WORLD’s 2018 Books of the Year
The Trump presidency dominated all other news in 2017, relegating top international stories to back pages, while closing a combative year for the United States on the world stage with a combative December vote in the UN General Assembly.
Only seven nations sided with the United States in its decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and none of its major allies. Great Britain was among 128 nations voting in favor of a resolution condemning the U.S. decision, and Canada and Australia were among 35 nations abstaining. Symbolically, the tallies showed a world in which old orders seem no longer to apply. The challenge for the United States in 2018 is what sort of role it will play in the world’s hot spots, where it will find allies, and how far it can go it alone. Among those hot spots:
North Korea, where a war of threats and insults between Kim Jong Un and Trump escalated all year. “Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me ‘old,’ when I would NEVER call him ‘short and fat?’” Trump tweeted in November. But also increasing is the Kim regime’s ability to do real damage. A November test launch showcased an entirely new intercontinental missile capable of striking Washington. Kim struck conciliatory tones in his end-of-year speech, but U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster has warned the potential for war there is “increasing every day.”
China’s President Xi Jinping announced a “new era” at a National Party Congress in October dominated by Xi himself and characterized by a continued hard line on civil society and dissidents. His new era includes more centralized control and an increased crackdown on human rights, highlighted by the closure of leading underground churches in 2017, fines for Christian activity, and the August death of jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.
Many of the country’s beleaguered Christians returned to their churches to worship amid burnt and shattered walls for the first time in years.
With Russia, there is more to watch than the ongoing flap over how the Kremlin may have intervened in the U.S. 2016 election. The Trump White House named Russia a “revisionist” power seeking to upend global order in its December national security strategy paper. And for the first time since Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014, the United States announced new sanctions against Moscow, approving also the sale of weapons to resist incursions by Vladimir Putin in Ukraine and elsewhere.
In 2017 Russia regularly violated NATO airspace in the Baltics. In December it tested “deconfliction” zones it helped to establish in Syria in a scary encounter with American F-22s. Putin appears unstoppable, running for a fourth presidential term on March 18. Russia’s highest court sided with Putin in banning from the election his top challenger, Alexei Navalny.
For Europe, friction and turmoil in the European Union only escalated in 2017. In March British Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50, beginning formal separation from the EU, a process known as Brexit, to culminate in 2019. In October separatists in Catalonia declared independence from Spain, launching unrest and a financial crisis. Poland and Hungary found themselves under EU scrutiny for not toeing the accustomed liberal line, while Austrians charted a more conservative course as well—electing for the first time the People’s Party and its 31-year-old leader, Sebastian Kurz, as chancellor.
The year’s biggest turnaround, however, took place in Iraq, where coalition forces liberated it from three years’ control by ISIS, or Islamic State. The nine-month battle that formally ended in victory in July often was fought door to door and highlighted a new level of urban fighting—and devastation: Over 60,000 homes were destroyed and about 10,000 civilians died in Mosul alone.
A massive rebuilding effort awaits Iraq in 2018, but at Christmas many of the country’s beleaguered Christians returned to their churches, once desecrated by ISIS, to sing carols and hymns in Aramaic, the ancient language of Jesus, and to worship amid burnt and shattered walls for the first time in years.