President Barack Obama walks with Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to brief the press at the Pentagon, Jan. 5, 2012. Obama and Panetta delivered remarks on a new defense strategy for the Defense Department going forward. Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter and the members of the Joint Chiefs and service secretaries joined them at the briefing.

DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

For the past fifty years the United States has led the world because that was its destiny.

World leadership here at the beginning of the 21st Century is still its destiny. This nation was created to be, as President Reagan was wont to say, “A shining city on a hill” lighting the way for other nations to find the path that leads to freedom, knowledge and prosperity.

The question is are we, as a nation, still up to the task of being the world’s leader and can we, in 2012, produce a president who is willing and capable of bearing the heavy and thankless burden of world leadership?

If the U.S. doesn’t lead the world, what nation will? Europe is too old and tired; just dealing with its own affairs exhausts it. Can or will China lead? No, the world won’t follow China — or Russia for that matter –because they are incapable of putting the world’s affairs ahead of their own, as the U.S. has so often done.

In the early 1990s Japan tried to assume the mantle of world leadership, but stumbled and fell. The Arab nations have yet to figure out how to govern themselves let alone lead other nations. The continents of Africa and South America have not yet been able to produce regional leaders, let alone world leaders. So across whose strong and broad shoulders does the mantle of world leadership inevitably fall?

For whatever reason Providence seems to have reserved that task, that burden, to the U.S. – alone. And of one thing we can be sure. With proper presidential leadership, the United States of America is still more than capable of continuing to lead the world.

And what kind of problems does the first decade of the 21st Century hold for our great country, what challenges directly threaten the U.S. and the world? Behind the curtains, there are a smorgasbord of problems waiting to spring to the center of the world stage and clamor for attention.

Internal political instability and North Korean and Chinese military miscalculations could cause all sorts of problems for the peninsula, including blundering into a war with South Korea.

An accidental military clash with China’s blossoming new navy or a Chinese miscalculation concerning Taiwan could also create a serious cause for concern.

Pakistan is ripe for a civil-military-nuclear-terrorist crisis and seems to be doing its best to stumble into or to create one. It could experience some kind of Arab Spring at any time. If so China, India, and Russia will be of little help. The only thing that is certain is that eventually there will be some kind of conflict in the Far East and, unless the U.S. is extremely careful or genuinely lucky, we will be drawn into it.

Saudi Arabia and the world oil market are cause for watchful concern. So far the Saudis and the Arab Emirates, with our help and cooperation, have managed the challenges presented quite well.

Islamic lawlessness in Europe can be expected to increase precipitating more civil-military instability and resulting in serious armed clashes.

Worldwide Islam can be expected to continue its nasty, dangerous, extremist ways. It’s the nature of the beast.

Iran will probably continue developing its nuclear weapons industry and sometime in 2012 that development will have to be significantly disrupted or eliminated altogether.

The U.S. is forecast to walk away from Afghanistan and the Taliban in 2014. In the meantime, what happens there is anyone’s guess.

In Iraq we have built the largest U.S. embassy in the world, State Department east? To what purpose? What is going on in Tehran? Do we really need to locate, in this third world country, a gargantuan ambassadorial edifice that is larger than our embassies in China, Russia, Paris and London? What is its real purpose for construction?

The cauldron of Palestinian statehood continues to boil and sputter and we will be lucky indeed if it does not explosively bubble over some time in 2012. Meanwhile the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank are each day becoming more restive and politically unstable.

Most sinister and troublesome in the Middle East is the adherence of extremist Muslims and the abdication of moderate Muslims, to the notion that Israel is not a legitimate state, has no right to exist, and that it is the holy duty of Muslims worldwide to join in destroying Israel and all Jews everywhere. Even Hitler and Nazi Germany weren’t this ambitious.

More troubling, is the United Nation’s refusal to ban extremist anti-Israel movements. Countries that refuse to recognize Israel’s legitimacy should be expelled from the United Nations.

Closer to home, Mexican drug cartels and border crossers may get more out of control and cause the collapse of the Mexican government, forcing the U.S. to militarily patrol and protect its southern border.

How all these things fit into President Obama’s policy of “We will keep our military forces small and only be prepared to fight one war at a time” is not clear. What if our adversaries don’t agree to cooperate with such a policy?

Is now really the right time to cut over a hundred thousand soldiers and Marines from our armed forces, especially considering our nation’s current unemployment problems? Is the federal government forecasting similar reductions in its civilian work force? 

Why aren’t Obama’s handpicked generals, admirals, intelligence, and defense officials publicly speaking out in opposition to these risky and dangerously unjustified cuts in America’s armed forces? Is their oath of loyalty sworn to the White House, or is it to the Constitution of the United States?

So the presidential election of 2012 is not just of vital importance to this nation, it is also of vital importance to the world.