The 11th of September 2001, 20 years ago, taught us that events in often far away places can have a dramatic influence on all aspects of American life.
America is yet again poised to elect a new president, a new congress and one-third of the senate. At this time two years ago, President Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney were trying to convince voters that they had a better plan to create more and better jobs.
In reality, the value of the Chinese currency has a significant effect on direction the recovery of the US manufacturing sector will follow, along with other influences and other factor which exceed our purely domestic economic control abilities.
And yet, many Americans still look for a purely domestic solutions to our economic problems.
When the dust settles and the American people take a long reflective look at the choice they will make this November 2016, one issue will emerge as the most important one, and that is, who is most capable of navigating a more difficult set of international challenges than any president has had to face since World War II.
The determining factor in the current presidential election, as it was in the last, will come down to who the American people believe can guide the United States of America through the tepid waters of US foreign affairs.
The 11th of September 2001 attacks, according to former Secretary of State Rice, were rooted in oppression and despair, and therefore, the US should advance democratic reforms and support basic human rights throughout the greater Middle East.
To achieve a fundamental change in Middle East governments, Rice envisioned the US cooperating with other nations to assist in building and sustaining democratic, well-governed states, that would respond to the needs of their people and conduct themselves in the international system responsibly.
Current realities, however, paint a much different picture of the greater Middle East.
Although, Hamas is no longer the in Egypt proper, they exert the government in the Gaza Strip, Although the Muslim Brotherhood is no longer the government proper in Egypt, they and Hamas wield power and exert control over the Gaza Strip. And, both will in all likelihood emerge as a significant players in a yet far off post-Assad Syria.
These are hardly the ingredients for well-governed states that respond to anything other than the ideological needs of their people.
Diplomacy unfortunately is all too often a history of missed opportunities, and we are witnessing major lost opportunities as we are brought to contemplate an all-out civil war in Syria. And yet, Rice must find some solace in the final communique issued by the world's two most powerful leaders at the close of the G20 Summit in Los Cabos, Mexico.
In a joint statement delivered by Obama and Putin, both leaders committed to the shared goal of bringing about a “political transition to a democratic, pluralistic political system that would be implemented by the Syrians themselves.” The significance of Putin joining in on a statement that could have been written by former Secretary Rice should not be undervalued.
Progress in the Syrian crisis will come when both Obama and Putin accept, given the failed UN mission led by former Secretary General Kofi Anan, that the only realistic option to avoid all-out civil war in Syria is to allow Putin the world-stage diplomatic role he craves as mediator. All other contingencies having been mapped out this approach is the only logical one to pursue.
Presidential candidate Romney should pay particular attention to the relationship he intends to garner with Putin and other world leaders. Putin will arrive on the world stage as a significant influence and his cooperation in Syria can only increase the effectiveness of American involvement in the region.
While the Syrian chess match continues, Libya hangs in the balance, Mali has been overthrown by fighters returning from the 'revolution' in Libya with weapons suppplied by NATO forces, and the newly emerged nations of North and South Sudan are again a very troubled region. The first North African state to tumble, Tunisia, is not a settled matter by any means, and their neighbors have all seen increased unrest and low level, but continuous and escalating violence.
The US Fifth Fleet is armed to the teeth in and around the Strait of Hormuz, and Israel and Iran are on a collision course. Iraq is an ethnic and religious battleground steadily slipping into all out multiple factioned civil war. Observable progress in Afghanistan is a matter of debate and not degree. China, our military dictatorship trading partner, is not playing by the rules on currency valuation, and Europe will need our help to stave off its growing economic crisis. Russia is also emerging from the chaos of its own dramatic change in governance and its southern Central Asian States are teetering between rational and irrational forms of government. North Korea is a question mark at best, and Indonesia a nation with the world's largest Islamic population and their neighbor Maylasia may or may not remain stable. Nigeria is in the midst of a religious war that also consumes many of its neighbors. East Africa is still the paradise of pirates, and another famine in Ethiopia is not far off.
The next US president will have to deal with a myriad of pressing and unavoidable international challenges at a time when most Americans want to see their president sorting out our own domestic problems.
In reality, however, as soon as one enters the White House and assumes the role of President of the United States and Commander in Chief of US Military Forces, one must play the hand that one is dealt, and often no one has cut the cards beforehand.