Belmont Club

How the Past Two Weeks Can Help Predict the Next Year

Events of the past weeks have made it clear that four things are probably going to happen. It’s possible to use this information to more accurately predict who the next president of the United States will be:

  1. Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee for the 2016 presidential election.
  2. President Obama has been pushed into a re-engagement in the Middle East and Af/Pak to counter Putin;
  3. There will be growing tension with China in the South China Sea; and
  4. Obamacare will become a political embarrassment and potential issue in the 2016 elections.

The Hill reports:

[D]emocratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has opened up a 41-point lead over rival Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in Iowa, according to a Monmouth University survey released Tuesday that differs wildly from other polls showing a tighter contest.

As Mark Halperin notes in Bloomberg, the party fence-sitters have decided that Hillary is the Strong Horse in a field where Bernie Sanders is the also-ran. A party that has been trying to decide which of its candidates was anointed now knows who the unions, MSM pundits, billionaire funders, and supporters have “sent,” and it ain’t Bernie Sanders:

[A] glittering debate performance, the decision of potential rival Joe Biden not to run (greatly simplifying her path to the nomination), the vanquishing of Republicans during her daylong Benghazi hearing, and a solid turn at the Iowa Democratic Party’s Jefferson-Jackson dinner Saturday night. All have improved Clinton’s odds of cruising into the White House 12 months hence, and have thrown into sharper relief some of the advantages she has had all along.

The second matter now settled is that the Obama administration will be pulled kicking and screaming into its wars, especially now that Putin has mounted a direct challenge to the president. Currently the president is engaged, by MSM count, in seven wars. Although the administration will deny it is involved in these conflicts because apart from Afghanistan it has committed no infantry on the ground, it is clear that in some way Obama has put American national security interests at stake in these places. What you want to call them is a matter of semantics.

They are, at any rate, too big to be finessed by parsing and talking points. As Niall Ferguson recently put it:

[S]ince 2010, total fatalities from armed conflict in the world have increased by a factor of close to four, according to data from the International Institute of Strategic Studies. Total fatalities due to terrorism have risen nearly sixfold.

Whole countries have been destroyed and more refugees are on the move than at any time in world history, including World War II. These conflicts represent unfinished business that is too pressing to entirely ignore.

President Obama, perhaps yielding to the pleas of his subordinates and the pressure of foreign leaders, has now reluctantly permitted direct action against the Islamic State, is giving more assistance to CIA-sponsored rebels, has partially reversed the drawdown in Afghanistan, and is allowing the U.S. military more operational flexibility in the way it handled its missions.

So there will be more combat news from all corners of the world, come what may.

To the third item: it is now virtually certain that a flashpoint with China is building over its island fortresses in the South China Sea. After months of watching the Chinese grab the littorals, the Obama administration finally sent a Burke class destroyer within 12 nautical miles of the Chinese positions to challenge, with predictable results:

The Chinese navy has warned that further forays by the U.S. naval vessel into the waters claimed by China in the South China Sea may  “trigger eventualities.”

Chinese navy spokesperson Liang Yang made the comment following a U.S. warship’s entering waters near the Nansha Islands on Tuesday. The Chinese navy monitored, tracked and issued warnings to the USS Lassen, according to Liang, who said China’s reaction is necessary, legitimate and professional.

“China’s sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and their adjacent waters is irrefutable,” he said. “The Chinese navy will resolutely perform duties and missions to unswervingly safeguard national sovereignty, maritime rights and interests, and peace and stability in the South China Sea.”

The spokesperson said the navy will closely monitor the situation in and above the sea for goings-on that may jeopardize China’s national security.

Perhaps the biggest sleeper issue is the collapse of Obamacare.

Obamacare is a domestic issue and may more directly affect the elections. It’s visibly collapsing. The administration has announced no new increases in enrollment are expected. The risk corridors have imploded, sending nine Obamacare co-ops into bankruptcy. Obamacare insurance premiums are rising dramatically, some of them by double-digit percentages. The young invincibles have abandoned it, preferring to pay the fines — which have themselves increased dramatically.

The president’s flagship welfare program is in an actual insurance death spiral.

These four landmarks will define the known landscape of the next 12 months. All the rest is hidden in the fog of the future. America will continue to be engaged in multiple wars across the world. A new area of conflict with China will rumble on, less insistent than the hot wars yet nevertheless there. Domestically, Obamacare will become an economic issue, perhaps a significant one.

Their cumulative effect on the election is an interesting one.

Russia, the Jihadis, and China, noting the rise of Hillary within the Democratic party, may now be adjusting their present actions to reflect their preferred outcome in the elections. All things considered, America’s foreign policy foes would prefer a president Hillary to any likely Republican president because her ascendancy would represent the third and possibly the fourth terms of “president Obama.”

A Clinton presidency will signal to China, Russia, and the Jihadis that the Happy Times for them are not yet over.  They’ll get eight more years to continue what they’ve done in the last eight. Given this prospect, they should rationally let up and avoid precipitating a foreign policy debacle that could sink a Clinton campaign.

Does this mean an inevitable president Hillary? On the debit side of the ledger, the growing collapse of Obamacare will work against her. But the deciding factor will be Murphy, who in times of unrest remains the uncrowned king of events. No matter how much Russia, China, or the Jihadis may want to give Hilary a pass, the sheer momentum of world troubles can create problems of their own accord.

If no significant crisis eventuates in the months between today and November 2016, the odds of a Clinton victory next November are probably dead-even. But if some unforeseen crisis arises, Hillary’s chances decrease dramatically. So the relevant question is: “What is the likelihood that some significant crisis occurs in the next 12 months which will adversely affect the administration’s credibility?”

There is no way to objectively predict this probability. Perhaps we can approximate the chances by proposing the following scale:

  • Nil
  • Not inconceivable
  • Likely
  • Highly likely
  • Certain

Open thread.

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