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The Three Worst Foreign Policy Predictions of 2014

Russia would never invade Ukraine? Get ready for $5 per gallon of gas? Iran will have a nuclear weapon?

Part of a series about the worst predictions of the year.

Russia won't invade Ukraine

Adam Peck

By late February, what had started as anti-government protests in Kiev escalated into violent clashes between demonstrators and police, and the country’s entire political structure began to crumble. Even still, most of the top international relations scholars in the United States remained confident that Russia would never be so brazen as to intervene militarily.

A survey commissioned by the Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP) Project at the College of William & Mary in February asked more than 2,000 international relations scholars whether they thought Russia would send troops into Ukraine. Of the 908 that responded to the question, less than 14 percent of them said they believed Russia would use military force. A majority, 57 percent, said Russia would not engage, and the remainder said they weren't sure.

The TRIP survey hadn’t even been published before the first reports of Russian personnel and weaponry began trickling in from Crimea. It would take Putin weeks more to acknowledge any Russian involvement at all, but by then he had already orchestrated a sham referrendum and annexed the peninsula.

Lawmakers in Washington were equally caught off guard by Russia’s aggression. Congress began searching about for answers as to why the region could explode so dramatically into chaos with hardly any warning.

“We have to better deploy our resources,” said Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee in an interview with Politico. “We have large resources, and it should not be possible for Russia to walk in and take over the Crimea and it’s a done deal by the time we know about it.”

Iran will have a nuclear bomb.

Adam Peck

In the summer of 2013, after inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran was advancing their nuclear program, a group of conservative war hawks and foreign policy shops sounded the alarm. On the House floor and in think tank press rooms, warnings were issued that inaction could lead to a nuclear-armed Iran by the summer of 2014.

The unfortunately acronymed Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) published one such report in July that predicted that Iran would achieve “critical capability” to produce dangerous amounts of weapons-grade uranium this year. That prediction hinged on Iran continuing to increase production of necessary centrifuges that are used to enrich uranium, and as diplomatic talks have continued, the number of centrifuges has not grown in over a year. 

Such dire, short-term predictions have been bandied about for years, perhaps most famously when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu took a red sharpie to a diagram of a bomb during a speech to the UN General Assembly in 2012.

Then, as now, Iran’s nuclear threat was vastly overstated. The election of moderate Hassan Rouhani as president in 2013 breathed new life into the nuclear talks that Iran had balked at only a year prior after the international community refused to lift stiff economic sanctions.

In November, the United States and Iran agreed to extend their diplomatic talks for seven months, in the hopes of reaching an agreement in which Iran would dismantle key pieces of its nuclear program and the United States would lift some of the sanctions that have wreaked havoc on Iran's economy. 

Gas prices will spike thanks to the Islamic State.

Adam Peck

When the Islamic State began invading cities in Iraq over the summer, experts stateside worried that because Iraq is the second-largest producer in OPEC, the price of crude oil would skyrocket.

Sure enough, as IS crept closer to the oil-rich fields in the south, prices began to rise at the pump. In June, the price of a barrel of oil hit a three-month high, and Time warned readers that it could get far worse.

“Even if Iraq doesn’t collapse, the unrest will take a long-term toll on the country’s ability to produce oil—and that toll will be felt by consumers in the future,” wrote Bryan Walsh.

On Fox Business, Keith Fitz-Gerald told host Stuart Varney that he expected U.S consumers would see prices in excess of $5 per gallon thanks to unrest in Iraq.

Instead, even as IS continues to torment the region, the price of oil collapsed in the second half of 2014 thanks to a strong dollar and higher production from OPEC countries, and drivers in some states are paying less than $2 per gallon for the first time in years. The average price for a gallon of gas on December 31 was $2.25 according to AAA, more than a dollar cheaper than on Independence Day weekend.