Put your powers of prediction to the test

January 01, 2003|By William Safire

WASHINGTON - At year's end, nothing is as predictable as predictions. The annual office pool, inaugurated in this space three decades ago, has now become a kind of Powerlessball lottery in which the odds of winning are nil. It's multilateral choice, with "All" or "None" permitted.

1. Among world leaders, in 2003 (a) Ramallah's Yasser Arafat returns to exile; (b) Israel's re-elected Ariel Sharon attracts a fractious unity government; (c) Britain's Tony Blair comes a-cropper over a euro referendum; (d) Germany's Gerhardt Schroeder finds himself isolated and in grosse Schwierigkeiten.

2. Winner of the Oscar for Best Picture will be (a) Steven Spielberg's Catch Me if You Can; (b) Rob Marshall's Chicago; (c) Spike Jonze's Adaptation; (d) Todd Haynes' Far From Heaven; (e) Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love.

3. To cope with North Korea, the United States will (a) organize a U.N. blockade and if necessary finish with preventive strike; (b) convince Beijing that its tolerance of proliferation would tempt Taiwan to build its own nuclear "equalizer"; (c) adopt a policy of "tailored appeasement."

4. War on Saddam Hussein starts (a) on schedule, between Lincoln's Birthday and Valentine's Day; (b) next fall, with the belated revelation of a smoking virus by a scientific defector; (c) never, as Mr. Hussein's non-suicidal coterie forces him to take up a Saudi offer of asylum.

5. Mr. Hussein's army will (a) collapse quickly, as in the first gulf war; (b) coordinate a counterattack with al-Qaida to spread germs through U.S. mailboxes; (c) fight fiercely until they see the Turkish army coming; (d) negotiate to disarm and allow Mr. Hussein to continue as head of a "changed regime."

6. Fallout from an overthrow of Mr. Hussein will be (a) the emergence of a democratic alternative to Mr. Arafat in the West Bank; (b) uprising in Syria and Bashar Assad's withdrawal from Lebanon; (c) wave of reform shaking the theocracy in Iran; (d) decline in Wahhabi-induced terror as nervous Saudi royals turn westward for protection.

7. Osama bin Laden will (a) be sold out by a trusted supporter for the huge reward; (b) remain at large and take credit on Al-Jazeera for any terror attacks anywhere; (c) be captured and, under interrogation, burn his sleeper network.

8. When Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist resigns this summer, President Bush will (a) promote Antonin Scalia to chief and nominate a not-too-conservative Latino; (b) promote Sandra Day O'Connor and add a very conservative Latino; (c) promote nobody and nominate as chief a normally conservative Latino.

9. The economy will (a) take off as victory, optimism and investor tax cuts are in the air; (b) double dip as global flinching and fear of deficits hold sway; (c) follow the stock market up slowly rather than the other way around.

10. The front-runner for the Democratic nomination as snows begin to fall in New Hampshire, though not with the biggest war chest entering the primaries, will be (a) John Edwards; (b) Dick Gephardt; (c) John Kerry; (d) Joe Lieberman; (e) Bob Graham; (f) Howard Dean; (g) Tom Daschle.

11. Democrats' bumper stickers will demand (a) Bring Back Bubba's Bubble!; (b) All That Snooping but No Osama; (c) Where's My Tax Cut?; (d) Free Drugs for Fogies.

12. Republican bumpers will feature the tried-and-true slogan (a) War and Prosperity; (b) Re-elect the Commander in Chief; (c) Affirmative Compassion; (d) Fifty-four Forty or Fight.

13. If the overthrow of Saddam turns out to be all phony war and the economy unexpectedly tanks, Dick Cheney will offer to step aside and bolster Mr. Bush's 2004 ticket with (a) Colin Powell; (b) Majority Doctor Frist; (c) Don Rumsfeld; (d) Condi Rice.

My picks: 1 (all), 2 (b), 3 (b), 4 (a), 5 (c), 6 (all), 7 (a), 8 (a), 9 (c), 10 (none), 11 (all), 12 (b), 13 (c).

William Safire is a columnist for The New York Times.

The Sun's Washington columnist, Jules Witcover, and syndicated columnist Cal Thomas are on vacation.

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