Americans watching the last presidential debate, ostensibly on foreign affairs, might have thought they were watching a science-fiction movie, like "Armageddon" or "Deep Impact," where asteroids collided with the earth.
Poof! Europe gone. Poof! Canada and Mexico gone. Latin America, too. Poof! Africa gone. Poof! India, Japan and Asia gone. After the dust settled, all that was left was the United States and the Middle East. Oh, it took a while to discover, but China had survived, too barely.
The world that President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney addressed was a small world, indeed.
No mention of our long-standing trans-Atlantic relationship with Europe. Only one smug mention by Romney that we don't want to be like Greece. Is Europe's stability and prosperity important to us? Where does Russia fit?
The economic relationship between the United States and Europe is, as one observer has noted, "the deepest and broadest between any two continents in history." We share high wages, high labor and environmental standards and open access to markets. And the backbone of the economic relationship is foreign investment, not just trade.
The debt crisis in Europe, of course, threatens economies on both sides of the Atlantic and worldwide. Yet no mention of the need to restore growth and confidence. But the trans-Atlantic relationship is not just about economics. We share an enduring set of common interests and democratic values, no small thing.
Our neighbors, Mexico and Canada, received no mention either. Canada and Mexico are our top two export markets. Canada is the single largest foreign supplier of energy to the United States. Mexico was the second-largest supplier of oil to the United States in 2011.
We have daily people-to-people contacts with Canada and Mexico, family ties through migration and a shared North American environment. We share common political values with Canada and have a direct interest in a prosperous and democratic Mexico.
The African continent with its 57 countries and 1 billion people who look to the United States as a democratic beacon, and where we get nearly a quarter of our energy supplies, plus at least 50 rare metals that we need for computers and electronic equipment got no mention.
India, the world's largest democracy with more than a billion people, dominates the geography of the South Asia region. But it, too, got no mention.
Japan, the cornerstone of our engagement in the Asia-Pacific region for the last half century, got no mention either. The United States and Japan are essential to global economic recovery and Japan remains a maritime linchpin, allowing us to keep vital sea lanes open in the Asia-Pacific region.
China did get mentioned, but only as a "currency manipulator" (Romney) or site of outsourced U.S. jobs (Obama). The fact is the Chinese currency situation has improved markedly; this is not really much of an issue right now. And the United States, California particularly, is poised in coming years to benefit from economic exchange with China if we can get past the usual China-bashing that is a staple of the campaign season.
The candidates missed an important opportunity to address what we should do to ensure that future relations between the United States and China are about peaceful, cooperative competition, and not confrontation.
Fortunately, Earth wasn't hit by gigantic asteroids, so Americans and their political leaders can rediscover and should re-engage with the larger world if not in the remaining days of the campaign, then in the coming four years.