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Looking at the New Year ahead

NEW YORK -- It's time once again to look at the crystal ball, or snow globe, and attempt to peer ahead at the global political and economic horizon as we enter the New Year.

The political landscape offers both promise and peril but so many of the outcomes of each and every situation will fall to the judgments of leadership.

Herein lies much of the problem.

Let's review some key concerns:

Afghanistan

The Obama administration has publicly signaled an end to U.S. combat operations. Whether Hamid Karzai's Afghan government is up to the heavy lifting and rigorous reform needed to fight off Taliban insurgents remains doubtful beyond the medium term. Moreover Pakistan's double-game in supporting Afghan cross-border militants will keep the pot boiling. Sadly after so much American blood spilled, this will not end well.

Africa

In the Sub-Saharan state of Mali, an Islamic takeover in May allowed an al-Qaida regime to take hold, trashing legendary Timbuktu. France, the former colonial power and still power broker did shamefully little to reverse it. Six months later the U.N. Security Council has authorized an African peacekeeping force to presumably retake the north from the fundamentalists.

East Asia

The region holds much promise after some significant elections. Taiwan re-elected Nationalist party (KMT) President Ma Ying-jeou, in Japan the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) returned to power with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and South Korea elected its first female president, Park Geun-hye. In each country, more nationalist and conservative choices were chosen.

In the People's Republic of China, the ruling Communist party selected its new leader Xi Jinping, who must steer the regime between simmering territorial disputes with Japan and a domestic economic downturn. As a political ploy, Beijing may continue to stir territorial tensions with Japan over the disputed Daoyutai/Senkaku islands and far more ominously reassert its spurious claims to the South China Sea, a threat to maritime states.

Japan's Abe, after a landslide LDP parliamentary win, has called for strengthening ties with the U.S. and promoting long-overdue economic revitalization.

North Korea's dictatorship of chosen heir Kim Jong Un faces a widening food crisis as the regime chooses neutrons and missiles over nutrition and meals for its population, a large minority of which depends on U.N. humanitarian aid. But don't expect the new South Korean government to play patsy to Pyongyang's perpetual crisis and offer a humanitarian lifeline to its cousins in the North unless Kim's communists show some overdue quid pro quo.

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