Despite Gov. Romney’s departure from the Republican field, the excitement over the primaries is unlikely to dissipate anytime soon. But in the next month, there are a number of elections around the world that will have significant bearing on the U.S. strategic landscape, and perhaps the candidates’ foreign policy positioning.
Pakistan’s elections are scheduled for February 18 with Western hopes that a new democratically elected government might actually start to crackdown on the Taliban freely operating on the Pakistani-Afghan border. Some are suggesting that the recent spat of Taliban-style attacks on Pakistani urban centers have created uproar and galvanized the public against such acts of terrorism.
Even if the Pakistani military does not fall prey to another “truce” offered by the Taliban, structural barriers exist to constrain any democratically elected leadership wishing to crackdown on the frontier provinces. This includes the fact that actions perceived to be at the behest of the U.S. war on terror are extremely unpopular by a supermajority of Pakistanis; ISI calculations to maintain Taliban ties for strategic depth as well as in case of a U.S. withdrawal from the region; flagging morale in the Pakistani military; and the simple fact that Pakistani force structures have not fully and effectively adapted for counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism.
Cuban elections follow six days later on February 24 where we are likely to see the official beginnings of the post-Fidel era. Whether we (and our presidential candidates) acknowledge that change will be pivotal, and speak volumes about the future of our relations with a gateway to Latin America.
There will be few surprises in the upcoming Russian elections on March 2nd, only intrigue over how President Putin will manage power from a new institutional vantage. But it will revive attention to Russia’s thorny intransigence on a number of global issues.
And finally Iranian parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for March 14th, have already exhibited a major setback. The Financial Times reports that the reformist party lead by former President Khatami, was dealt a major blow with a vast number of their candidates disqualified from running in upcoming elections. Khatami’s alliance with conservative former President Rafsanjani — formed out of concern over economic malaise and incompetence as well as what they perceived to be a dangerously provocative foreign policy statements and gestures — was supposed to do well and knock back current President Ahmadinejad before he runs for re-election in the summer of 2009.
The disqualifications (that included the grandson of the leader of the 1979 Iranian Revolution Ayatollah Khomeini) were initiated by Ahmadinejad’s interior ministry but then ratified and expanded by the Guardian Council. Rafsanjani and Khatami are appealing to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khameini who has the power to reverse the decisions. It also looks as though former nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani might be leading a conservative faction of his own against Ahmadinejad.
While these elections pose opportunities for reformists and moderates to assume to the helm of power, they also could also complicate and frustrate relationships with the U.S. even further. And they each provide an opportunity to turn our electoral focus back to the messy questions of foreign policy.