When Karol Wojtila was chosen as Pope John Paul II, the political value was immediately apparent. The Polish pope was an old hand at resisting communists, and was a strong voice in the years leading up to the collapse of the Soviet empire.
With that in mind, I have been thinking about what might have been: a pope from sub-Saharan Africa, the front lines of the world-wide struggle between militant Islam and Christianity. (NOTE: I am not saying there is a struggle between all of Islam and Christianity.)
I have no objection to the newly chosen Argentine pope, and no brief for any particular African bishop.
I am glad that the cardinals did not go with a Curia insider, or indeed with any European. And it certainly makes sense to finally pick someone from the most Catholic continent. But, in a sense, a South American is a safe choice. A Nigerian would have shifted the world power balance in one of the great cultural struggles of our time. At least a little.