I think the most likely top issue is Afghanistan. (Not that it's necessarily that likely per se - just more likely than anything else.)
I think the top issue will be Mozambique. Yes, definitely Mozambique.How will this play out? Just wait. You'll see.
I would say Afghanistan, just because it's the only issue that I can say with certainty that will still be with us next year, and affects people. However, I don't think it will be much of an election issue, because Republicans won't have any new plans to offer that will be different from Obama's direction.I think foreign policy overall will pale in comparison to the economy, no matter what's happening with the rest of the world.
Iran's nuclear program. Scary bad guys + nukes is the best formula for focusing the American mind abroad.It cuts against Obama, but as Democrats go I don't think Obama is especially vulnerable on national security.
Who Lost The Moslem World?I think there's a fair chance (25-50%) that Arab and other states, from Morocco to Indonesia, are going to appreciate each other more in coming years as fellow Islamic nations, with whom alliances should be formed. This might produce a Moslem "bloc", which would choose to vote together in the UN, prefer each other for trade partners, cooperate on scientific or ecological programs, lend support to pro-Islamic national liberation movements, etc. To some extent, this would only be an intensification of present day trends. OTOH, it could be seen as an explicitly anti-Western grouping, whose formation could be blamed upon American actions. Republicans would certainly blame this upon Obama (either for defending Mubarrak or failing to defend Mubarrak, for example); Democrats might argue that the rot began with Bush administration failures in the Middle East; both might argue that Moslem states are reacting to elements of Western culture ("our Christian values") which should not be changed. This could get political, IOW.
It will either be Afghanistan, with maybe some middle east unrest, making the US take a closer look at Yemen. The former is something he campaigned on wrapping up, and the latter will be the upcoming frontier of terrorism, AQAP. Their responsibilities and connections for scares and attempted terrorists acts should be brought further to the forefront of foreign policy post Afg
Echoing what Thomas said, Afghanistan is really the only foreign policy issue with the visibility to be a major topic in the coming election. Upheaval in the Arab world and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict really don't resonate enough with the American people, and America's rivalry with China, while a popular issue, doesn't offer enough room for Obama and his Republican opponent to differentiate themselves- both will talk about China's currency manipulation and call for greater US competitiveness, but aside from these vague talking points this issue doesn't have the type of mass-consumption policy arena candidates need to compete in. The same goes for Russia. Aside from the type of people who read politics blogs most Americans really don't care about Russia and America's complicated relationship. Barring some kind of unforeseeable catastrophe the economy will continue to dominate the political discussion in 2012. Job creation and the debt are easily understandable issues that highlight party partisan differences and won't go away. President Obama isn't that handicapped by his foreign policy record- I feel like a president has to really make a mess of international affairs to have it be an election issue, like George W. Bush, Clinton in 1993, and Carter's entire term. Domestic issues will almost always dominate.
The global economy is the most important foreign policy issue. If it's strong, then the U.S. economy will also likely be strong and Obama will be a shoo in for re-election. If it's weak or declining, then he better hope the GOP nominates Palin.
"... foreign policy/national security issue ..."Everyone above stated what are the likely ones.* The dragging on of Afghanistan. Where we really shouldn't leave because they have more rare earth minerals than china and can become a VERY wealthy ally breaking china's stranglehold on that.* Muslim world in general.* Iran + Nukes.* N. Korea (no-one mentioned it -- but with the impending death of their dear leader the son may want to prove his mettle in ways that are TRULY scary -- 3rd generation rulers tend to be the worst).* China and the continued trade imbalance. Or even China suddenly getting hit with an economic explosion causing a new wave of world wide economic collapse.* Mexico ( the real cause of our illegal/undocumented immigrant problem IS Mexico ... only offering public education to 5th grade means those here with a child in 6th grade will NOT go home because the Mexican govt will kick the 12-yr old kid to the street and tell them to get a job. By all rights, Mexico SHOULD be about the 6th-7th richest country on earth ... based upon population, natural resources, and territory. The are India with oil instead of a billion people. And their incompetence/corruption have them at 14th. The illegal/undocumented are not immigrants, they are refugees from economic and educational persecution. Neither of which are recognized by our State dept. )* Europe with their continuing economic issues.But as someone who has a minor in PoliSci ... what I know is international politics has a term to describe it.Structured Anarchy.Those above are the LIKELY flash points, but it really could be anything that flares into a nightmare.i.e.,France : The "Solar" initiative bombed even worse than Spain's, causing the biggest energy company to not have enough to stay afloat much less continue to maintain their 53 nuclear power plants.One of those plants melts down and there is a major international incident.Essentially equal to the Gulf Spill, but bringing a whole host of questions about maintaining and do we even build nuclear plants ( even though the problem was that the Government MADE the energy companies expend too much on solar energy and caused the plants to not be able to be maintained ) and on and on and on.It really could be so many different things. Hell it even COULD be Mozambique :PAnd then kylopod will be here dancing and saying SEE SEE ... I TOLD you so!( Right after sitting at his computer thinking "WTF? Why didn't I pick lotto numbers instead?")Structured Anarchy.
In a cycle that will be dominated by domestic issues, I foresee Afghanistan and Sino-American relations as the only consequential FP issues.
I could see democratization issues continue to rise in profile and importance for US policy. Not just Egypt and Tunisia - those countries may just be part of a larger democratic awakening throughout the Middle East and elsewhere.Domestic tension in Iran continues to simmer, Lebanon, Yemen, and Jordan are seeing increased discontent, and the South Sudan experiment is likely to test Bashir's capacity for restraint. How candidates approach countries and regimes in transition - in many cases likely violent transition - from autocracy to flawed democracy could be a big foreign policy issue going forward.
AS kind of a follow up to what I said ...http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/wehner/388528Clipped from it is ..."On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a university graduate whose fruits-and-vegetables market stand was confiscated by police because it had no permit, tried to yank back his apples. He was slapped in the face by a female municipal inspector and eventually beaten by her colleagues. His later appeals were ignored. Humiliated, he drenched himself in paint thinner and set himself on fire. He died on January 4.That incident was the spark that set ablaze the revolution that overthrew President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled Tunisia for more than two decades — and that, in turn, spread to Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year reign of power is about to end. Anti-government protests are also happening in Jordan, Morocco, Yemen, and elsewhere. "The rest is ... well ... commentary is a pretty right leaning site.But this is what I meant when I said "structured anarchy" and we have no idea.A fruit stand vendor gets slapped and riots bust out all across the mid-east.The foreign policy issue of Nov 2011 is that hard to predict.
At The Washington Post
At The American Prospect