U.S. Fiscal Cliff and Syria: Why 2012 Could End Up as the Year of Scorched Earth

It doesn’t look like 2012 will end with any sort of negotiation or compromise in either Syria, according to Time, or the United States, reports the Associated Press. The two high-drama events have held the news cycle captive for most of the year, with the stakes rising as 2013 approaches. In Syria the threat of chemical weapons looms large as authoritarian president Bashar Al-Assad grows desperate, losing allies and watching the rebels grow increasingly more powerful. In the U.S. the threat of the dreaded fiscal cliff and a possible double-dip recession grow daily as the White House and congressional Republicans refuse to compromise on a new federal budget. Could 2012 go down in history books as the year of scorched earth?

Most observers believe that Al-Assad’s regime can no longer win the Syrian civil war and may be contemplating a scorched earth strategy, destroying the nation’s infrastructure to deny the rebels a victory. Destroying infrastructure, particularly as a cold winter settles over the nation, could embitter the populace against rebels who are unable to provide food, shelter, security, or utilities. For the moment, Al-Assad still has cash and can keep the lights and heat on for supporters, a feat the various rebel groups are unable to match. Observers are worried that Al-Assad is willing to turn Syria into a failed state simply to deprive the rebels of victory.

And Al-Assad may win by doing so, earning allies both overt and covert. Many hard-line regimes may help Al-Assad fight on, secretly if need be, simply to quash the dreams of dissidents at home. If Syria’s rebels fail to win, many local dissidents may give up on plans to confront their respective governments. Potential protesters in Iran, for example, may hold their tongues after seeing that Syria’s president was willing to drive his nation into the ground rather than let the dissidents, protesters, and rebels win. Authoritarian leaders worldwide win by forcing their citizens to watch Syria’s rebels lose. Al-Assad may end up a strongman in a failed state, but a wealthy one buoyed by the secret support of his dictatorial peers.

In the United States the scorched earth strategy being pursued by congressional Republicans, and perhaps also by some Democrats, may be part of a long-term strategy. Let the nation suffer a second recession simply to stack the deck for elections in 2014 and 2016, embittering the public against one of the political parties. Republicans hope voters will blame Democratic president Barack Obama and his administration for allowing the nation to topple over the fiscal cliff, earning the GOP the White House and both houses of Congress in 2016. Democrats hope voters will blame congressional Republicans for refusing to compromise, allowing Democrats to gain control of the House of Representatives in 2014.

With partisan emotions amplified by the re-emerged debate over gun ownership and gun restrictions, each political party may believe heightened emotion to be in its best interest. Both parties may intentionally refuse to negotiate honestly between now and January 1 to invigorate their respective bases for the next election cycle. Allow a failure to occur, blame the other side, and get everyone unified through a sense of anger and outrage. Get your voters hopping mad and let them trend toward 100 percent participation at the ballot box, eager to drive the opposing party out of power.

When all is said and done, will history books be kind to 2012?

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