What are the issues around the globe that voters should be aware of when walking into the voting booth this November?
The status in Iraq
Are we winning? Has the surge worked? Is the Iraq government capable of handling things itself? These questions and accompanying sound bites have been volleyed about by both presidential hopefuls, as well as needling each other on whether we should have gone into Iraq in the first place. The campaign-related arguments on Iraq usually range to whether and when the U.S. should withdraw its forces, but the world-wise voter needs to look even further ahead. For example, what repercussions would the rest of the world feel if an Iraq left to its own devices fails? Also, how has the extended, unpopular conflict in Iraq affected the public's resolve to address potential conflicts in the future?
Power wrangling in the Middle East
Will Israel have a governing coalition that will take on the threats the country faces? Will Hamas and Fatah ever mend fences and establish stable governance in the Palestinian territories? And -- the question the candidates have each vowed should never happen, but can -- will Iran acquire nuclear weapons capability? There are so many variables that could lead to chaos. Voters should consider whether a candidate will just gingerly accept the status quo in the Middle East, or work toward solutions in an effort to forge a lasting peace in the region. To accomplish this, an American president must have command over the issues and trust from regional leaders. And if Iran goes nuclear, he may have to make some especially tough decisions.
Hugo Chavez rants against the United States, yes, but his coalitions are a lot more than just bluster. In addition to laboring to get like-minded leaders elected in Latin America, Chavez has forged economic and military deals with Russia and Iran. Will the departure of Bush and the election of a new president ease Chavez's beef with the U.S. government? It depends on how much of a hard line the next leader will take against Chavez's shenanigans -- which, considering the alliances he's forging, could turn very serious very fast.
Vladimir Putin hand-picked Dmitry Medvedev to succeed him as president, and now the pair are turning Russia into what the former Soviet states fear will be a bully for years to come. Voters saw this acutely earlier in the presidential campaign as Georgia's incursion into breakaway territory South Ossetia sparked a brutal invasion from the Russian Federation. As the United States was fundamental in the breakdown of the Soviet Union, most agree that America should support the former Soviet republics in the face of a powerful Russia that holds an energy monopoly. But the candidates have also debated how firm of a line to hold in scolding Russia for bullying: Do you risk sparking another Cold War?
The ouster of President Pervez Musharraf and election of Benazir Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari, came at a deadly price: Testing how far they could push a new, unstable administration, Islamist extremists quickly suicide bombed a popular Islamabad hotel. American voters should weigh how well a candidate can gingerly balance this volatile situation, even as Pakistani officials have been angered during campaign season by cross-border U.S. incursions of unmanned drones to strike at terrorist targets. A power vacuum in Pakistan presents the perfect opportunity for extremist elements to gain a greater foothold -- and as much as the candidate have criticized the Musharraf reign, the current instability opens a new powder keg.
The Situation in Afghanistan
Barack Obama has made leaving Iraq and turning attention back toward Afghanistan a theme of his campaign. But just what's going on there now? Great progress has been made in terms of politics, women's representation, and even pop culture -- young Afghans have embraced the West in a way that would make it hard for the Taliban ever to take root again. But they sure aren't giving up, continuing to wage battle from remote, fundamentalist strongholds with, the head of Afghan's intelligence agency has claimed, cooperation from Pakistan. The rough, unforgiving country makes it tough terrain for foreign soldiers to navigate the hiding places -- but the continued rebel attacks make the needed Afghan stability that much harder.
Americans feel the financial crisis acutely in their pocketbooks, placing the economy at the top of many voting priority lists. But we're not the only ones feeling the crunch. In this age of globalization, ripple effects are felt swiftly across the Earth. The European Union has sought to brace the blow as a unified front -- together with Asia, that is. China will likely soon feel the blow from decreased export demand and investment, and a reeling Pakistan has already sought help from the International Monetary Fund. The next administration should pay rapt attention to their crisis as well as ours, because the two are inextricably entwined.
Is the "Dear Leader" of North Korea alive or dead? His lack of public appearances and reports of ill health have raised concerns and conspiracy theories alike, particularly as he single-handedly controls a nation that has delighted in developing its nuclear program over feeding its people. And after years of playing negotiation cat-and-mouse with the United States, it's key to know what's going on inside North Korea in order to shape a sensible foreign policy in regards to the region. Whether Kim is still in control of the country will dictate how the next president can approach the region -- though if the Clinton vs. Bush approaches are any indication, Obama and McCain's approaches would be markedly different.
Mexico is dangerous these days, and yet we've heard nary a peep about border issues in the debates between the men who want to succeed Bush in the Oval Office. When Felipe Calderon came into office on Dec. 1, 2006, he declared war on the drug cartels. They declared war back. More than 2,300 people were killed in drug-fueled violence in the first eight months of 2008 alone. "Recent Mexican army and police force conflicts with heavily-armed narcotics cartels have escalated to levels equivalent to military small-unit combat and have included use of machine guns and fragmentation grenades," warned a State Department Travel Alert. As the drug cartels' business doesn't wane in the U.S., how will the next administration keep the violence at bay?
The State of al-Qaida
Barack Obama and John McCain have argued about who can capture Osama bin Laden, who can send him to the "gates of hell" first, but the truth is that they're arguing over a symbolic point. For years now, al-Qaida's No. 2, Egyptian doctor Ayman al-Zawahri, has been the point man for the terrorist organization, the figurehead most often (and recently) featured on videos and audio recordings, and the source of guidance for jihadists waiting for the call. Intelligence sources do indicate that if alive, bin Laden is in the rugged, lawless region of Waziristan and the Khyber Pass between Afghanistan and Pakistan. But for the candidate who promises to capture Osama, the voter should know that al-Qaida will continue with or without him.