Iran. China. Afghanistan.
All three are likely to remain ongoing challenges for the next American president.
Republican Mitt Romney and Democrat Barack Obama squared off in the third of three nationally televised debates Monday night, this time over foreign policy.
Howard Spiva, a 32-year veteran of the U.S. Army, said Monday that the most pressing national security issue the United States faces is the possibility that Iran could obtain a nuclear weapon.
Spiva, who serves as commander of American Legion Post No. 13, said he also supports Obama’s foreign-policy initiative to bring the troops home from Afghanistan.
“We have fulfilled our obligation that President Bush made 10 years ago,’’ he said. “We have been there way too long and it’s time to get the troops out of there immediately.
“The people over there have been given a chance to fulfill their own obligations and they have got to take that responsibility,’’ he added. “There have been too many injured and too many deaths. I don’t want to take sides, but I think the President is on the right track there.’’
John Groesbeck, dean of the Plaster School of Business at Missouri Southern State University, said that when national security is defined broadly, it includes more than imminent military threats. National security is interdependent with economic security, which he defined as the ability of a nation to employ its citizens, the ability of those citizens to invest and expect a reasonable return for such things as retirement, the confidence those citizens have in the future, and the ability of people to protect their assets, whether that be protecting intellectual property of preventing inflation.
China, the world’s second largest economy, is one of the challenges for the next president, even if there is not a direct military threat.
Groesbeck, who has been to China eight times, said there are actually two Chinas: The coastal one of wealth symbolized by Ferrari dealerships is found in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong. The larger and more heavily populated one, in the interior, is symbolized by oxcarts. That China is underdeveloped, and a challenge to Chinese leaders who don’t want much of the country left behind. That is part of the justification for the currency manipulation.
“They are trying to figure out a way to pay for everything that has to happen,” he said.
He said there is no doubt that China is manipulating its currency to keep it artifically low in order to keep its exports flowing into the United States.
That is part of the money that is supporting the wealth explosion of coastal cities, and at the same time driving up prices worldwide for raw materials such as copper, which the Chinese are stockpiling. What is in the interests of the United States is helping China develop its middle class, which would become a market for American-made products.
China also is the foreign nation that holds the most U.S. debt, at $1.2 trillion.
He doesn’t think that poses an immediate threat, or is something the Chinese will use to give their nation more political leverage.
“They want to maintain good relations with the United States for now. They recognize it is in their best interest,” Groesbeck said.
With the fragmentation of the EU, the United States “is still the best bet in town.”
“Where else are they going to put their money? ... It’s in their best interests to play nice with us. China has a self interest in continuing to cooperate with the United States because they need us.”
Paul Zagorski, professor of History, Philosophy and Social Sciences at Pittsburg (Kan.) State University, noted that outside threats to the United States over the next four years may be economic or military.
Zagorski said both presidential candidates have set a “red line” regarding Iran’s reported nuclear ambitions, in that if Iran gets close to building a nuclear weapon, it would be attacked.
He said the United States has successfully contained other nations with nuclear weapons but he doesn’t think a nuclear-armed Iran poses the threat that many claim. And he said threats of attacking Iran are ill-conceived.
“Even if we just use air strikes, the only thing it will do is set them back a few years,” he said. “Or it may inflame the whole region.”
Instability in the Arab world, brought about by the Arab Spring, has the potential to affect world energy prices, he added.
Overseas terrorists, like those who killed U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens in Libya, are mostly a regional threat. Those who threaten Americans on U.S. soil probably will continue to be free-lancers, Zagorski said.
He said al-Qaida has become an increasingly weaker since being driven into Pakistan and Osama bin Laden was killed.
“They’re marginal,” Zagorski said of the free-lance terrorists. “Self-help terrorism is very difficult to address and say, ‘It’s all done.’”
For Marshall Hogue, who has served 18 years in the U.S. Army Reserve in places such as Guantanamo Bay and Iraq, the issue is security for Americans overseas.
“As an active service member, it’s hard to talk about policy. As a citizen, I think we must do everything to protect our assets overseas as much as possible,’’ he said. “When we have embassies and diplomatic relations with countries, we need to make sure that our people on sovereign soil are safe.’’
Hogue said, “It’s hard to be diplomatic and secure at the same time. We want to be friendly to the world, but we also have to be secure at the same time.’’
Globe staff writers Roger McKinney and Wally Kennedy and Metro Editor Andy Ostmeyer contributed to this report.