Where Every Vote Counts

Not for the first time, Israeli voters gave a firm mandate to … none of their candidates. In the coming weeks, centrist Tzipi Livni and hawk Bibi Netanyahu will try to assemble a majority coalition and become prime minister. No matter who does it, Washington's tone toward Israel may change incrementally —but its policy won't. There are, however, several other overseas elections this year that could genuinelyreshape U.S. foreign policy. Ranked in order of importance:

IRAN: JUNE The populist president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is much better at needling the U.S. than pleasing his base. His poor stewardship of the Iranian economy has bolstered the candidacy of Mohammad Khatami, the reformist ex-president who was limited to two consecutive terms.
What's at stake: Diplomacy. Khatami has always been more eager to chat with the U.S. than Ahmadinejad is. (And vice versa.)

AFGHANISTAN: AUGUST President Hamid Karzai, the caped anti-Taliban avenger, is beset by corruption and violence and crippled by a perception that he's too cozy with America. Eighty-five percent of Afghans say they'll vote for someone else.
What's at stake: A new leader could complicate Obama's plans as U.S. soldiers prepare a surge to crush the remnants of Al Qaeda. Worse: weak as he is, Karzai is still the strongest leader in Afghanistan.

INDIA: MAY George W. Bush studiously cultivated this ally in the war on terror, especially after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a free-market economist, took over in 2004.
What's at stake: The Mumbai attacks strengthened Hindu nationalists who want to confront Pakistan. But the real surprise comes from a populist Dalit (Untouchable) named Mayawati, who has charged Singh with ignoring the poor at the expense of foreign relations. If elected, she'll turn India's attention inward.

JAPAN: SEPTEMBER (OR SOONER) Tokyo has finally stepped away from its unadulterated history of pacifism since World War II—but only a little. Its grand act of taking sides: helping to refuel American ships working the Afghanistan war from the Indian Ocean.
What's at stake: A defeat for Prime Minister Taro Aso's visionless Liberal Democratic Party's could halt the reconstitution of an army —and end military cooperation.