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Last Updated: Monday, 31 December 2007, 00:59 GMT
Simpson gazes into 2008
By John Simpson
World affairs editor, BBC News

Hillary Clinton
'Hillary Clinton will become US President'
I'm usually in grumbling, defensive mode at this time of year, complaining that it's pointless forecasting the coming 12 months, that the unpredictable will always happen, etc, etc.

But since my 2007 predictions weren't as inaccurate as they might have been, I'm less bad-tempered this year.

Even so, I got a couple of things badly wrong.

I didn't expect that the US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, for all his sharp intelligence, would make the so-called surge of American troops in Iraq look quite so successful.

True, it has only brought the level of killings and explosions down to that of two or three years ago, and it's likely to make the eventual civil war in Iraq fiercer than ever.

But it's a success, even so.

Suppose someone of Gen Petraeus's abilities had been in charge earlier?

Yet it scarcely matters now, except for Gen Petraeus's possible political future.

Ugly election

American public opinion has dismissed the Iraq war as a failure, and has moved on.

Throughout 2008 America will continue to leak prestige and strength.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
'A US or Israeli attack on Iran now seems much less likely'

Yet the great advantage of the American system (as well as one of its weaknesses) is that every four or eight years it is entirely regenerated.

So who will be elected to succeed US President George W Bush in November?

A single word, a single revelation could trip up any of the front-runners, but I assume Hillary Clinton will just make it.

It'll be an ugly, unedifying election, though.

America's divisions will be fiercer than ever.

One small forecast: Hispanic voters in states like New Mexico, Colorado and Florida will help to swing the entire election.

The Iran question

Will Mr Bush attack Iran in 2008, in an effort to prevent it from creating a nuclear capability?

Two months ago, opinion in Washington was that he almost certainly would.

But since the National Intelligence Estimate at the start of December showed that Iran had secretly stopped work on nuclear weapons development, opinion in Washington has been that he won't.

So will Israel do the job for him?

Maybe; though any attack is unlikely to be successful, there will be anger and violence everywhere, and it will have serious implications for Israel's own future.

Dmitry Medvedev (left) and Vladimir Putin
'Mr Putin will remain in control as prime minister'

Somehow I doubt if Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will try it.

"Don't think I'm the politician I once was," he told me earnestly a year ago. "I've changed."

His negotiations with the Palestinian leadership over the last year have demonstrated that.

And Iran itself?

We often forget that it is one of the few countries in the region which can genuinely change its government through the ballot box.

If President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had to fight an election in this coming year, instead of in 2009, he would probably lose.

If, though, Iran is attacked, he will win handsomely.

We can forget all-out regime change in Iran; the Bush government has neither the stomach nor the capability for that now.

Olympic victor

In predicting 2007 I said that President Nicolas Sarkozy (well, at least I got that right) couldn't lift France out of its malaise.

Instead, he's made an impressive start.

And in 2008 we will see a new French foreign policy - the creation of a Mediterranean "union".

Russia, for Vladimir Putin's own purposes, will adopt the Western European political model.

After the coming election, President Dmitry Medvedev will be a figurehead, while Mr Putin, as prime minister, will stay in charge.

Jacob Zuma
'But Jacob Zuma probably will not be South Africa's president'

He has succeeded magnificently in blinding his own electorate to the fact that Russia is weaker and more isolated than ever - though certainly richer.

The drearily aggressive nationalisms of the Balkans will be on display again when the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo declare independence.

Russia will meddle, Serbia will threaten, Europe will dither - but I can't see it becoming a re-run of Sarajevo in July 1914, as some people are suggesting.

The US ambassador in Zimbabwe forecast economic meltdown there by the end of this year. It hasn't happened.

Things are still dreadful, but President Robert Mugabe will introduce a new economic package which will just keep his government going.

He will lurch chaotically and brutally along, while President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa continues to pretend that doing nothing is the best policy.

Mr Mbeki himself will have less and less authority, though I suspect that the man who beat him for the leadership of the ANC, Jacob Zuma, won't make it to the presidency.

Cyril Ramaphosa, who framed the country's excellent constitution, might still have a chance.

A final flier: China will snatch overall victory at the Olympic Games, defeating America.

There will be much breast-beating.

In reality, though, the true victors will be the European Union, but you'll have to add up Europe's medals yourself to spot that. No one else will bother to do it for you.

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