"Events are in the saddle and ride mankind."
In describing 2011, few cliches seem more appropriate. For in this past year, we Americans seemed to lose control of our destiny, as events seemed to be in the saddle.
While President Barack Obama maneuvered skillfully to retain a fighting chance to be re-elected, the economy showed no signs of returning to the robustness of the Reagan or Clinton years. And Obama is all out of options.
By January 2013, he will have added $6 trillion to a national debt that just earned America a downgrade on its AAA credit rating.
The nation hearkened to the tea party in 2010, giving the GOP 63 new seats in the House. But Republicans, too, have little to show for it, if their goal was reducing the deficit.
During 2011, the European Union was gripped by a crisis caused by a collapse in confidence that eurozone nations like Greece and Italy will be able to service their debts and a fear that they will default and bring down the European banks holding trillions of that debt.
Europe could plunge into a depression like the one in the 1930s, which would leap the Atlantic and cause a recession here that would spell the end of Obama's presidency.
Should the Greeks or Italians, chafing at the austerity imposed upon them and seeing no way out for years, choose to run the risk of bolting from the eurozone, the consequences could be catastrophic.
And, again, there is little Obama could do about it. Events in Europe could decide his destiny. The same is true in that most volatile region that engaged so much of America's attention in 2011.
With the withdrawal of all U.S. combat soldiers from Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has begun to attack his Sunni rivals, accusing his own vice president of instigating acts of terrorism.
A return to Sunni-Shiite sectarian war is a real possibility.
Should this occur, Obama would be savaged by Republicans for not negotiating to keep a U.S. force in Iraq. No Americans would be clamoring to send the troops back, but we would live with the consequences and they would poison our politics.
With the uprisings against the Arab autocrats, 2011 began as a year of hope. The Arab world, we were told, would be like Eastern Europe in 1989, with peoples marching to recapture God-given rights from despots who had misruled them for decades.
But the Arab Spring gave way to the Arab Winter. The Facebook-Twitter crowd enthralled the media, but when the lid of tyranny was lifted, older and deeper forces buried in the psyche of the nation rose to reveal their latent strength.
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