Is 2018 the year when President Trump finally pulls it together in the realm of foreign policy, or is it the year when the train goes fully off the rails, with potentially disastrous consequences? As I argue in my new book, “American Grand Strategy in the Age of Trump,” the first year of Trump’s presidency has been plenty corrosive to U.S. power and influence, because Trump has steadily undermined a number of qualities that made American statecraft effective in the past.

Trump has often seemed determined to erode longstanding pillars of U.S. diplomacy: America’s reputation for steadiness and reliability, commitment to a positive-sum global order in which all countries that play by the rules can prosper, soft power and identification with the advancement of universal values, and image as a dependable ally and a country committed to solving the world’s toughest problems. Meanwhile, the administration has struggled (to say the least) with systematic policy formulation and execution. The combination of internal disorganization and understaffing, erratic presidential behavior, and very public disputes between Trump and his cabinet secretaries has made 2017 one of the messiest first years ever.

What can nonetheless be said for this administration is that it has so far avoided some of the most disastrous outcomes that were widely – and quite reasonably – feared when Trump took office. The president’s tweets have often proved beyond irresponsible, but so far there has been no preventive war with North Korea. Symbolically decertifying the Iran nuclear deal was a bad idea, but Trump did not commit the far worse error of unilaterally withdrawing from the accord. The White House reportedly flirted with lifting sanctions on Russia and bringing back torture and CIA black sites, but internal and congressional resistance apparently blocked those ideas. The president withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, thus making a major strategic misstep, but he has so far refrained from initiating trade wars or pulling out of existing agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement.

On all these issues, Congress and other outside actors in some cases and his own advisers in others have blocked the president from carrying out his own worst ideas. For all the pyrotechnics associated with the first year of his presidency, then, the damage has been more the result of a slow bleed than an instantaneous blowup.

To put it more bluntly, Trump’s first year has been quite bad, but it could easily have been far more damaging still. The key question for 2018 is whether things are likely to get better or worse.

For those inclined to be charitable, there are, perhaps, some reasons to think the trajectory might improve. Advisers such as Secretary of Defense James Mattis have largely proven to be pillars of responsibility, managing a volatile president and restraining some of his potentially more destructive impulses. Chief of Staff John Kelly has reportedly brought somewhat greater order to the running of the White House, mainly by reducing the quantity of wild ideas that make their way to the top. (The wild ideas that originate at the top are another matter, unfortunately.)

The trouble, however, is that for every piece of good news regarding Trump’s foreign policy, there often seem to be two pieces of bad news. And if there are some grounds for optimism regarding what’s likely to come in 2018, there are also powerful reasons to think that matters will not improve – and that they could actually get much worse.

For one thing, Trump’s position may have shifted on a few issues, but fundamentally he remains as erratic, volatile, and destructive as ever. The examples of his immutable nature are innumerable by this point., to wit: In what the Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf rightly wrote “may be the most irresponsible tweet in history,” Trump casually threatened nuclear war with North Korea and thus continued his apparently ongoing quest to make Washington seem more reckless than Pyongyang.

Second, if the quality of policy debate is a predictor of the quality of policy, then there are some worrying trend lines. It may be that Kelly is better at screening access to the president. But Trump’s economic and policy illiteracy on key issues seems to be dragging down the level of argument within the administration and encouraging gamesmanship that can have unpredictable results.

Third, and most troubling of all, Trump’s penchant for talking tough but kicking the hardest issues down the road has created a series of time-bombs for the administration – all of which could explode in 2018. The NAFTA renegotiation is coming to a head, with little evidence that Canada and Mexico are willing to accede to the administration’s demands. Most dangerous of all, 2018 will almost certainly be the make-or-break year in determining whether North Korea masters the intercontinental ballistic missile capability needed to reliably deliver nuclear weapons to the U.S. On these and other issues, Trump has essentially talked himself into a humiliation-escalation trap by making big promises that will be extremely difficult to fulfill. He may soon have to choose between backing down and ratcheting up confrontations.

Trump will be making these calculations, moreover, as the political temperature again begins to rise. As the 2018 midterms approach and he begins looking forward to 2020, he will feel increasing pressure to fire up his base by delivering on his ill-advised public statements and campaign promises.

We still don’t know what will happen on North Korea, NAFTA, or other issues, of course. And maybe Trump’s advisers will talk him off the more dangerous ledges that he manages to talk himself onto. This might actually be harder in 2018 than it was in 2017 – which is a scary thought.