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World crises await next president

By John C. Bersia

Now that both the Democratic and Republican presidential-campaign teams have a strong component of foreign-policy expertise, how will they use it?

They had better act quickly, because time is short. During the few months before Election Day, voters should demand that the presidential contenders address the international challenges facing the United States with clarity and insight.

Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona entered the race with substantial foreign-policy expertise in his own portfolio.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Barack Obama’s choice of Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware has provided the pairing that many of my readers had been clamoring for ever since Obama took the party’s lead.

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Not surprisingly, some critics have assailed Obama’s pick because his campaign has largely built its reputation on the need for change. They view Biden as the consummate Washington insider. To me, though, a balance of change and continuity offers tremendous appeal.

Similarly, change and continuity in dealing with international matters would make sense. So, again, what will the elevated foreign-policy presence mean for the rest of the campaign?

In addition to stating their positions on critical international issues, the candidates should demonstrate deep understanding of those topics and show that they have taken the time to develop substantive, proactive strategies. Naturally, they should include issues that concern most Americans, such as the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. But they cannot afford to end the conversation at that point.

Having just spent a wind-whipped week under the relentless fury of Tropical Storm Fay — one of the biggest rainmakers in Florida history — I cannot help thinking about climate change. I am not suggesting that climate change necessarily intensifies tropical storms and hurricanes. Rather, it conjures up images of wild weather and flooding, followed by disruption to societies, shortages and violence. Americans need to hear how the candidates plan to fix climate change.

Speaking of Fay, the misery will mount as the massive quantities of standing water that it left behind give birth to more mosquitoes than people have experienced in a long time. That reminds me of the diseases and pandemics that threaten humankind, and cross borders without hesitation. Americans need to hear how the candidates plan to handle such health concerns, at home and abroad.

One more word about Fay, which comes on top of and complicates a lengthening period of economic malaise. Many economists say that the situation could worsen for a year or more before it begins to improve. Americans need to hear how the candidates plan to shed the recession, including global solutions.

And what about Russia’s recent rampage through Georgia?

It underscores that the United States — despite its sole superpower status — faces a number of nations on the rise. Americans need to hear how the candidates plan to deal with those new realities.

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Another fact of life in the 21st century is that one of human history’s oldest problems — slavery — has returned with record numbers. Although most of the victims suffer far from U.S. shores, this nation has a responsibility to champion their cause. Americans need to hear how the candidates plan to stop human trafficking.

Terrorism also has afflicted human society for too long. Unlike slavery, it cannot be eliminated. But it can be substantially reduced if nations band together and confront the danger in a consistent, creative manner. Americans need to hear how the candidates plan to control terrorism.

I could go on. But I would rather have the candidates take up the discussion and seriously debate these matters. They have assembled the requisite foreign-policy expertise. Will they use it?

John C. Bersia, who won a Pulitzer Prize in editorial writing for the Orlando Sentinel in 2000, is the special assistant to the president for global perspectives at the University of Central Florida.

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