The American people, and the world, will learn very soon now whether President Obama is re-elected or if Mitt Romney occupies the White House.
The next administration will contend with several major foreign policy issues. My next two commentaries will explore these, along with the policy approaches necessary to best deal with them.
The top concerns:
-- Ensuring the Eurozone crisis is resolved.
-- Monitoring the Arab Spring and encouraging the region's reformist elements without directly politically and/or military interfering.
-- Resolving the Iranian nuclear crisis.
These econdary concerns relate to East Asia:
-- Protecting the U.S. financial system from any spillover effects if China's economy develops problems.
-- Preventing a military escalation of any Sino-Japanese disputes over the Senkaku/Diayui islands.
-- Guaranteeing that North Korea's ongoing political leadership transition remains peaceful while compelling Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program.
And third-tier concerns:
-- Assuring an element of political stability exists within Afghanistan that allows American troops to withdraw by the 2014 deadline.
-- Capturing or killing Al Qaeda's remaining leadership and operational elements, plus preventing its affiliates from initiating operations.
-- Dissuading Moscow from developing historical imperialist tendencies toward Europe and Eurasia.
The Eurozone crisis, Arab Spring and Iranian nuclear programs will remain Washington's top foreign policy challenges.
The Eurozone crisis' resolution will impact the American economic recovery. Both financial systems are interlinked via investment, trade and other monetary connections. Many of the challenges are uniquely European in origin, yet improvement or degradation in Europe's financial environment will influence American consumer confidence, and with that the Great Recession's conclusion or extension.
The White House's diplomatic and economic instruments for affecting the crisis' outcome are limited. One possibility for how the United States might influence the European Union is by coordinating or creating similar policies that address overlapping financial regulatory issues. Washington otherwise lacks the ability to influence the Eurozone crisis' direction.
The Arab Spring is resulting in political reforms within Morocco, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Oman, and removed the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. It also was the catalyst for Syria's civil war.
The event is prompting the rise of political parties that were nonexistent or stifled in some countries for decades -- some of whom advocated policies contrary to American values, as happened in Egypt.
A final consequence is a volatile, uncertain political environment in countries transitioning to democracy, as is occurring in Libya.
The next president needs a multi-pronged policy toward the Arab Spring. It requires flexibility and adoptability. It mandates separating the region's political wheat from the chaff. This is a daunting task, since the media periodically insinuates an area awash in anti-U.S. sentiment, yet a majority of those populations support American values and people.
The policy needs to advance Washington's political objectives without violating Islamic traditions. It must finally avoid American and European historical mistakes of dictating how the region should conduct its affairs.
Iran's nuclear activities wouldn't be an issue if the country lacked the sole ingredient necessary for nuclear weapons. The matter finally would be muted if the Iranians had not stymied the International Atomic Energy Agency's efforts to determine the nature of Tehran's nuclear program.
The next administration's challenge will be to compel Tehran to abandon its enrichment program. There are several options that an Obama or Romney White House can select.
The first entails continuing negotiations with the Iranians. Second, strengthening existing economic sanctions against the Iranian government and private entities seeking to obtain nuclear components. Third, initiating covert operations against Iran's nuclear activities. And finally, a military campaign intent on destroying their facilities.
The best approach includes strengthening existing economic sanctions, enhancing covert operations, and continuing negotiations.
A U.S. or Israeli military strike is more problematic than beneficial. Washington and Tel Aviv probably lack complete intelligence about Iran's nuclear facilities. Iran may activate European- and U.S.-based Hezbollah cells. Tehran might significantly increase oil prices in retaliation. And America's strategic clout in the Middle East and Northern Africa may be severally damaged.
The favored scenario would compel Iran to abandon its uranium-enrichment program. That requires Washington and Tehran to make diplomatic and economic concessions without publicly appearing to capitulate to either's audience. It's a delicate, lengthy, required dance.
Those are the first-tier foreign policy issues facing the next administration. The next commentary explore the second- and third-priority international issues an Obama or Romney White House will face.
Matthew Kennedy has a master's degree in diplomatic studies from the University of Westminster in London. He's lived in Europe, Asia and Russia. Comments or questions can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.