There are two schools of thought about the tradition that highly trained professional pundits practice this week, every year, by unveiling their New Year’s predictions.
Some say these predictions are not worth the paper they are written on. But I say they are. Punditry predictions are worth the price of one slim piece of newsprint — if not in its pristine form, then certainly after the accrued accumulation after the newsprint is recycled as lining in birdcages.
It was more than a few years ago that this pundit got out of the prediction business — not because of an inability to produce anything resembling accuracy, but because it had become increasingly impossible to accurately predict anything optimistic or uplifting. It had gotten to the point that the predictions were sounding even darker than the news.
It was not always that depressing. There was a time when some positive predictions produced the added virtue of becoming true. More than two decades ago, the late Ed Turner, then CNN’s executive vice president, began a cable news magazine article by citing something from CNN’s December 1988 year-end show, back when I was just starting to pedal my news-cycle punditry without training wheels. “Marty Schram, alone, became a historical footnote on CNN’s air,” he wrote, and quoted my prediction: “First of all, the Berlin Wall will come down in 1989. Write it down. It’ll happen.”
That began an era in which I mixed prognostication with recreation by surfing waves of optimism. In a December 1990 column, I predicted: “The Fall of One Nobel Laureate: Mikhail Gorbachev, no longer able to keep together his economically crumbling and nationalistically clamoring union, will resign. A KGB/military hard-liner will rule …Moscow’s new, repressive communist regime will collapse in just a few months. The Soviet Union will break into a confederation of nation-states, sharing a military but little else. The world will worry about who controls the nuclear weapons.”
Well, since you know that also came to pass, I’d better fess up by noting it was my second prediction in that column. Number One? The fall of Fidel Castro, as the first byproduct of “the decline and fall of global communism.” Somehow, in the fog of news, I apparently thought that was either more important or more likely than the collapse of Gorbachev and Soviet communism. Go figure. (Statistically, my successful prediction batting average was about equal to that of a Chicago Cubs benchwarmer.)
By the time George W. Bush was inaugurated as America’s 43rd president, it had become apparent nothing uplifting could be predicted with confidence. Rather than start a new year off by gushing gloom and doom, I gave requisite prognostication a rest.
Nobody wants to be The Grinch Who Stole New Year’s. But the slim possibility that some good may be accomplished by telling an unpleasant truth means that 2007 may be a year to get back into the New Year’s prediction business.
Unconscionable blunders of willful arrogance and willful ignorance on the part of President Bush, Vice President Cheney and ex-Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld produced a failed policy in Iraq that is more perilous than any of the failed policies of any of the presidencies in our nation’s history. These policies have left more than 130,000 brave U.S. troops mired in Iraq, with no sure way to accomplish their mission nor extricate themselves without leaving behind a failed state that is even worse.
Months ago, it seemed to me that we needed to rush more troops to Iraq to help safeguard U.S. soldiers and marines who are now caught in the uncivil war that is being waged between the Sunni insurgents and the Shia militias and their complicit police thugs.
But Bush rejected more troops when it made sense. Now the Joint Chiefs of Staff have warned a 15,000-30,000 troop surge for a few months will do more harm than good. Their reasoning is compelling: More troops may mean more targets for insurgents and militia and may spark a new recruiting boost for al Qaeda’s terrorist ranks in the region and beyond.
Prediction: Bush, now a desperate Undecider, will compel a military fig-leaf acquiescence and order more troops for a few-months surge. Sadly, it will only prove his Joint Chiefs of Staff were right. Only by starting to withdraw troops can the United States jolt Iraq’s government so its Shia-installed leaders will demand the disbanding of Shia militia — and that is the only way Iraq can have even a chance of controlling its own destiny.
(Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail him at martin.schram(at)gmail.com.)