At a turn of the year dogged by the unsolved fiscal cliff spending and taxation issue and deeply clouded by what actions should be taken in the gun control and mental health areas to block off a repeat of the Newtown slaughter of our children, it is hard to focus on what foreign affairs issues the United States will face in 2013.
On the other hand, as certain as it is that America exists in an interrelated world inevitably preoccupied with international political, economic and security issues, it is necessary at the dawn of that year to look at what they might be. Two bright points, one probably facetious; the other, concrete and constructive: We survived the Mayan rumored end of the world Dec. 21; President Barack Obama nominated Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, as his new secretary of state Friday. Mr. Kerry should win Senate confirmation easily even though the Swift Boat morons are still out there.
The likely issues for 2013 are as follows.
1. The United States will face a crisis of credibility in the world because of the ghastly weakness in our governing process revealed by the inability of the White House and the Congress to resolve the critical spending and taxation problem described as the fiscal cliff. Anyone attempting to speak for or to commit the United States to a course of action in international relations will be plagued by the negotiating partner's -- correctly -- looking over the American representative's shoulder at the clown show of contending politicians, lobbyists and celebrity-seekers that Washington is composed of and wondering if the American rep can deliver on what he says.
2. The United States is not engaged with a number of critical partners necessary to address the serious problems of the world. Some of these are cases where U.S. political considerations stand in the way of America opening fruitful dialogue. These include Cuba, Iran, North Korea, the increasingly dominant Palestinian group Hamas, and Venezuela. The United States is far too big and powerful to worry about losing face by reaching out to people.
Another group where new efforts are required are the new leaders of some important countries. These include President Xi Jinping of China, President Francois Hollande of France, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan and President Park Geun-hye of South Korea.
A third group where some "re-setting" would be useful in Mr. Obama's second term include Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, given her country's central role in stabilizing European finance; President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who seems to be busily looking for ways to annoy the United States, including the banning of U.S. adoptions of Russian children; and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, whose country is carrying heavy water for all the world with Syria next door, an Iran that suffers from alienation, and, in general, between the Western and Muslim worlds. Turkey needs attention.
3. The United States is going to need help in getting out of Afghanistan in one piece. There are 68,000 U.S. troops and many tons of expensive military materiel that are scheduled to be withdrawn from that troubled nation by 2014, beginning in 2013. Axiomatically, it is easier to build up bit by bit than to build down a military presence in a country.One obvious problem is that the smaller one's military presence in a dangerous country becomes, the more vulnerable that presence becomes.
The problem of withdrawal from Afghanistan will require close work with Pakistan. If the United States finds working with Pakistan too hard a nut to crack, it will be forced to work more closely with other Afghanistan neighbors Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
4. A hardy perennial problem, hard to resolve because of its U.S. domestic political aspects, is the Middle East peace process, the intermittent attempt by the United States and everyone else to resolve the dispute between the Israelis and the Palestinians over the creation of an independent state for the latter, living side by side in peace with the former. The issue is at the core of tensions and antagonisms between the Western and Muslim worlds.
It is also becoming more severe with the advent of the Arab Spring. The populations and governments of Egypt, Syria, Jordan and ever-restive Lebanon, the countries bordering on Israel, are all becoming less receptive to U.S. admonitions to be reasonable about Israel, particularly as Israel itself grasps and pours settlers into more and more of the land that would form a Palestinian state in the wake of successful negotiations.
The United States is not free to just drop this matter and let whatever happens to Israel as a result of its actions just happen. Israel is dependent on the United States for its security and can pull America into a war fairly easily. Thus, any U.S. foreign policy that looks beyond tomorrow has to apply itself to the problem.
5. Finally, particularly given the financial constraints that the American defense machine is almost inevitably going to face with next year's budget cuts, it becomes very important that the United States not get sucked into any peripheral, Pentagon-budget-justifying wars. Several conflicts, including Mali, Syria and the East and South China Sea rocks, may beckon. We must not do that.
Dan Simpson, a former U.S. ambassador, is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (email@example.com, 412-263-1976).