Five Countries Where the U.S. Election Matters Most

From Syrian rebels to polar bears, global stakeholders hope for changes after Tuesday's U.S. presidential election

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SAUL LOEB / AFP / Getty Images

U.S. President Barack Obama greets Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at the end of their third and final debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., on Oct. 22, 2012

Superbarrio Gómez ran the most underreported campaign of the 1996 U.S. presidential election. The masked Mexican wrestler turned social activist showed up in New Hampshire during the primary season and declared himself a “candidate” even though his foreign citizenship rendered him ineligible. Decisions affecting the lives of Mexicans are made in the White House, he reasoned, so Mexicans should have a say in choosing its occupant. It’s a sentiment that’s widely shared: two-thirds of the 26,000 respondents from 32 countries in a recent poll believe that the White House has an important impact on their lives, and for that reason, almost half believe they should have a vote in the U.S. presidential election. (If they did, President Barack Obama would be a shoo-in, according to almost every poll.)

The level of interest in this U.S. election, however, is considerably lower than that of 2008. One reason for this may be that any global citizen tuning in to the campaign’s foreign policy debate would have struggled to find substantial differences between what Governor Mitt Romney advocated and what the White House is doing. There is also a growing sense of the relative decline of U.S. global power. The U.S. remains the world’s most militarily powerful country and its largest economy, but its ability to shape economic and geopolitical events in distant climes has steadily declined over the past decade — whether it’s Afghanistan or Iraq, the rapidly changing Arab world or Europe’s debt crisis, Washington struggles to impose its will.

That said, the Oval Office remains the world’s strongest single center of power, and the outcome of Tuesday’s vote will be closely watched. Here are five places where the stakes are particularly high:

1. Syria: Breaking a Stalemate?

Syria’s civil war has killed upwards of 20,000 people, but the country remains locked in an effective stalemate: the regime of President Bashar Assad is unable to destroy the rebels, and the rebels are unable to destroy the regime. Given the sectarian stakes and the danger of igniting a wider regional conflict, as well as a fear of the growing influence of extremist elements among the rebels, the U.S. has held back from direct intervention, and even from enabling the rebels to receive heavier weaponry that could neutralize some of the regime’s military advantages. Both Obama and Romney say they oppose any direct deployment of U.S. military force in Syria, even if limited to enforcing a “no-fly zone” or protecting a rebel-controlled enclave — much to the frustration of allies such as Turkey and France. The Obama Administration is currently focused on forging a single opposition leadership structure based on a moderate consensus, in order to enable greater foreign support to the rebel cause. Many opposition activists and rebel fighters have expressed dismay and anger at what they see as the relative passivity of the Obama Administration in the face of the increasingly bloody impasse. As a result, the fact that Romney has publicly declared a greater willingness to consider arming the rebels — together with the fact that some of his advisers have expressed more hawkish policies toward Assad and his regime’s key backers, Iran and Russia — may give many in the rebel camp reason to hope the Republican candidate prevails on Tuesday.

(MORE: U.S. Seeks a New Opposition in Syria)

2. Israel: A Jewish ‘Red’ State?

President Obama won the votes of 78% of Jewish Americans in the 2008 election, and despite the GOP’s best efforts to erode that advantage by painting the incumbent as somehow hostile to the state of Israel — a charge vehemently rejected by the Democrats as well as by a number of top Israeli officials — polls suggest Obama will again secure close to 70% of the Jewish vote, compared with around 25% for Romney. If anything, those numbers indicate that Israel is not the primary issue on which most Jewish Americans vote, since polling suggests that a clear majority of Israelis (around 52%) favor a Romney victory, compared with just 25% for Obama.

Israel, nonetheless, appears to be among the very few countries in the world whose citizens would prefer a Romney victory, perhaps as a result of tensions between Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the President’s 2009 efforts to restart the peace process with the Palestinians. Comments made by Romney in a secretly recorded address to donors in Tampa earlier this year (he expressed doubt that any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is imminent, blamed the impasse on the Palestinians and vowed to kick the can down the road) certainly accord with mainstream Israeli thinking. But Romney later expressed his desire to see a two-state solution negotiated by the two sides. It remains unclear what either candidate would do to restart the moribund peace process if elected.

On the Israeli government’s primary concern, Iran, Romney has used more forceful language, but his effective policy commitments — sanctions backed by the threat of military action — appear broadly similar to Obama’s. Still, Romney’s drawing the line at Iran having the capability to build nuclear weapons rather than at actually starting the process, and a statement by one of his top aides that the GOP candidate would respect an Israeli decision to use force against Iran are deemed more pleasing to Israeli hawks. Then again, it’s generally understood in the Israeli strategic establishment that Israel’s optimal scenario is not a U.S. green light for an Israeli attack on Iran but for the U.S. to do the job. And on that front, Romney has also made clear that he does “not believe that in the final analysis we will have to use military action” against Iran.

It’s widely assumed, however, that efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the increasingly dangerous impasse will resume after the U.S. election, and Israel’s hawkish government will likely see a Romney Administration as more open to Israeli persuasion to adopt a hard line in any talks with Iran.

MORE: Don’t Expect a Romney Intifadeh, the Palestinians Are Used to Disappointment

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13 comments
AllanAshby
AllanAshby

Canada should be on that list. It never even got a mention in the foreign policy debate, but the Keystone XL is up for consideration. After Obama wins, will the Keystone XL be approved? Now that there's no further political risk in doing so, expect it to be turned down. This decision will please environmentalists, but it will have enormous strategic implications. It should at least be discussed.

That decision will leave two other pipelines - the Gateway to Kitimat and the Transmountain upgrade to Vancouver - pipelines the Canadian government dearly wants to see approved. If Keystone XL is turned down, the path for both projects gets much easier. Canada is keen to escape the poor deal it now gets under NAFTA, having only one buyer for 97% of its oil exports. The discount between WTI rates and the Brent - not to mention the other discounts US buyers want made to 'oil sands' oil - amount to about $15 Billion per year. 

What is more important, though, is where the oil will go, after it reaches salt water. China and India - not to mention an energy-hungry world - will be happy to take every barrel they can get. The US will want some of that oil, too. It's just that, from now on, they'll have to take their place in line, along with everyone else.

davidnc2
davidnc2

What happened to Canada? 'The Arctic' is a Territory, not a country.

peace.and.common.sense
peace.and.common.sense

The arctic is not a country... at least mention Canada by name, unless... it is also no longer considered a separate country.

HerbertKaine
HerbertKaine

Iran is hoping for an Obama win so it can produce nuclear weapons without restrictions

tma_sierrahills
tma_sierrahills

Mexico isn't one of the top five? Or is it that after so many open-borders U.S. administrations, Mexico is no longer considered a separate country?

Rosanadana
Rosanadana

The anniversary of 9/11 this year saw vehement anti-American protests in no less than 22 countries across the Middle East, northern Africa & parts of Asia. We recognize that extremist radical Jihadists, Al Queda & affiliates, organized these angry crowds that assaulted our embassies, burned our flag, as well as effigies of our president, and in Libya, murdered our ambassador & 3 other Americans. Many millions in those countries, including those affected by the 'Arab spring,' HATE us & wish us harm. To the extent that Obama & co. assisted countries wanting to overthrow dictators in the 'Arab spring' take-overs, the strategy has come back to bite him. Al Queda & their brothers are now spread far & wide throughout the Muslim world; the region is on fire. If this isn't the greatest concern & threat to our nation, what is? What is Mr Karon thinking?     

NicoleBeharie
NicoleBeharie

Indians may hate them, but Barack Obama's anti-outsourcing ads are helping him win swing states like Ohio which will determine the US presidency.

sridhar.sid
sridhar.sid

Excellent summation Mr. Karon. I think your list should have included Pakistan, the Middle East(non-Syria), Japan and India. The Pakistani's may publicly complain about the drones, but deep inside they know that Clinton/Obama have been good for them. They would not want Romney, who will be more hostile to Pakistan. The Middle East has enjoyed the fruits of the Arab Spring under Obama/Clinton. Romney would prefer to revert back to Dictators. Japan is the most crucial player in the US Pacific strategy to curb China and they want Obama to finish what he started. India is strategically very important for the US, both in terms of providing support for the US Pacific Policy and also in terms of trade. India has gained from the liberalized technology transfer in Military equipment manufacture. They too will want continuity

KeninIL
KeninIL

The shrinking icecap is not a symptom of global warming, but of climate change -- that is a change in the direction of the jet stream or the ocean currents-- most probably due to solar flairs and other sun actions. We need to send Al Gore and Michael Moore to the sun to intervene !!

pnkearns
pnkearns

Tony forgets:

6. The (Rapidly Expanding) Space, a.k.a. The Universe

Of course, Space is even less of a country than is the E.U. or Arctic, but what the hell.  Tony is making this nonsense up by the word, so let's go big big big.   And Space, with all the orbiting junk, "may give it a more urgent stake in the outcome of Tuesday’s election than any other territorial entity on the planet."

JamesHarvey
JamesHarvey

Did Mr. Karon get paid to write this stupid column? What a waste of bandwidth.

The US elections have an impact on the rest of the world? How insightful.

Foreigners and even polar bears prefer the incumbent over the challenger. Who cares?

People in other countries think that they should have a say in choosing the President of the USA. They don't.

Blah, blah, blah. Does Time even have editors anymore?

diz1776
diz1776

@ViableOp We got to remember that voter fatigue plays a lot into Americans getting frustrated with the political process all together.  Many western nations have voter holidays in which the country designates a couple of days or even a weekend to vote.