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Richard Engel Offers 10 Predictions for 2016

NBC's Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel gives you the rundown on what may be in store for 2016.
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ISTANBUL — It's been a rough year.

ISIS erupted across the world, making even al Qaeda look tame. Syria got so bad that millions decided to leave and walk to Europe. Libya collapsed. The war in Afghanistan got longer. Terrorists rampaged in Paris, twice.

There were bright moments too, but they were harder to pick out amid the darkness. The United States and Cuba agreed to let bygones be. The European Union held together despite deadbeat Greece, which as S.J. Perelman wrote, invented democracy but never got paid for it. In Paris, much of the world agreed to get greener and cleaner, but will they stick to it?

So what’s next?

Here are a few guesses about what may be in store for international news in 2016. It’s not all bad, but much of it is, particularly in the Middle East, which seems unable to pull itself out of its swamp of religious and ethnic divisions.

1. Rise of the far right in Europe

In 2015 the migrants and refugees flooded into Europe and are still traveling there. It was a shock. Germany opened its doors. But Europe’s doors are closing. In 2016 this profound change will to settle in. There may be anger and resistance to the demographic changes and more xenophobia, which of course helps ISIS; and it may not be just happening in Europe.

Image: PEGIDA supporters in Dresden, Germany, on Oct. 12
Supporters of "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West" (PEGIDA) gather at a protest in Dresden, Germany, on Oct. 12.ROBERT MICHAEL / AFP - Getty Images

2. More consensus against ISIS

Russia, the U.S., Iran, Europe, and pretty much every one on the planet everyone agrees ISIS is a universal threat, yet there is no united approach to fight the group although coordination is clearly needed. The year ahead may be when nations realize they can actually degrade and defeat ISIS if they work together.

Image: Propaganda photo of ISIS militant
An ISIS militant holds the group's flag as he stands on a captured Syrian tank in an image posted on Facebook on August 5.Militant website via AP

3. More domestic terrorism

I hope it doesn’t happen, but the husband and wife team of Muslim fanatics in San Bernardino proved how easy it was to get high-powered guns in the United States and attract a lot of attention for a cause. It’s hard to stop this kind of violence. Copycats might try again, especially in an election year.

Image: San Bernardino shootout scene
Authorities investigate the scene of a police shootout with Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik on Dec. 3 in San Bernardino, California.Jae C. Hong / AP

4. More U.S. involvement in Iraq and Syria

U.S. involvement in Iraq and Syria has been steadily ramping up. U.S. policy shifted from advisers in Iraq, to airstrikes in Syria to American special forces in Syria. It seems the U.S. is an event away from a big increase.

Image: U.S. Army paratroopers squad level training
U.S. Army paratroopers maneuver through a hallway as part of squad level training at Camp Taji, Iraq on Aug. 3, 2015.Spc. Paris Maxey / U.S. Department of Defense

5. Chaos in Middle East keeps rumbling

The region isn’t out of it its mire of yet. Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, Turks, Arabs, Persians still see more differences than commonalities. Next year may be the culmination of this mess before new leaders emerge offering other ways forward.

Image: Air raid kills seven, destroys historic houses in Sanaa
Yemenis search for survivors under the rubble of old buildings allegedly destroyed by an airstrike carried out by the Saudi-led coalition in Sanaa on June 12.YAHYA ARHAB / EPA, FILE

6. Big changes could be coming to Iran

The Iran nuclear deal comes into effect in 2016. Money should start pouring into Tehran. There are elections in 2016 as well. Will the money help the reformers who signed the deal, or the hardliners who want the cash but no change? The answer could shape Iran’s future.

Image: Iranians celebrate the nuclear deal
Iranians sing and wave Iranian flags during celebrations following a landmark nuclear deal in Tehran on July 14, 2015.Ebrahim Noroozi / AP, file

7. A hard year for Russia

If oil prices stay low, which analysts predict, Russia may be in for a long 2016 — and could react with more military moves. Russia diverted a lot of attention away from domestic woes by taking Crimea, going to war in Syria, and punishing Turkey — so far just economically — for shooting down a Russian jet. Will there be a new Russian crisis in 2016?

Image: Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual press conference on Dec. 17.Sasha Mordovets / Getty Images Contributor, file

8. China gets serious about the environment; India does not

China has had its first code red day, when people were told it was actually a threat to their lives to breathe. No regime can survive if its people don’t have the freedom to breathe, a human right so basic no one thought to include it on the Bill of Rights. China seems to have woken up and is investing big in solar, realizing clean energy can be profitable. India, however, seems to believe it needs to do what China did: pollute more now to pull its masses from poverty.

Image: Air pollution in Beijing and New Delhi
Both Beijing and New Delhi face serious air pollution problems. Above left, Beijing on Nov. 30, 2015, and New Delhi on Nov. 24, 2015.Getty; AP

9. Warming Latin American relations

First Cuba, Venezuela next? Political changes are underway in Venezuela that could see the end of the failed system put in place by the late Hugo Chavez. Could it mean better relations with Washington across the region, a new page?

Image: Lilian Tintori, wife of jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, celebrates on Dec. 7
Lilian Tintori, center left, wife of jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, celebrates next to candidates of the Venezuelan coalition of opposition parties in Caracas on Dec. 7. Venezuela's opposition won control of the National Assembly by a landslide, trouncing the ruling party and altering the balance of power after almost 17 years of socialist rule.CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS / Reuters, file

10. Turkey takes center stage

Turkey is the main pathway for ISIS fighters flowing in Syria and refugees flooding out. Turkey controls, or has the potential to control, both of those vital taps. Turkey was prominent in 2015; it could be pivotal in 2016.

Image: Barack Obama and Recep Tayyip Erdogan
President Barack Obama and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan attend a press conference after their meeting within the G20 Summit on Nov. 15.Anadolu Agency / Getty Images Contributor, file