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Opinion: Columnists

'Black swans' to watch out for in 2014

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James Jay Carafano,Columnists,Afghanistan,Iran,North Korea,China,Analysis,al Qaeda,Middle East

Americans will die on American soil in large numbers. So predicted the Hart-Rudman Commission seven months before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

No commissioner felt good about it getting it right. But the purpose of identifying "black swan" events before they happen is to give our leaders a chance to prevent them.

Here are some black swans that threaten to nest next year:

The unending Iranian nuclear threat: The P5+1 deal exchanging sanctions relief for building "trust and confidence" with the Iranian regime will accomplish nothing. The mullahs are not that interested in a civil nuclear program. They want the capability to build a bomb and put it in a missile so they can threaten other countries.

When the P5+1 deal expires next year, the sanctions regime will be broken and the U.S. won't be able to put it back together. Meanwhile, Iran will claim the right to "enrich" nuclear material. The U.S. will have two options: be denounced by enemies and frenemies for refusing to engage in more feckless negotiations, or play along with Tehran, yammering our way through even more rounds of negotiations that merely give Iran more prep time to become the new kid on the nuclear block.

The Taliban are back: Many in the White House crave the "zero option," a scenario in which the Afghan government refuses to allow NATO forces to stay in-country. It happened in Iraq, they note, so why not in Afghanistan? (What they do not note is the serious security threat now rising in Iraq.)

But even if Afghan President Hamid Karzai and President Obama reach an agreement, the stay-behind force will be barely big enough to protect itself from a major offensive. That could leave NATO forces one "Alamo" away from pulling out. You can be sure that putting together the next "Black Hawk Down" -- the bloodbath in Mogadishu that prompted President Clinton to pull U.S. forces out of Somalia -- is high on the Taliban's list of military objectives.

China will be China: China has pressed territorial claims on virtually every frontier, most recently triggering a dust-up by asserting the right to control airspace over territories claimed by Japan and South Korea. These shenanigans will continue. Every incident is a test of how far Beijing can press its claims --and a lesson on how to push harder and farther next time.

North Korea won't be ignored: The regime subsists on making itself a threat to the international community. When Pyongyang feels it’s not getting the attention it deserves, it “corrects” the situation by doing something dangerous and irrational.

The crisis in (insert Middle Eastern country here): “If America could just wean itself off Arabian oil, Washington could turn its back on this troubled region.” That was the argument. It hasn't worked out. Though we're moving toward energy independence, vital U.S. interests still can be compromised by any of a number of Middle East powder kegs. Unfortunately, Washington continues to lose influence in the region due to our completely reactive and ineffective foreign policy.

Al Qaeda ain't dead: The terrorist group's activities are on the rise. Combined with resurgent Islamist political activism, the West faces a bitter witch's brew. Europe is already bracing for the time when Islamist fighters, recruited for battle in Syria and elsewhere, return to their adoptive homes in the West. The U.S. homeland is no more immune to this threat than it is to that of homegrown terrorists like the Tsarnaevs.

There is no shortage of black swans on the horizon. Here's hoping that in 2014, our leaders find the wisdom to embrace policies that make the world a safer place for all.

James Jay Carafano, a Washington Examiner columnist, is vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Heritage Foundation.

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James Jay Carafano

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The Washington Examiner