China: Russia’s partner-in-veto holds a lot more over America’s head than the Kremlin simply by holding our debt. So administrations have played nice with Beijing even as the communist experiment continues and gathers steam. Presidents timidly call out China for human-rights abuses, knowing the characteristic shunning will follow as the Foreign Ministry keeps a scorecard of American slights. Never mind the cyber attacks and threats posed by infiltration into the technology sector, as recently flagged by Congress. Consider the Chinese military buildup that keeps its short-range missiles trained on Taiwan and medium-range missiles fixed on its neighbors, all while exporting missile technology to nefarious world actors (including North Korea — think the son’s not going to try something to assert his “legacy” in the shadow of famous pop and granddad?) and keeping a long-range fix on the U.S. in case Washington tries to interfere in its claims. This relationship stinks all around while the only real focus in the debate was over who exports jobs to the People’s Republic. “China is both an adversary, but also a potential partner in the international community if it’s following the rules,” Obama said Monday night. It should be 100 percent apparent they have little interest in following Washington’s rules.
Latin America: It’s not just Fast and Furious — though the botched gun walking operation helped highlight north of the border the continuing cartel wars just to the south. Romney advocated taking advantage of the “huge opportunity for us — time zone, language opportunities” in expanding trade in the region, but there are hurdles. A new leader is sworn in down in Mexico come Dec. 1 along with a return to the leftist party that ruled the country for decades: the PRI’s Enrique Peña Nieto. As many Mexicans fear a return to corruption and repression of the past, the drug wars have taken 55,000 lives in the past six years and haven’t exactly created an environment for economic growth. Meanwhile, farther south, more concerns are brewing. Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez won’t be around forever, but his coterie of socialist allies have a strong grip on the region, from Ecuador’s Rafael Correa and Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to Raul Castro, Evo Morales, and Daniel Ortega. Regimes from Russia to China and even Iran have noticed the friendly territory and have been building relationships, inking arms sales, and more. Groups like Hezbollah are also finding this doorstep to the U.S. just as inviting — and welcoming.
Sudan: This was admittedly a longshot to make it into the debate. Last year, a new country was born when the predominantly Christian South Sudan ended years of bloody conflict with the predominantly Muslim north by voting for independence. Conflict continues over unsettled border territories, and the State Department has warned this could spark an “outright conflict.” Despite years of interethnic squabbles and Sudan’s bitterness that the south got the good oil fields, a conflict here could be a much greater ideological showdown in North Africa. Catholic President Salva Kiir (whose cowboy hat is more awesome than Ken Salazar’s) may face not just internationally wanted man Omar al-Bashir, but Islamist terror groups happy to fight for the cause (and shelter, as bin Laden did in the 1990s — and why Mali made it into the debate). Sudan today accused Israel of launching an air strike on a munitions factory in Khartoum that was believed to be a source for weapons smuggled into Gaza. A future conflict between South Sudan and Sudan would be more than a fight over disputed pockets of land, but a critical showdown against Islamic extremism.