Even as the focus of many voters remains on the economy and jobs, recent world events are turning eyes toward America's role as the spearhead for democracy. The candidates for the 11th Congressional District have different views on American involvement overseas and how to respond to changing international markets and Arab Spring.
Democrat Bill Foster of Naperville and Republican Judy Biggert of Hinsdale agree a nuclear Iran is a threat to the United States, Israel and the Middle East in general. Neither was willing to spell out a "red line" that would trigger U.S. military intervention.
Foster said talking about "red lines" in public is tantamount to a dare.
"People standing up and demanding a public red line are misguided," he said. "If you're going to do that, you do it in private. If you make it public, it almost forces (Iran) to cross the red line so they show they are not backing down."
Foster said he's worried the intelligence community might be paying too much attention to whether Iran will stockpile enriched uranium through a centrifuge program.
"The whole centrifuge program may be a giant head fake," Foster said.
He believes the United States must also guard against the possibility of Iran obtaining any of the enriched uranium that went missing when the Soviet Union dissolved.
"That's one of my real worries," he said.
Biggert said a nuclear weapon in Iran would trigger an arms race in the Middle East. A Cold War in that region would be so dangerous that "no options can be left off the table to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons," Biggert said.
She both favors and voted for economic sanctions against Iran. She believes China and Russia must be pressured to support those sanctions.
Hand in hand with the issue of a nuclear Iran is the United States' relationship with the nation that began the talk of red lines -- Israel. Neither candidate would go so far as to say relations between the U.S. and Israel were strained because President Barack Obama's pressed Israel in public for concessions on settlements in trying to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Biggert disagreed with that action. She said peace between Israel and Palestine can be achieved only through direct negotiations between the two nations. She said the U.S. and Israel must remain united through shared values and in their military strength "to enhance Israel's deterrence against the growing Iranian ballistic missile threat. Iran's leaders pledge to wipe Israel off the map, and we must ensure that never happens."
Foster said any talk of strained relations between the U.S. and Israel is being done only by people trying to win an election.
"The majority of Israelis do not want to go to war with Iran," Foster said. He believes military cooperation between the U.S. and Israel has never been stronger.
Foster said it's not clear that anything Obama did or will do can affect the tension between Israel and Palestine. Foster, however, does believe a two-state solution might be the only realistic outcome.
"At least lip service is given to the two-state solution by pretty much everyone up and down the command chain in Israel," Foster said. "What you need are politically strong negotiating partners on both sides so they can make the unpleasant suggestions."
Foster said one area where the U.S. has failed to be a strong negotiator is in trade agreements with China. Huge errors were made in trying to gain access to China's markets for the United States' financial services sector, he said.
"Everyone hoped that by offering China a sweet deal, it would get them involved in the international world and stabilize the probability of a conflict," Foster said. "That is a good and noble goal, but we made a mistake by basically throwing U.S. manufacturing under the bus."
Agreements with China did not go far enough to prevent China from stealing U.S. technology and manipulating its currency, Foster said. The result has been the loss of a third of the U.S. manufacturing sector, he added. Those trade agreements must be rectified in future negotiations.
Biggert said she's also concerned about China's ongoing currency manipulation. She said she's supported legislation to combat that problem. However, the U.S. must be careful to pursue only negotiations that strengthen economic and political ties with China. The U.S. must "hold the leverage needed to discourage behavior that undercuts international efforts to isolate rogue nations, and to ensure that territorial disputes in East Asia are handled through appropriate multilateral channels," Biggert said.
A similar approach is needed with regards to the ongoing Arab Spring uprisings throughout the Middle East, Biggert said.
"The current administration lacks a coherent policy in the Middle East," Biggert said. "In 2009 when Iranians poured into the streets of Tehran to protest a stolen election, the administration was silent. When protests broke out in Egypt, the administration said (Hosni) Mubarak must go, but when protests broke out in Syria, the administration said (Bashar Hafez) al-Assad could still become a reformer. The U.S. intervened in Libya to prevent a genocide in Benghazi but has refused to provide basic supplies to people being massacred in Syria. The administration's failure to respond quickly and coherently to the situation in Syria has destabilized the country, inviting foreign fighters, foreign influence, and anxiety over the security of chemical weapons. We should make clear that America stands with the people of Syria, not their murderous dictator."
Foster said there is value in not always being the lead or sole military enforcer for the uprisings.
"We got rid of the bad guy in both Iraq and Libya, but long-term maintenance costs will be in the billions instead of trillions of dollars," Foster said. "That is the merit of Obama's multilateral approach. The trade-off is between the U.S. taking a strong military position of leadership in every area of the world where we might see something we don't like and the acknowledgment that we have finite military resources. Sometimes it may not be worth putting the lives of our soldiers at risk. There are clear examples where we got it wrong, like the poorly planned invasion and the after-game in Iraq."
Foster said it would have been irresponsible to arm the rebel factions in Syria because it's unclear what their ideologies and politics are. He believes unrest in Syria will begin to take on a new face as the Syrian government runs out of money, in part because of the economic isolation imposed on the country.
"When they can't pay their troops, then we'll see a real change of their ability to cling onto power," Foster said. The reality of the Egyptian uprising is similar to a problem the U.S. faces in other parts of the region, Foster said. They don't share our cultural values.
"While there is support for democracy, the majority of the Egyptian people also support the Muslim Brotherhood. My hope is we can get to the point where there is real democracy in Egypt," he said.
Finally, both Foster and Biggert agree the main goal now for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan would be ensuring there is no chance for the country to become a base for terrorist attacks against the U.S. and its allies.
Foster said the question is whether to do that with troops on the ground or drone patrols.
"Drones will not allow you to do nation building," Foster said. "If we decide to go down that route to essentially withdraw, then we're going to have to face the fact that there are going to be sections where the tribal behavior, things like their treatment of women, will be real humanitarian problems. I don't think we'll ever feel good about (our involvement). We have to minimize how bad we'll feel about what's necessary."
Biggert said the U.S. strategy moving forward should be to train the Afghan National Security Forces to be responsible for the future of their own country. That should not be the United States' job.
"We should be proud of our troops who have fought with distinction and achieved more than many thought possible just a few years ago," Biggert said.