Iraq will continue to top the list of American foreign-policy concerns in 2008.  While tactical successes in Baghdad and the Anbar Province were achieved in 2007 through the U.S. forces’ marriage of convenience with various Sunni Arab tribal leaders and former Saddam loyalists who detest Al Qaeda even more than they dislike the Americans, translating tactical gains into a strategic endgame is beyond the ability of the Bush administration.  It cannot engineer a stable and durable political accord among Iraq’s three major ethno-religious groups.  The best we can hope is that, in his final year, President Bush does not aggravate the Iraqi quagmire by launching a war against Iran.

Unfortunately, there are no major domestic obstacles to some form of military action against Iran’s nuclear program and against the extensive Revolutionary Guard network.  Many congressional Democrats—including Hillary Clinton—sound hawkish on this issue, which resonates with a small but influential segment of the electorate.

The obstacles are mainly external, and a powerful Euro-Asian bloc is now preempting threats to the existing balance.  A land war is no longer a viable option for 2008 following Vladimir Putin’s series of meetings with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the Caspian Summit in Iran last fall.  The declaration signed at the end of the summit obliges the Caspian littoral states not to allow any other state to use their territory for military operations against a fellow littoral state.  By excluding Azerbaijan from the Pentagon’s quest for staging bases, the summit has thrown a wrench into any plans the administration may have had for an overland march on Tehran.

Additional restraints on Mr. Bush’s plans include the political crisis in Pakistan and the continuing tension along the border between Turkey and Iraq’s Kurdistan.  Both affect America’s Muslim “allies” in the region, whose present allegiances and long-term reliability are uncertain.

Ankara’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan may welcome an escalation, because many Turks are itching to teach the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) a long-overdue lesson.  A search-and-destroy incursion into northern Iraq would offer an opportunity to unite the country behind his Islamist government and to bring the army under its control by asserting the power of the government-dominated parliament to authorize any military action.

In the new year, Washington should exert pressure on the Kurdish leadership in Iraq to bring the PKK and its offshoots under lasting control.  Kurdish regional leader Masoud Barzani and his nephew Nechivan, the entity’s prime minister, should be made to deploy the Peshmerga to drive the PKK out of its mountain strongholds.  The Barzanis’ demand for a multinational force to accomplish that task is silly: The Kurds should be told that, unless they show that they can maintain effective control over their putative statelet, their demand for full autonomy will not be taken seriously.  Whatever form the eventual U.S. disengagement from Iraq takes, it must not be jeopardized by a new and unnecessary complication in the north.

The danger to American interests is far greater in Pakistan, a country with nuclear weapons and somewhere between 165 and 200 million mostly poor people, including millions of thoroughly indoctrinated jihadists.  Gen. Pervez Musharraf has never been a solution to Pakistan’s many problems: His only good trick is to keep convincing Washington that any alternative to his continuing control would be too horrible to contemplate.  He justified his imposition of a state of emergency last November by comparing himself to Abraham Lincoln (for which he had some justification) and to Napoleon Bonaparte (which is usually a sign of madness).

Musharraf’s claim that his move was motivated by the need to counter the threat of Islamic extremism is preposterous.  All along, his power base has been Pakistan’s bloated military, which has been imbued with the spirit of militant Islam since Gen. Zia ul-Haq’s grim tenure.  Its intelligence service, the ISI, continues to maintain links with the Taliban and other Islamic “freedom fighters” against the Soviets, all of whom have long since matured into full-blown terrorists.  Nominally the fourth-most-powerful military force in Asia, Pakistan’s army is patently unable and probably unwilling to fight the Taliban-allied rebels in the tribal areas along the Afghan border.  The fact that the army controls some 60 nuclear devices and a variety of delivery vehicles is the most dangerous single element in the regional equation.  Making plans to impound or destroy Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal if Musharraf is killed should figure high on the list of American priorities in 2008, certainly higher than acting precipitously to prevent Iran from acquiring such weapons.

Next door in India, America has an opportunity to nurture a mutually beneficial relationship with a major emerging power.  Most Indians (unlike their neighbors in Pakistan) do not have a negative image of America.  They are our natural allies in the struggle against global jihad and in providing a regional counterweight to China’s burgeoning economic power.  The Bush administration needs to resist the temptation to enlist India as a fourth pillar—together with Japan and Australia—in the putative “Quadrilateral of Democracies” that would act as a geopolitical counterweight to the Shanghai group.  This is a typical think-tank construct devoid of real-life political logic.  The Indians’ long experience makes them wary of Washington’s fickle designs.  India’s northern border is well defined by geography, and it has been peaceful for almost half a century.  Her competition with China will be economic, rather than military, and it will proceed independently of Washington’s plans or desires.

China will not present any immediate problem to the United States in 2008, because the Chinese are planning for the long term.  For the next decade at least, they will continue to focus on maintaining their current high rate of economic growth and huge trade surpluses.  Both are contingent upon Beijing’s good relations with Washington, and that translates into avoiding tension over Taiwan and taking a back seat at the U.N. Security Council.  At the same time, China will continue to pursue long-term defensive strategies based on the Shanghai Cooperation Organization structure, including an independent energy strategy.  Beijing is supportive of Iran’s “counterpipeline,” which will compete with the increasingly vulnerable Cayhan-Baku route, and China is joining forces with Russia in securing energy routes for Central Asian gas and oil.

The best Mr. Bush can do in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is to stop trying.  Eight years ago, Bill Clinton tried very hard to put together a deal in the final months of his second term—and failed.  A new initiative to resolve the old problem should come under a new administration.  It will probably fail like all others, but a four-year horizon may give the incoming team a slightly better chance.

The news from across the Red Sea will continue to be grim as always, but, after the fiasco of Mogadishu, America knows that there is little we can do about Darfur, Congo, and the other killing fields of Africa.  Except for Nigerian oil, the continent is well nigh irrelevant to the American interest.  Nonpetroleum imports from Africa account for less than one percent of all U.S. imports.  Africa’s resources are theoretically considerable but often impossible to develop under the prevailing social, political, and legal conditions.  Some “humanitarian intervention” enthusiasts may claim that U.S. military action in Sudan would be justified by the sheer scale of death and suffering, but there is little America can or should do beyond expressing regret and sending relief supplies.

In 2008, a resurgent Russia will continue to act decisively to block American faits accomplis in other theaters.  Poland’s new government is already wavering on the controversial placement of U.S. missile-defense installations on her territory, and Prague is certain to follow Warsaw’s lead.  The color revolutions are being steadily reversed: Today, the Ukraine is less “Orange” than she was immediately following the Western-sponsored regime change three years ago, partly because of a large influx of Russian investments that contrast sharply with undelivered Western promises.  In Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili is using baton charges by his riot police to disperse tens of thousands of demonstrators who, he claims, enjoy Moscow’s backing.  Russia will continue to block Kosovo’s illegal independence at the Security Council.

While it is too much to expect the Bush administration to repair the damage it has inflicted through its transparent geopolitical games on our relations with Russia, Mr. Bush still has an opportunity to rethink at least one contentious issue on which he is simply wrong: his support for the Albanian separatists in Kosovo.  Regardless of the intrinsic rights and wrongs of the case, such policy does not serve the American interest.  The theory that part of a state’s sovereign territory should be awarded to a violent ethnic minority would put into question the future of the entire American Southwest.  Circumventing the Security Council to avoid Moscow’s veto devalues the power of the veto as such, and it is a tool far more frequently used by the United States than by other permanent members.

An overt goal of U.S. policy on Kosovo is to curry favor with the Islamic world.  This notion betrays an incredible naiveté about the jihadist mind-set, which has never been impressed with concessions.  One need only look at American efforts to bring “democracy” to Iraq or Afghanistan, or to provide aid to Osama bin Laden against the Soviet Union, to see the value of jihadist gratitude.

This brings us to the most important issue: the misnamed “War on Terror.”  Its outcome remains in doubt because the enemy is neither defined nor understood.  Neither Mr. Bush nor any one of his likely successors is able to offer an honest answer to the mother of all questions: Are Muslim terrorists true to the tenets of their faith?  That they are indeed a minority of the world’s billion-plus Muslims is not the issue; do they belong to the doctrinal and moral mainstream of their creed?  The blinkers of self-delusion and political correctness that prevent a meaningful debate about the nature of the threat are no more likely to be discarded this year than last, short of another September 11.

The quality of the debate on foreign affairs in the presidential primary campaign has been abysmally poor.  The Democrats are attacking Mr. Bush’s record, above all in Iraq, but they are not challenging his image of America as a beacon to the world, because they share that vision.

Millenarianism may be cured by reality.  A year from now, George W. Bush’s successor will inherit an undiminished terrorist threat, a weakened currency burdened with enormous deficits, an overcommitted military fighting two wars with no end in sight, and a country that is less trusted and less liked around the world than at any time since Vietnam.  As realists, let us hope that 2008 proves no worse than 2007, and no better than 2009.