In September 1996, the Taliban captured the Afghan capital of Kabul. In a strike of unexpected speed, thousands of fighters streamed into the ancient, mountain-ringed city aboard Toyota Hilux pickups. One group of them knocked at the gate of a well-known United Nations compound housing Mohammed Najibullah, the much-hated former Afghan president. The men killed Najibullah, fulfilling a promise the Taliban had made years ago, and dragged his body through the streets. Then they hung it from a traffic pole outside the presidential palace.
Americans may have only just avoided a Najibullah moment last week when a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol: At least one rioter threatened to kill House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Two men carried zip-tie handcuffs, and the FBI is currently investigating whether there were plans to take members of Congress hostage. One video shows a group of rioters chanting, “Hang Mike Pence.” No one knows whether the rioters would have actually carried out the threats if they came face to face with the vice president or any members of Congress. But the severity of the attack, in which rioters murdered a police officer by striking him with a fire extinguisher, battered others with bats, furniture, and other objects, and threw yet another down a flight of stairs, suggests that Pence and Pelosi may have indeed been in danger.
The nightmarish conclusion to the 2020 election — resembling some of modern history’s most harrowing attacks on power — was the #1 prediction in my annual list of geopolitical forecasts last January. No one, including me, foresaw precisely this endnote to the long campaign. But profound distrust in both political parties all but guaranteed a tense election aftermath, with accusations of vote-rigging and a desperate attempt by Trump, a self-styled savior, to hang on to power by almost any means. Sure enough, we saw just that.
This was the eighth year of these forecasts, and the first in which I was six for six. As a basis of the predictions, I follow 15 common-sense rules of geopolitics, general principles for divining the direction of big events. (Here are the first 14 plus…