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Week in Review

Another Christmas has come and gone, and as we always do this time of year, we are revising, updating and running our 13-part “Yule Blog” in daily installments between Christmas Eve and January 6. Catch up on the first six installments here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6.

But events continue to unfold around the world despite the relaxed holiday schedule, and we have continued to follow the important stories as they developed. This week, the most important story has been the devastation in Aleppo, which provides the clearest picture yet of how Wilsonian idealism has made a bad situation worse in the Middle East:

Wilsonians didn’t start screwing up in the Middle East last spring; they’ve had more than a century of policy failure there. America’s long engagement with and support of the Armenians ended in mass killings that we did nothing about. 160 years of American efforts to bolster the situation of Christians throughout the Middle East materially contributed to the destruction of these communities. American calls on Iraqi Shiites to rise against Saddam Hussein after the first Gulf War ended in the massacres and betrayals for which today we are still paying a price. The democracy Americans paid such a price to establish in Iraq has been a mixed blessing at best for the people of that still-violent land. The intervention in Libya has probably led to a greater loss of life, and certainly done more to undermine the stability of both Libya and its neighbors, than if we had stayed out.

American motives in all these cases were mixed, but were basically good. Yet the consequence, as with our periodic backing for the aspirations of the Kurds, followed by periodic pirouettes away, have often been catastrophic for those we sought to help.

In Syria today the effect of our intervention in Libya, our fine sounding words about our noble humanitarian goals, and our subsequent dithering and slow diplomatic slog has been to exacerbate a situation that we hoped to relieve. American policy has once again helped push a situation in a direction that we would have preferred to avoid.

China dominated the news in Asia this week as observers attempt to get a clear picture of the incoming Xi government. This week, all they heard were mixed signals, as Beijing promised to increase accountability and tamp down corruption while simultaneously strengthening the great firewall. On foreign policy, Beijing has begun a pivot of its own, towards the Middle East, even as its neighbors slowly begin to encircle it in a growing network of alliances. Elsewhere in the region, India and Russia inked a multi-billion dollar arms deal, the Taliban spoke up for human rights, the Anglosphere countries prepared for a gas war in Asia, and Gazprom turned away from Europe and began looking for power in the East.

The Middle East was relatively quiet this week. Aside from the devastation in Aleppo, the chief story from the region has been the Saudi reaction to the American energy revolution, which is poised to reduce the geopolitical importance of Saudi oil. Elsewhere in the region, the US still lacks a sorely-needed comprehensive review of our Libya policy, despite repeated congressional discussions of the Benghazi attacks.

On the home front, we’re seeing interesting signs of change in education, with reports that many teens are putting off expensive college courses to take high-paying brown jobs even while medical schools shift towards shorter, cheaper training courses. Elsewhere, Hurricane Sandy delivered a blow to Christmas spending, states experimented with defined-contribution pension plans, and medical records turn out to be even more vulnerable to hackers than was thought.

We hope that everyone had an enjoyable holiday season with special Christmas wishes for those who celebrate the day, and we wish all our readers a happy New Year.

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