These are the stories that will be making headlines for many months -- or many years -- to come.
The quest for the White House isn't just captivating America, but grabbing the world's attention as well. In the race up to November, hard questions will hopefully be asked about the candidates' positions on foreign policy and other issues of a global nature. As the past several years have seen old alliances strained and new alliances forged, the new president could likely take U.S. ties in a dramatically different direction.
The Beijing Summer Olympic Games don't kick off until August, but wherever the torch has gone around the globe passionate protests have followed. At issue is China's spring crackdown on protesters in Tibet, the country's support for Sudan despite genocide in Darfur, repression of the Uighur minority, the imprisonment of bloggers and journalists, and myriad other human-rights and religious-rights concerns. The International Olympic Committee, which awarded China the games with a caveat that the People's Republic would improve human rights, has stood by China and the games despite the crackdowns. World leaders were deciding, though, whether to follow the lead of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and boycott the games.
President Vladimir Putin may be technically leaving office when he's termed out in May 2008, but the election of his hand-picked successor, technocrat Dmitry Medvedev, ensures that the Putin plan won't run out of steam. Almost certain to take the prime minister's spot -- and perhaps a more powerful position, at that -- Putin can conduct business as usual. And that, critics contend, is taking Russia on a backslide toward the days of the Soviet Union. During Putin's two terms, press freedom was curtailed and journalists such as Anna Politkovskaya were mysteriously slain. Government opponents have been arrested, harassed, or prevented from running in elections. Putin is also leaving office with strained relations with former Soviet neighbors.
Call it the "anti-imperialist" bloc vs. U.S. allies: The growing disputes in Latin America threaten to precipitate big changes from Mexico to the tip of Chile. The current clashes stem from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's desire for a socialist "Bolivarian republic," and his intent to take as much of South America along with him as possible. Bolivia, Ecuador, and even Argentina are allied with Chavez to greater or lesser degrees as he battles the U.S., but they're also battling each other: Colombia, a U.S. ally, nearly came to blows with Ecuador and Venezuela over killing a FARC commander in Ecuadorean territory. Mexican President Felipe Calderon fought with Chavez early on. And nobody's really kissing and making up.
Since its founding as a republic in 1923 by national hero Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turks have fought to keep the Muslim country secular among more religious influences. With President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan both belonging to the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), the lifting of a headscarf ban on university campuses and the banning of alcohol in restaurants in AKP municipalities has made many fear the government is leading the country in an Islamist direction. The AKP -- and Turkey's leaders -- could be banned from politics if the country's high court makes such a ruling this year, in a case brought by a Turkish prosecutor. And the military is sworn to defend secularism, even if that means a coup.
As the opposition parliament came to power, President Pervez Musharraf struck a conciliatory tone with the legislators who would like nothing more than to oust him from power. By reinstating the anti-Musharraf judiciary ousted by Pervez himself, they could remove Musharraf from the presidential post. But both Musharraf and his opponents have a common enemy to worry about -- Islamist extremism in the form of exiled Tablian and al-Qaida members, plus a movement aiming to bring a strict Sharia law to Pakistan. Seeing how Pakistan is a well-armed nuclear nation, the world is watching closely to see who winds up in charge -- and how much power that person will have to fight nefarious forces within Pakistan.
The question still looms like the mother of all bombs: Will Iraq eventually have to resort to a geographic split along sectarian lines? Will the Iraqi army be able to enforce order in every part of the country? Will the Mahdi Army continue to battle for Shiite superiority from their Sadr City home base? Will a coalition pullout -- debated among American presidential contenders -- result in a chaos that sends the entire region spinning out of control? The war is now in a painful stage of reconstruction, and more than just the Middle East has a stake in the outcome.
Thought the worrying about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was done after his controversial visit to Columbia University? The issue of Iran processing uranium for either energy or weapons purposes -- depends whom you ask -- is still taking up much of the agenda at the U.N. Security Council, with the U.S. and others pressing for Iran to cease its enrichment activities. Meanwhile, after elections where most reformists were excluded from the ballot, the conservative regime of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is in a strong position to continue dampening Western influences and silencing dissident voices -- all the while ratcheting up the rhetoric against the U.S. and the European Union.
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), as the saying goes, has the world over a barrel. By controlling production flows and setting prices that easily hopped over $100 a barrel, they shifted a worldwide conversation about alternative fuel options into high gear. But many of those technologies are years away from being available for practical, global use. Thus, the world will be at the mercy of oil prices (and in the U.S., coupled with recession) as wars, disasters, and despotic rulers alike continue to pull the strings of the oil markets.
Check it out: Cubans (those who can afford them) can have cell phones, and Cubans (those who can afford them) can also have computers (likely to be subject to a closely guarded "intranet" rather than a World Wide Web, as is the case in China). When brother Raul formally took the reins from the ailing Fidel Castro, most expected a continuation of the communist regime's policies. Only time will tell if Raul's nudges toward technology are a sign of real changes on the island, or simply window dressing to garner global respect (and the financial deals that come with it).