It has been a damned rough summer; rough year, in point of fact.  From Egypt returning to de facto army rule to the rise of ISIS to the civil war now raging in Ukraine, peace is not the watchword of the world.  And let’s not forget what’s going on in Gaza.  It can be easy, in all the media hype, to think headlines somehow translate to grand importance.  But if you’re going to rate the headlines, it’s best to think about how this could change the world.  

So here they are – the summer’s headlines ranked from least to most important.  

5). Bowe Berghdal

Oh, we’re so over him already.  But for a news cycle, the prisoner of war sucked up headlines and brought together a geopolitical web of prisoner swaps, Qatar, the Taliban, and American domestic politics.  At the end of the day, the act was a symbol of the the desire of the U.S. to tie up loose ends in the region rather than terribly important event in and of itself.  Distraction!

4). Qatar’s World Cup

Don’t get me wrong, it’s been fantastic watching Qatar’s government squirm under the spotlights of the international community. But this is little more than a local human rights fight rather than anything of geopolitical significance.  Go on and take it away; or don’t.  It won’t much matter beyond Qatar’s borders.

3). The Gaza War

Once again, another headline-grabbing, easy-to-tell-and-therefore-told-a-lot local event that has little effect beyond its immediate region.  For Israelis and Gazans, it’s do-or-die.  But to anyone outside of Hamas’ rocket range and the IDF’s F-16s, it’s a sideshow.  Reoccupy Gaza; hit Tel Aviv with rockets; the balance of power doesn’t change much.  The status quo of violence, retribution, quiet, and then violence again seems likely to continue until the superpower picks a side.

2). ISIS and the fall of Iraq

For the Middle East, the rise of ISIS is probably the biggest news since Saddam invaded Kuwait.  It threatens to undo nearly a century of national borders and the international order than America has been slowly and carelessly putting together since the Cold War.  Far more than anything, ISIS’s rise could easily upset the international oil market if it somehow broke through Baghdad and seized major oil fields.  Pulling America into a new fight is no easy task these days; ISIS can pat itself on the back if that was the goal.  

On the flipside, no matter what happens in Iraq, ISIS cannot match the potential power of other would-be world conquerors like Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union.  The Greater Middle East, minus it’s oil, is simply too poor to manufacture an army of world domination quality – not to mention that Iran would not go quietly into the darkness of ISIS rule.  

1). Ukraine’s civil war and Russia’s looming behavior

And the reason is simple: unlike ISIS, Russia aims to go big or go home.  Still nuclear armed, still conventionally dangerous, and still able to project power on its borders in a big way, Russia’s war in Ukraine is the biggest geopolitical event since 9/11.  The U.S. cannot allow Ukraine to fall; Russia’s current elite cannot allow Ukraine to slip to the West.  And so the contest is dangerous and huge.  

The moment to watch for is if the Russians cross the border.  Such a move would truly change everything.  With a large industrial base and a large population, Ukraine is a great prize.  Nothing ISIS does in the Middle East, nor Israel does in Gaza, can match its significance.  

So watch Ukraine and keep perspective

Gaza may get headlines; sideshows might get notice; but the future of Eastern Europe is at stake in Ukraine.  No other region’s order is at the same level of threat.  Keep that in mind as Shark Week begins a new series of distractions attempt to derail the important conversations.