Wednesday, December 31, 2008

grading my 2008 predictions

at the beginning of 2008, i posted 24 predictions about the new year. how did i do? let's take them one by one:

1. there will be no upset in the democratic presidential primaries. the nominee will be one of the three current front-runners: clinton, obama or edwards.

i was right! though i think by last new year's day it was pretty obvious that none of the other candidates had a serious chance of winning anymore.

2. i have no idea which of the three democratic candidates will get the nomination, any of them could do it. but since i'm going out on a limb here, i'll guess edwards.

wrong! that will teach me for going out on a limb. but i learned my lesson. no more limbs in 2009!

it is funny to think that i actually thought edwards had a chance at some point. it's hard to imagine that in retrospect.

3. on the republican side, the race will remain up in the air for a long time, or at least longer than the democrats (what i mean is that the dem nominee will be decided before the repub nominee), but there will not be a floor fight.

wrong! it's funny but this really did seem like a solid prediction at the time. the republicans were the ones who seemed really divided, not democrats. i think the primary brought out some divisions on the democratic side that i didn't see a year ago. also, i didn't account for the fact that republicans' winner-take-all delegate system would tend to bring the process to a close quickly and more definitively than the democrats' proportionate system.

at least i didn't predict a floor fight.

4. the republican nominee will be romney or mccain.

right! i think this prediction was more uncertain than prediction #1 at the time i made it. as reflected in my prediction #3, the republican context seemed to be the one that would have the most action.

5. bloomberg will not make an independent run for president.

right, though i never understood why anyone took the rumors of a bloomberg run seriously.

6. neither will ron paul.

right! i think this was more of a guess than it now seems. i was confident that paul would not get the republican nomination. he had run for president as a libertarian before, so he wasn't a loyal party guy. i just didn't think he would do it, and he didn't.

7. the democratic candidate will win the presidency.

right! again, i was fairly confident about this. it seemed pretty clear that bush had spoiled the american public on his party for a while. there was always a chance that the democrats could screw it up, but they'd have to out-screw-up george bush to do it. perhaps the democrats have finally met their screw-up match.

8. the democrats will also gain seats in both the house and senate, but they won't get a filibuster-proof majority in the senate.

right, though i can't say that i foresaw that georgia would come that close to being a senate pickup.

9. at the end of 2008, the u.s. will have more than 120k troops in iraq.

right! three weeks ago (the most recent numbers i could find), there were approximately 146,000 u.s. military personnel in iraq. there hasn't been a major reduction since then, certainly nothing on the scale of 26,000 people.

10. there will be no major legislative accomplishments in 2008--no immigration reform, no major tax code changes, no nothing.

right! when making these predictions i tried to phrase them in a way to be objectively determinable. but with this one, there is a potential argument over what is a "major" legislative accomplishment. the bailout bill was a big deal, but it wasn't what i normally mean by "major legislation". by that i meant, a big new program, or the reform or elimination of an existing big program. i don't think the TARP bill or any of the other emergency bailouts is really what i was talking about. so i'm counting this one as a success.

11. each time a new war authorization bill comes up, the democratic leadership in congress will talk about how "this time" they will insist on a timetable for withdrawal. and each time they will ultimately cave in and give the president a bill without a timetable.

half right! there turned out to be less of a controversy over reauthorization bills than there was in 2007. to the extent that i was predicting repeated posturing and grandstanding by the democrats, i was wrong. but i was right that they would always ultimately sign off on the things. i'm giving myself half credit.

12. the supreme court will rule against the bush administration in boumediene v. bush and al odah v. united states (the two gitmo detainees cases).

right! the cases were heard together by the court. and yes, the court ruled against (pdf) the bush administration in decision that adjudicated both cases.

13. musharraf will not be in charge of pakistan by december 31, 2008.

right! mushy's time ran out in 2008.

14. osama bin laden and ayman zawahiri will still be "at large" on december 31, 2008.

right! neither are captured or confirmed dead.

15. the total number of american deaths in afghanistan in 2008 will exceed the number of deaths in 2007, but the total number of american deaths in iraq in 2008 will be lower than the total number of american deaths in 2007.

right! number of u.s. forces killed in afghanistan in 2007: 232.
number killed in 2008 (at least the number reported as of this morning, it could go up by a few more in the coming days): 293

number of u.s. forces killed in iraq in 2007: 904.
number killed in 2008 (same proviso as above): 312

16. the iraqi government will still be essentially paralyzed and unable to make any progress towards resolving the regional autonomy or oil revenue sharing issues.

right! while you can argue over whether the disfunctional iraqi government constitutes "paralyzation", there's no question that they didn't resolve the regional autonomy or oil revenue sharing issues in 2008.

that being said, they did surprise me by passing the SOFA. but the surprise there was not really about the iraqi government, it was more because i never thought the bush administration would give in on setting a withdrawal timetable, subjecting u.s. troops and contractors to iraqi law, putting u.s. military operations in iraq under effective control of iraqi commanders, etc. i just didn't think bush would cave so completely just to get an agreement. luckily, i didn't make a prediction about that, so i still get to count #16 as "right."

17. the awakening councils will not be successfully incorporated into the iraq police and/or military. there will be at least once clash between an awakening council militia and the central iraqi government.

right, most of the awakening councils have not been incorporated. and although it wasn't really covered in the english language press, there was a firefight between the militias and the iraqi government's forces last february. the al-hayat article mentioning it is here (google translation)

one thing i didn't predict is how coverage of iraq by american news sources would get so much worse. it already was bad a year ago, but now it seems that even more news bureaus have stopped sending reporters there. without reporters, we're left with the press reprinting pentagon press releases, which seriously warps the coverage of iraq. and there's surprisingly minimal coverage of political developments in iraq. when the SOFA stuff was going on, i had to dig around every day just to get an update from the u.s. media, even though the main issue of the negotiation was over the fate of americans in iraq.

18. the u.s. will not attack iran in 2008.

right! before this year, i won three bets over whether the u.s. would attack iran by a certain date. each time i bet "no". this year, it was perhaps a little more likely, just because the bush administration might see it as its last chance to slap the mullahs. but i still thought the odds were against it. there just isn't much of an appetite to start a brand new foreign policy debacle anymore.

19. fidel castro will no longer be the official leader of cuba by the end of 2008 (he will either officially retire, or die (or both) before the year's end).

right! i might have tried predicting this a couple of different years. luckily, i only put it in writing the year that it actually happened.

20. the u.s. dollar will end 2008 even lower against the euro than it is now.

right WRONG! it was $1.4588 for one euro on january 1, 2008. today, it is $1.4091 for one euro.

this could change in the hours between now and midnight, and the numbers are close enough to flip the result if something dramatic happens today. i'll update the post if that happens.

BUT SEE BELOW UPDATE. i've edited this answer from right to wrong. the market didn't change enough to flip the answer, i just stupidly got it backwards when i originally this post. oops.

21. lebanon will be the only arab country that gets a new leader (by that i mean chief executive--king, president, prime minister, emir, whatever the title) in 2008.

half-right! lebanon did get a new president. but mauritania had a coup. i think that's the only other arab league country that got a new leader in 2008. let me know if i missed any others.

is it lame to give myself half-credit for this one? arguably, it should just be wrong.

22. there will be no breakthroughs on the israeli-palestinian situation. things will essentially remain as they currently are, with hamas in control of gaza (and gaza blockaded by the israelis in response) and fatah nominally in control of the non-israeli controlled areas of the west bank. no progress will be made towards resolving the overall I/P issue, though there will be a lot of talk about it.

the safest prediction of the bunch is right.

23. vladmir putin will still be effectively in charge of russia at the end of 2008.

i think this is right. is there anyone out there who thinks medvedev is actually running the country?

24. on a personal level, we'll still be waiting for this to happen by the end of 2008.

right! it's still true, even if i didn't predict that we would also be doing this.

overall, that's 21 20 right (20 19 right + 2 half-right) and 3 4 wrong (2 3 wrong + 2 halfs)--an 87.5% 83.333% success rate!

it would have been a lot more impressive if made predictions about completely new stories, rather than predicting the outcome of things that already were in the news at the end of 2007. then again, predicting a completely new story would be little more than a blind guess. blind guesses are less interesting that testing my ability to draw out conclusions from existing things in the news, at least i think so.

i'm working on the predictions for 2009.

UPDATE: MatthewB points out in the comments i actually got #20 wrong. sorry for the confusion (which apparently was my own). i've edited the entry for #20 and the totals and percentage at the end.