Guessing about the future is perhaps the world's most popular indoor game.
Last fall, when Vladimir Putin sent his forces into Syria to bolster the regime of President Bashar al Assad, the speculation over Russian intentions was intense and largely wrong. This column predicted then that the intervention was not permanent and that by early spring, Putin would begin a withdrawal. In fairness, that prediction was only off by a week. Spring had not yet sprung.
What happens next? Here are three provocative and possibly very wrong predictions on the coming months that should engage some response. The first is about Putin and Russian actions in the Middle East and Ukraine.
From No. 10 in London to 1600 Pennsylvania, when Putin intervened last year in Syria, the reactions were hyperbolic and suspicious. Of course, Putin's annexation of Crimea still loomed large. And while references to the short Georgian war in 2008 -- and by the way, the Russians goaded Georgia into provoking hostilities by taking the bait and falling into the obvious trap set by Moscow -- and attempts at intimidating its immediate neighbors were clear, that Russia and the West could have common interests was ignored.
But Russia has always had common interests with the West despite being obscured by other areas of conflict. Stalin was an ally in destroying Nazi Germany. During the Cold War, both sides of the Iron Curtain sought not to obliterate the other in thermonuclear war. And in Syria, East and West have shared interests in ending the violence and neutralizing the Islamic State and other jihadist terrorist groups.
Hence, prediction one is that Secretary of State John Kerry will set in place direct U.S.-Russian negotiations to resolve the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria and develop a common strategy to defeat and dismantle IS. The negotiations may include the U.N. Permanent 5 plus the EU and NATO and other parties that have conferenced in Geneva and Minsk. And the outcome of these negotiations, while possibly not as successful as the nuclear agreement with Iran, will partially relieve the violence and suffering.
The second and third predictions focus on U.S. domestic politics. Whether Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination, or a contested convention selects another candidate, the GOP will be torn asunder, splitting into three distinct factions each battling for the heart of the party. Several factors make this outcome likely.
First, no titular head or leader of the party exists who can exert a firm hand either to rebuke Trump or to codify Republican support behind the brash New Yorker. Second, if Trump does win the nomination, many Republican conservatives and moderates will reject that choice and seek either to change the party or as happened in 1912 with Teddy Roosevelt's "Bull Moosers," create a new Republican Party. Third, if Trump is denied the nomination, the chances he will run as a third party candidate are quite large.
No matter what happens, the Republican Party faces a Rubicon that is so deep that it cannot be forded without losing a large number of its members. Should the Republicans lose the Senate in November, the fissures caused by the Trump candidacy will grow even wider.
The Democrats may not be much better off. Hillary Clinton is the virtual nominee. Hanging over her head is the email scandal and the unsavory aspects of the Clinton Foundation and many potential conflicts of interest, real or imagined. This is the nightmare prediction.
Al Capone was finally convicted on the lesser charge of tax evasion as his villainous crimes could not be proven. The Clinton Foundation is potentially riddled with potential misdemeanors, none of which is likely to lead to legal action but are very unsavory. That in turn will cause greater focus on the emails.
The September or October surprise is this. After finding grounds to indict, the FBI's recommendations will be disapproved by the Justice Department and White House. Furious, the FBI will go public with its case. That bombshell may or may not lead to charges. It certainly will make the election far spicier and could indeed elect Trump, if nominated, as president. The latter however is NOT and I repeat not a prediction.
For readers who do not believe the FBI is capable of such disloyalty, think for a minute who the infamous "Deep Throat" was -- that is Bob Woodward's and Carl Bernstein's inside source for Watergate that forced President Richard Nixon to resign in disgrace. He was Mark Felt, the No. 2 at the FBI!
History may not repeat. But in rhyming, sometimes it is impossible to tell the differences.
Harlan Ullman is UPI's Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist. He is senior adviser at the Atlantic Council and at Business Executives for National Security and chairs two private companies. His latest book is "A Handful of Bullets: How the Murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand Still Menaces the Peace."