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The week that was: turning the page on 2018 but what next for 2019? | View

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In a change to our usual format, we are bringing you a bumper edition of our weekly round-up, instead looking back over the last two weeks of debate here on View. Bridging the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019, we cast a glance over the past year while looking at what’s in store for the year ahead.

The New Year period is always a time of reflection. As we turn the page on an old year and look forward to the new, change can be an exciting prospect after a tumultuous year. 2018 was certainly a year the world is looking forwarding to seeing the back of, particularly in Europe and the United States.

For Donald Trump, it was another rocky year of snap policy decisions, staff resignations and battles with other legislators from both the Democratic and Republican parties. He ended the year with perhaps one of his most unexpected executive decisions – the immediate withdrawal of all US troops unilaterally from Syria.

Does this represent the end of an American presence in the Middle East? French senator Nathalie Goulet seems to think so. While traditionally helping to maintain a very delicate power balance, this sudden shift in American foreign policy would be disastrous for the region, the senator writes, bringing chaos and further violence - or at the very least, an escalation of proxy wars already being fought by the region’s biggest rival powers in neighbouring countries.

Of course, the real risk from this strategic move would be to further escalate the disintegrating situation in Syria to the detriment of people still trapped inside the country. As contributor Gayle Tzemach Lemmon writes, most Syrians are willing to rebuild their war-ravaged country but it cannot be done if the world – and in particular the United States, the standard bearer for democracy and freedom – turns its back on them.

An American president – or indeed the leader of any major world power – would not be expected to make such sweeping policy changes without the guidance of close advisors and experts. But, as Donald Trump’s administration was rocked by the resignation of his Secretary of Defence, General James Mattis, it is arguably becoming apparent that there are fewer “adults in the room” when it comes to presidential decisions. As Jeff McCausland argues in his op-ed, Mattis’ resignation is perhaps the most consequential for the Trump administration – and for the security of the United States as a whole.

So, what lies ahead for the world in 2019? Much depends on the actions of the man in the White House who has, during his 2-year tenure in the office of the president, has proven to be unpredictable and volatile. With a change of governing party in the US congress, this year looks set to be an explosive one. In his piece for View, political commentator Kurt Bardella sets out what he thinks could unfold in the coming months. Of course, allies in Europe are also on the edge of their seat when it comes to American foreign policy. What can diplomatic partners expect from Trump in the year ahead? David A. Andelman delves deeper into an increasingly strained and complicated relationship.

Admittedly, the New Year has not begun as hopeful as it might have done for some in the US as the government remains in shutdown because of disagreements over Trump’s demands for funding for a border wall along the frontier with Mexico. Due to the shutdown, Trump stayed at the White House over Christmas where he tweeted that he was lonely. He is perhaps not the only one. In an ever-changing and impersonal world, finding meaningful connections with other people can be difficult. Recent studies show people are making fewer friendships and becoming increasingly isolated. Contributor Jillian Richardson offers some perspective on how to reverse this trend.

Closer to home, the dawning of 2019 not only represents the advent of a new year, but also the ushering in of a new era in European politics. In just three months, the UK will exit the European Union but the road ahead is becoming increasingly shrouded in uncertainty. Commentators still believe Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement will fail to get the backing of British legislators, which spells potential disaster for Northern Ireland. Brexiteers have no truck with the backstop negotiated by May with the EU, seeing it as means of making the region an EU outpost. In an op-ed for View, however, the leader of Northern Ireland’s Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), Colum Eastwood, stresses the importance of the backstop for peace and prosperity in a country once rocked by sectarian violence.

During the Brexit referendum campaign, immigration featured heavily in the debate, something that has continued to be a focus during the UK’s negotiations with the EU. Immigration legal expert Gary McIndoe argues in his article about the UK’s proposed new post-Brexit immigration system that the present government are obsessed with closing the door to migrants it is most in need of. “Our Prime Minister is willing to gamble the economy on the basis of an inward-looking, nostalgic view of a Britain that never truly existed,” he writes.

Concerns about immigration are not solely the preserve of the British. It is a preoccupation of many people in the EU 27. Since the migration crisis in 2015, the fate of thousands making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean from Africa continues to hang in the balance. As a means of stemming the flow of migrants to the EU, some member states are making it increasingly difficult for NGOs to operate search and rescue missions. But organisations like SOS MEDITERRANEE are hardening their stance and resisting these moves, arguing that criminisalising sea rescues will not stop them saving lives.

Other articles of note from the last two weeks that you should read are Noah Berlatsky’s take on how the new Aquaman film has misplaced its moral compass when it comes to discussing solutions to the environmental challenges facing our planet. Political scientist Giorgos Koulouris also explores the reasons why Europe’s young are falling under the spell of populism, while the EU’s Iranian ambassador warns that the nuclear deal negotiated by the world powers is on the verge of collapse.

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