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Game changers for 2014

By HARLAN ULLMAN, UPI Outside View Commentator   |   Jan. 1, 2014 at 12:04 AM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Jan. 1 (UPI) -- New Year's Day marks the time for making predictions and resolutions. Game-changing events are among the former. So, here are three game changers that you might not have considered.

2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his pregnant wife Sophie in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, and, of course, the war that followed. Simply put, a handful of bullets fired from a Beretta 9mm handgun and one archduke were sufficient ingredients to spark a world war. The first game changer is a striking extension of that assassination.

Today, many potential archdukes and archduke surrogates are lurking from the Western Mediterranean to the Middle East, Persian Gulf and the South China Sea and not merely in the form of royalty or individuals. These are crises points and ticking time bombs.

Concurrently, a surfeit of both "bullets" and surrogate "gunmen" to ignite a crisis exists. The irony is that not a single bullet needs to be fired at a specific archduke to trigger an explosion. That a poor, desperate Tunisian fruit vendor sets himself afire and provokes the "Arab awakening" is the first instance of this game changer.

Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India are among a few of the more obvious potential flash points that might be set off by an equivalent of the Tunisian fruit vendor, a modern day Gavrilo Princip, the 19-year-old Serbian radical who shot and killed the archduke. The conundrum for government is predicting what are virtually unpredictable events.

A second game changer is U.S. recognition of Cuba. Long overdue, recognition would end a period of senseless isolation. The likelihood that the Castro communist regime could survive for long in its current form is low because of the economic and financial benefits that would accrue.

The reason why recognition has been withheld can be precisely calculated by the number 29: Florida's electoral votes that neither Republicans nor Democrats will risk offending or losing in 2016.

Yet, opening Cuba would bring strategic and economic advantages and no doubt enhance U.S. leadership and credibility since only the United States has persisted in failing to recognize Cuba. The Obama administration, while risking a tidal wave of Republican opposition, has the opportunity for a game-changing event. Whether this White House will take the risk is the key question.

A third game changer is the 2014 congressional elections but not for what passes as conventional wisdom. The game changing effects will occur only if one party wins control of both houses.

Should the Republicans win the Senate and the House of Representatives, the government will be in complete gridlock as President Barack Obama will veto all unfavorable legislation and the sizable Democratic minority will prevent Congress from overriding that veto. Should Republicans pass legislation ending Obamacare, Obama will simply veto the bill.

The White House will have no alternative and indeed will prefer to govern through executive order and decree. In many ways, the White House could have the opportunity to accomplish more of its agenda through gridlock. And Democrats will lament and blast Republican control of Congress for political failure as a prelude for the presidential elections of 2016.

If Democrats win both houses, then the White House will have clear sailing without the need for executive order.

The greater likelihood is that Congress will remain divided as it is today with Democrats keeping a small majority in the Senate. Ironically, this could be the worst political case for the White House and the country.

The White House could use its executive authority to govern without the need of Democratic help in the Senate. The White House used this political tactic during the 113th Congress with Republicans controlling the House.

Anxious to preserve the perquisites of the Senate and the tradition of checks and balances, congressional Democrats might not be so supportive of giving the White House unfettered or greater power if they still controlled one chamber. Hence and unsurprisingly, divided government may prove to be the most limiting of outcomes in terms of what the White House could or couldn't do.

Wild cards and black swan events obviously are game changers. What happens with Iran and the tentative agreement to end its nuclear weapons ambitions remains the most obvious potential game changer as does the success or failure of the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the elimination of Syrian chemical weapons.

Likewise, the outcome of TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Transpacific Partnership Pact is in a similar category.

Still, the advent of many archdukes and many bullets, Cuban recognition and the 114th Congress could be among the more interesting game changers of 2014.

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(Harlan Ullman is chairman of the Killowen Group, which advises leaders of government and business, and senior adviser at Washington's Atlantic Council. His next book "Too Many Archdukes, Too Many Bullets" will be published this summer.)

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

© 2014 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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