The choice the United States makes when it goes to the polls today will, more than ever before, touch the lives of those who live beyond its borders. This has rightly been described as a 'world election'. Individual voters may be swayed by domestic issues such as taxes, health policy and attitudes towards abortion. But as the 'war on terror' continues, it is not surprising that foreign policy has dominated the race for the presidency. And the direction that policy might take is what most concerns the rest of the world. From the perspective of those on the outside looking in, the election boils down to a simple choice between two candidates with sharply differing visions of America's role in the world. The outcome will determine the way in which the US will use its position as the world's only superpower to tackle the daunting global challenges of these dangerous times. There is much at stake. As with every other US election in which an incumbent is standing for a second term, it will be a referendum on the performance of the president. But this time, foreign policy will play a key role in determining how he is to be judged. A vote for President George W. Bush will be one for continuity. If he wins, we know what to expect. There is no sign that Mr Bush and his conservative Republican cohorts are considering a change of course. The US, it seems, would continue with the 'with us, or against us' approach that has done so much damage to its standing in the world. International institutions would be further weakened and scant regard shown for the rule of law. This misguided strategy has driven a wedge between the US and millions of people around the world upon whose support success in the 'war on terror' will ultimately depend. It is a policy that has deepened divisions at a time when unity is so desperately needed. HOLE IN THE HEART As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman put it, there is a hole in the heart of the world. Politics has become dangerously polarised - and more extreme. The voices of moderation are being swept aside. And the Bush administration is making matters worse. It need not have been this way. Mr Bush came to power four years ago promising to bring unity to his country - which was deeply divided after a bitterly contested election. The September 11 attacks on the US made this all the more important. Initially, Mr Bush rose to the challenge. His speech to Congress soon after the tragedy was strong and defiant - but also stressed the importance of building alliances. It came at a time when the US was attracting great sympathy around the world. It should have been the start of a multilateral, international approach to defeating terrorism. But the goodwill was swiftly eroded. The attack on Afghanistan and the removal of al-Qaeda's terrorist training grounds received widespread support. But the detention of captives in Guantanamo Bay - in flagrant breach of international law - rightly caused concern. Then came the invasion of Iraq. And this was the moment when the US parted company with the international community. The decision to attack without support from the United Nations meant the invasion and occupation lacked legitimacy. The prime justifications for the war have now been shown to be false. And the ill-treatment of Iraqis in Abu Ghraib jail removed what little moral authority the Bush administration had left. LESS SAFE Many Americans view Mr Bush as having acted in their interests. And the fact that the US has not suffered a major terrorist strike since September 11, 2001, is to his credit. But the reckless policy pursued in Iraq has bred resentment and anger - especially among Muslims. The world has not become a safer place. Whether Democrat challenger John Kerry has what it takes to heal the wounds - and bring peace and security to Iraq - is unclear. He has often appeared to be indecisive - and is certainly not the most charismatic politician ever to run for the presidency. However, Senator Kerry has gained strength during the campaign - especially during the presidential debates. And he has a reputation for being a strong finisher. His foreign policy plans are sketchy. But he has clearly signalled he intends to make a fresh start. There have been promises to work with the international community and pursue a multilateral approach. In the case of Iraq, this will not prove easy. But it would provide a better basis for progress to be made. On the economy, Senator Kerry has struck a more protectionist note, expressing alarm about the outsourcing of US jobs - particularly to China. Should he win, it is hoped that he will realise these worries are overstated. As for Mr Bush, the record deficits run up by his administration are a serious cause for concern. The world beyond America's borders has strong views on this election - but no vote. So the way in which foreigners perceive the relative merits of candidates is unlikely to count for much. This is very much a decision for the US. But the outcome will affect America's standing in the world. And if this is valued by voters, they will make their choice with care.