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JP Grace: Pakistan, Mexico are overlooked as hotspots for U.S.

Oct. 15, 2012 @ 11:20 PM

What important foreign policy issues are being given short shrift in our overheated presidential debate season leading up to Election Day, Nov. 6?

Clearly, if an issue is not "hot-button" enough, or cannot easily be spun to favor one side's candidate or trash the other side's, it gets left out of the discussion -- or is at best, low keyed. That, however, does not mean a given issue does not have overriding importance for our current and future national life.

Here are two areas that have been almost off the radar scope in debates between President Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney, and on the campaign trail:

Pakistan and Mexico.

Over one year ago I suggested in a column here that these two countries represented our greatest foreign policy challenges, and yet they are scarcely mentioned in political ads, campaign rallies or even in the debates.

What we have heard about most has been Iran's posing a threat if it comes any closer to acquiring a nuclear weapon or how we have to "talk tough" to China on trade and on their swiping of U.S. technology through industrial espionage.

Romney has even declared that Russia is "our No. 1 geo-political enemy" and complained loudly about Obama's not taking a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when the latter came to address the United Nations recently.

Nonetheless, I submit that both Pakistan and Mexico should command far greater attention right now than Iran or Russia or China or Israel.

Pakistan is verging on chaos and is bitter and hostile to the United States over our incursions in western Pakistan with drone strikes to kill al-Qaeda leaders and our daring raid on the compound in Abbotabad to take down al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden.

A takeover of the Pakistani government by elements hostile to the West puts not just a few but a whole arsenal of nuclear weapons in dangerous hands. Longstanding hostilities with India, another nuclear power, could also flare with disastrous consequences. Ostensibly, both India and Pakistan are U.S.allies, but each would try to draw our country in on their side.

Besides all that, U.S., military and diplomatic strategists seem in agreement that the key to achieving a workable end to our 10-year war in Afghanistan is how we deal with neighboring Pakistan, a much more powerful and complicated country. Afghan militants continue to count on Pakistan for hideouts and also for weapons and other supplies.

Mexico, obviously, presents a quite different but equally nettlesome quandary.

We share a hemisphere with Mexico and a 2,000-plus-mile border. Most of the illegal immigration we have experienced comes across that border. And the Mexican drug cartels have long since supplanted the infamous Columbian cartels as the engines of the trade in cocaine, heroin and more recently methamphetamine into American cities and towns.

Rampant killings, in the thousands each year, by cartel henchmen throughout Mexico have terrorized vast stretches of the populace, devastated tourism and called into question even the capacity of the government, led by incoming President Enrique Pena Nieto, to keep the country stable.

A failed state the size of Mexico, right on our borders, would have perilous consequences for us as Americans. Imagine having to invade Mexico to wrest the country back from the grip of a drug-cartel-run pseudo government that was terrorizing the populace the way Bashar Al-Assad and his troops have been massacring their own people in Syria.

Talk about a foreign policy challenge!

John Patrick Grace is a former Rome-based foreign correspondent for The Associated Press. He has traveled widely to 22 countries outside the United States. He currently is a book editor and publisher based in Huntington and also teaches the Life Writing Class.

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