ARUN RATH, HOST:
2013 was not just a messy, ugly year inside the Beltway. Tumultuous news from across the world kept our heads spinning for much of the past 12 months.
We turn to Jeffrey Goldberg, of The Atlantic and Bloomberg View, for some perspective, starting with the Middle East.
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: If you really want to be a glass-half-full kind of person, you could say that these are moving in the right direction. Iran seems problematic. The Iranian regime is obviously ready to negotiate in order to reduce the sanctions pressure it's under. On the other hand, the leadership hasn't shown any inclination to dismantle its nuclear program. I think next year, we're going to see that this is not going to be so easy to pull off.
On Syria, look - anytime you can get rid of chemical weapons, I suppose it's a victory. But the price paid by the Syrian people is pretty egregious. The agreement basically signals to the Syrian regime, we won't mess with you as long as you stop using chemical weapons. But you are free to kill your people using conventional weapons, bombs and guns. And indeed, that's what we've seen. In the period since this agreement came into effect, thousands of people have been killed and wounded without any sort of adequate response from the West.
RATH: And continuing down the half - glass-half-empty path, which I had to do, but...
GOLDBERG: It's easier.
RATH: ...it feels like, you know, Syria maybe reflects another broader story of the past year, which is the Arab Spring feeling like it's just slipping farther away.
GOLDBERG: Yeah. I mean, it's been slipping ever since it started. But, you know, across the Middle East, the Arab Spring right now is pretty much an unmitigated disaster. In the cockpit of the Arab Spring, if you will, Tunisia where it began, things are actually looking semi not bad. You have an Islamist government trying to work through some of the dilemmas of governance in a nonviolent way. There's a big al-Qaida problem in Tunisia. But Tunisia seems to be going in kind of a halfway right direction.
You know, the rest of them - Libya, Yemen, Egypt obviously is in a state of continual flux - short term, medium term, these countries don't have great prospects for success. Long term, these continual interruptions might be the price that has to be paid in order to come out with some form of representative democracy. In other words, these are - might be the necessary spasms of the birth of something better, but I'm afraid that we might be talking in a decade about upheaval in the Arab world of this sort.
RATH: Turning to the other side of the globe, another interesting story coming out of the past year has been as the United States has continued down that path, President Obama's pivot to Asia, it feels like the Chinese have been pushing back. And the prospect of some territorial disputes in the Pacific may be even getting hotter.
GOLDBERG: One of the ironies of this past year is that we're constantly focused on real wars in the Middle East, theoretical wars in the future in the Middle East. But you have a very volatile situation among Japan, South Korea, China for dominance of the seas over tiny uninhabited islands. These are, you know, ancient grievances. And, yes, there is this general question about the Obama administration, how much it pushes on behalf of its allies.
But, yeah, it seems as if China and also obviously Russia, both of these countries are testing a president who would much rather pay attention to domestic issues. Certainly doesn't want to stay in the Middle East in the way the previous presidents have wanted to. Does want to pivot to Asia, because at least in Asia, there are some bright news. There are some economic possibilities in Asia that don't exist in the Middle East. But again, he - I think President Obama is finding that China is not going to be a willing partner in this pivot.
RATH: Jeffrey Goldberg is a columnist for Bloomberg View and a correspondent for The Atlantic. Jeffrey, thank you and have a great New Year.
GOLDBERG: Thank you. You too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.