This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.
You can’t turn on the TV news or pick up a paper these days without stumbling across the latest political poll and the pros explaining how to parse it, or some set of commentators, pundits and reporters placing their bets on the midterm elections. The media, of course, loves a political horse race, and as those 2010 midterms grow ever closer, you can easily feel like you’re not catching the news but visiting an Off-Track Betting parlor.
Fortified by rounds of new polls and all those talking heads calibrating and recalibrating prospective winners and losers, seats "leaning Democratic" and "leaning Republican," the election season has essentially become an endless handicapping session. This is how American politics is now framed—as a months- or years-long serial election for which November 2 is a kind of hangover. Then, only weeks after the results are in, the next set of polls will be out and election 2012, the Big Show, will be on the agenda with all the regular handicappers starting to gather at all the usual places.
Doesn’t it strike you as odd, though, that this mania for handicapping remains so parochially electoral? After all, it could be applied to so many things, including the state of the world at large as seen from Washington. So consider this my one-man tip sheet on what you could think of as the global midterms, focused on prospective winners and losers, as well as those "on the cusp," including crucial countries and key personalities.
Osama bin Laden: Who woulda thunk it? More than nine years after 9/11, Osama bin Laden and his number-two compadre, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are believed to be alive, well and living comfortably in the Pakistani borderlands with not a cave in sight, according to the best guesstimate of a "NATO official who has day-to-day responsibility for the war in Afghanistan." With the globe’s "sole superpower" eternally on his trail—admittedly, the Bush administration took a few years off from the "hunt" to crash and burn in Iraq—he’s a prospective global winner just for staying alive. But before we close the books on him, he gets extra points for a singular accomplishment: with modest funds and a few thousand ragtag masked recruits, swinging on monkey bars and clambering over obstacles in "camps" in Afghanistan, he managed to lure the United States into two financially disastrous, inconclusive wars, one in its eighth year, the other in its tenth. To give credit where it’s due, he had help from the Bush administration with its dominatrix-like global fantasies. Still, it’s not often that someone can make his dreams your nightmares on such a scale.
The Taliban: Here’s another crew heading toward the winner’s circle after yet another typically fraud-wracked Afghan parliamentary election conferring even less legitimacy on President Hamid Karzai’s toothless government in Kabul. Think of the Taliban as the miracle story of the global backlands, the phoenix of extreme Islamic fundamentalist movements. After all, in November 2001, when the Taliban were swept out of Kabul, the movement couldn’t have been more thoroughly discredited. Afghans were generally sick of their harsh rule and abusive ways and, if reports can be believed, relieved, even overjoyed, to be rid of them (whatever Afghans thought about their country being invaded). But when night fell in perhaps 2005–06, they were back, retooled and remarkably effective.