Commentary: ’Tis the season to be snarky

Predictions are dicey. Ask any weatherman. But all of us can agree on at least one prediction for 2018: Whatever goes wrong this year, roughly half of all Americans will tell you, “It’s all Trump’s fault.”

OK, that’s done. Now on to some serious forecasting. Here are five foreign policy stories that will dominate the year’s news.

5. All North Korea all the time. You think Donald Trump likes the spotlight? Compared to Kim Jong Un, he’s a wallflower. Rocket Man can’t stand it when other countries ignore him. Only, instead of tweeting for attention, he launches an ICBM or triggers a nuclear bomb.

Kim’s bad behavior will continue in 2018, keeping nerves on edge from Seoul to Tokyo to Washington. But, in practical terms, the perpetual, Kim-induced crisis isn’t likely to escalate. That’s because, over time, the Great Leader’s ability to threaten the United States and our allies will increasingly be eclipsed by our capacity to defend against this odious regime.

Of course, Kim will still make headlines whenever he wants to — with bomb and missile tests or some other provocative action. Some things never change.

4. Putin his nose where it doesn’t belong. 2018 is election year in Russia and Putin will once again win big. His fellow kleptocrats in the Kremlin will make sure of that. Indeed, they’ve already started. On Christmas Day, Russia’s Central Election Commission formally barred opposition leader Alexie Navalny from running for president. Navalny has now called for an election boycott. Expect Russian officials to report record turnout … and a 90 percent victory margin for Putin.

The big foreign policy question about the election is: To what extent will he be inclined to manufacture a little crisis in neighboring lands to boost the electorate’s notion that, in these trying times, he’s indispensable? Sure, he’s already “done” Georgia, and he still has things roiling in Ukraine. But Putin is always looking for an opportunity to exploit. He’s most likely to mess around more in the Balkans — a move that will cause U.S.-Russian relations to plummet.

3. Whether I’m right or whether I’m Erdogan. Over the last few years, the leader of Turkey has become one of the most unpredictable leaders in the world. That’s because he seems to have no clear policy goal other than consolidating power at home. Abroad, he practices trampoline diplomacy, bouncing all over the place. We would worry less if he wasn’t (1) a key leader in one of the most unstable parts of the world and (2) the head of a NATO member nation. Erratic and unreliable behavior is unwelcome on both scores.

2. Iran into a big problem. Talk about dancing with the stars not aligned. Washington’s tango with Tehran won’t be pretty. The Trump administration has branded the country an adversarial, disruptive power and all but declared the Iran deal a failure. The administration is right on both counts. But so far, the basic strategy for dealing with the problems seems to butting heads.

At the same time, there is a war to be won fighting ISIS and al-Qaeda. Don’t expect to get though the year without this trilogy of bad actors — Iran, ISIS and al-Qaeda — making headlines you really don’t want to see.

1. Breaking some China. Of course, the relationship between Beijing and Washington is going to get way worse. You don’t need a fortune cookie to predict that. And, it won’t be just about economic competition. The United States and China will be chest-bumping over diplomacy, regional security and global politics as well.

In the end, China will disappoint in its promise to help with North Korea. And Beijing won’t back off its efforts to secure control of the South China Sea. Meanwhile, the United States and China will likely spar about different points along Xi Jinping’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative.

Blame Trump if you want to, but the world of 2018 was going to be messier place regardless of who sits in the Oval Office. That’s what happens when you leave the playground unsupervised — as President Barack Obama did for eight years.

At least, now America seems to have awakened to the fact that doing less is as dangerous as trying to do too much. It is hoped in 2018 Washington can strike the right balance: demonstrating enough toughness to force the bad guys to back off, without creating more problems for our military and diplomatic forces to solve.

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