Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The most positive thing that can be said about 2018 is that, despite ultra-brittle geopolitics and an elevated risk of miscalculation amid much taunting by President Trump, no big new wars broke out.

Quick take: In my overall geopolitical forecast last January, I said that flashpoints across the planet — in Iran, North Korea and Russia, to name a few — created extremely ripe conditions for an accidentally lit match to ignite a disaster. Among the main wild cards in 2018: "willful leaders needling each other."

The good news is that, despite Trump shoving, nudging, elbowing and attempting to kneecap Iran's Ali Khamenei and China's Xi Jinping, tensions grew fraught but avoided the breaking point.

How the forecasts work: For the six years I've made these forecasts, 2018 produced the most mixed results — 3 right, 1 dead wrong and 2 debatable. I base the forecasts on 15 common-sense rules of geopolitics (here are the first 14 plus the 15th), general principles for figuring out the direction of big events.

Where the forecasts were right:

Elon Musk will have a good year

  • The Tesla CEO himself called 2018 his worst year ever, one marked by repeated self-inflicted crises, including a tweeted fib that he had financing to take the company private (resulting in a criminal probe and a fine) and a videotaped moment of him puffing on a joint.
  • He often appeared twisted, deranged or possibly just exhausted. Yet by the close of 2018, Tesla's share price was back just 10% from its all-time peak. (By comparison, GM was about 25% off its one-year high.)

The Big Tech uprising will go populist

  • Big Tech suffered a relentlessly horrible year. In both the U.S. and Europe, Facebook became a particular object of scorn on privacy grounds. But the disdain washed over Google, Amazon and Twitter, too.
  • The drumbeat for regulation became ear-splitting, and still new revelations of privacy infractions kept coming. From popular darlings, the Big Tech companies took on a more cracked image as naive and reckless monopolies. Only Apple managed to avoid the tar-and-feathering.

The Republicans will lose the House

  • This one was the easiest: The party in power traditionally loses seats in midterm elections, and Trump's popularity weighed on Republican candidates. Still, the shellacking was notable.
Where I was wrong:

A show of muscle in North Korea

  • I left open the possibility that Trump could order a nuclear strike on North Korea. Instead, he went as far as any U.S. president to make peace. As the year ended, the U.S. and North Korea seemed no closer to a deal. Yet the two sides were no longer threatening each other either.
Where the results were mixed:

Khamenei will climb down — a tad

  • I forecast that, given the Iranian supreme leader's need to maintain public support, he would retain his aggressive foreign policy, but adopt a softer touch at home. He has more or less maintained his same approach — not openly violating the nuclear deal signed with the Obama administration, but still lashing out when it suits him.

The U.S. will opt to live with North Korea's nuclear status

  • I predicted that, as long as Trump could say he won, he might scream and shout, but ultimately would go along with Kim Jong-un's nuclear capability. Again, it's more like a middle ground: Trump has declared North Korea "no longer a nuclear threat," but also has continued diplomacy to figure out what the "denuclearization" that both sides have pledged really means.

Go deeper

Updated 50 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Politics: The swing states where the pandemic is raging — Pence no longer expected to attend Barrett confirmation vote after COVID exposure.
  2. Health: 13 states set single-day case records last week — U.S. reports over 80,000 new cases for second consecutive day.
  3. Business: Where stimulus is needed most.
  4. Education: The dangerous instability of school re-openings.
  5. World: Restrictions grow across Europe.
  6. Media: Fox News president and several hosts advised to quarantine.
Ben Geman, author of Generate
2 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Japan's big new climate goal

Climate protest in Tokyo in November 2019. Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images

Japan's new prime minister said on Monday the nation will seek to become carbon neutral by 2050, a move that will require huge changes in its fossil fuel-heavy energy mix in order to succeed.

Why it matters: Japan is the world's fifth-largest source of carbon emissions. The new goal announced by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is stronger than the country's previous target of becoming carbon neutral as early as possible in the latter half of the century.

3 hours ago - Podcasts

The art and business of political polling

The election is just eight days away, and it’s not just the candidates whose futures are on the line. Political pollsters, four years after wrongly predicting a Hillary Clinton presidency, are viewing it as their own judgment day.

Axios Re:Cap digs into the polls, and what pollsters have changed since 2016, with former FiveThirtyEight writer and current CNN politics analyst Harry Enten.