What kind of world awaits America's next president? Well first, he or she, Republican or Democrat, need not feel like a novice on the world stage because a slew of other nations are fielding new leaders.
In Russia, President Vladimir Putin is obliged to step down next March at the end of his second term. Who will succeed Mr. Putin? We do not yet know, nor do we know whether Putin, who has been muttering elliptically about "remaining in politics," will attempt to pull the strings from some non-presidential perch.
Both France and Britain have relatively new leaders. President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris is crafting a much warmer relationship with the United States than his predecessor, Jacques Chirac. Prime Minister Gordon Brown in London is charting a firm, but less chummy, relationship with the Americans than his predecessor, Tony Blair. Thus four of the "big five" permanent members on the United Nations Security Council will have acquired new leaders in a relatively short space of time.
Meanwhile Pakistan, an important non-Arab Muslim state, and American ally in the war against terrorism, is scheduled to hold a critical presidential election next month. Turkey, another important non-Arab Muslim state, has acquired a new and controversial president, Abdullah Gul. Earlier this month, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe resigned, setting the scene for new leadership of his country.
On the upside, new faces make for new thinking, perhaps new and innovative policies. This may be a time of opportunity. The downside is that many of the problems they face are distressingly familiar and unresolved. Paramount are several global ones:
1. Global warming and its implications. One small example: This summer my wife, son, and I flew in a small plane around Kilimanjaro, Africa's tallest mountain. It is capped with a 60-foot thick glacier, sparkling in the sunshine. In the words of our bush pilot: "Optimists say the ice will be gone by 2030. Pessimists say by 2020." Currently the melting ice supports African villagers and animals in the surrounding plains. Without it, they will have no water.
2. Energy. The industrialized nations of the world have too little oil and use too much of it. India and China are coming on stream as huge new users. The world must become serious about alternative sources of energy: solar, wind, nuclear.
3. Jihadism. Extremist Islamists – such as Al Qaeda, Hizbullah, Hamas – interpret the Koran as license to kill Jews, Christians, and non-believers. International terrorism fanned by such hatred must be defeated. Mankind must find the way to living in religious harmony.
4. Grinding poverty in Africa, and in the Arab lands that spawn terrorism, must be supplanted by economic development that offers hope.
5. Nuclear threats, such as Al Qaeda's to bring "Hiroshima" to the US, must be defused and nuclear weapons sheathed.
Here are some of the world's areas that demand the perceptive attention, not only of the new US president, but all leaders who seek peace and prosperity:
•Israel and the Pal-estinians, who must create independent homelands at peace with each other.
•North Korea, apparently making some progress toward curbing its nuclear military ambitions.
•Iran, which is not making such progress and seeks to extend its influence throughout the Middle East.
•Iraq, which must exert more effort towards healing its factional divisions and reduce the presence of US forces.
•Darfur, where genocide is continuing unchecked.
•Zimbabwe, where a dictator is bringing a nation to its knees.
•Cuba, where a peaceful transition must take place upon Fidel Castro's departure.
•Venezuela, where Hugo Chavez dreams of a socialist revolution across Latin America.
•Russia, where the disappointing aftermath of communism's demise is a slide away from democracy.
•China, where attempts to run a booming free market economy with a communist political system must inevitably give way to change.
When the new US president isn't attending to foreign issues, there are some major challenges at home.
Neither the Bush administration nor Congress have so far solved the problem of continuing illegal immigration and the future of some 12 million illegal immigrants already working in the country.
President Bush expended major political capital on a plan to avert the looming financial crisis over social security, but failed to get the necessary congressional support. Medicare is another pending financial crisis that politicians have so far failed to attack. The new president's agenda is already full.
• John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, is a professor of communications at Brigham Young University.