In the two months following the election, we’re seeing some of this. We’re seeing people that are continuing to be engaged. Time has not worn on too long for some of these activists.”
2015 ended with the historic Paris Agreement on climate change, and Cruise says questions about the future of the environment under the Trump administration has led the scientific community to unify as well.
“We’re seeing scientists from around the world trying to protect, trying to store their information, trying to really push forward and get the information out there,” Cruise said “We’ll see if that has any effect, but there does seem to be this international unity that is coming from this to try to promote and protect the environment in light of what they see could be coming down the road.”
Syrian Stability, Iranian Influence
A year ago, Landis predicted Russia’s involvement in the Syrian civil war and the fight against ISIS would allow president Bashar al-Assad to reassert himself and become the dominant player in the conflict. That largely proved correct, with a successful three-month Syrian government offensive to recapture the northern city of Aleppo culminating this month, and a new ceasefire reached just this week between the government and opposition groups, brokered by Russia, Turkey, and Iran.
“Turkey has seen the writing on the wall,” Landis said. “Turkey has pivoted away from the rebellion toward Russia and Assad, and is accepting that the Assad regime is going to remain in power and the rebels days’ are numbered.”
On a larger scale, Landis also says a new security architecture is falling into place in the Middle East, with Iran coming out of isolation and containment and exerting its influence over Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq.
“We’ve got a northern tier in the Middle East where Iran and Russia are asserting themselves. The United States is consolidating its interests around the Gulf – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the southern part of the Middle East,” Landis said. “So we’ve got a new division in the region, and I think this is emblematic of the world at large, where the days of America being the hegemon - the world’s superpower, that period from 1990 when Russia collapsed to today – is really coming to a close. We’re seeing a more 19th century international system, which is defined by spheres of influence.”
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