Political Hay

So You Want to Be President?

Presidential candidates need to get serious about our national security challenges.

By 6.5.07

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With all the candidates declaring (and not yet declaring) their intentions to run for the highest office in the United States, there is some question as to how much thought each of them have given to the national security problems the nation will face during the next administration.

Of course all of the aspirants have evolved quick debate responses to the serious questions of illegal immigration and terrorism -- and some actually know what they are talking about. But how much have they considered the long list of other challenging and dangerous issues that could be facing the nation?

If Iran is not stopped in the next year and a half, the next president will have to deal with a nuclear-armed Persia with an ambitious agenda for extending Shia leverage in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. And what is worse, Russia appears in no way disposed toward restricting Iran in any fashion.

Russia, itself, is swiftly returning to its earlier preferences toward challenging the U.S. and the West on every issue it can in spite of extensive efforts by Washington and the European Union to find reasonable accommodations. Clearly, if this tendency continues, the next president will have to face a massively rearmed and aggressive Russia.

China, of course, is not unaware of Russia's tendencies to seek to exert its muscle. Beijing is modernizing its substantial arsenal of nuclear weapons including mobile land-based ICBMs in addition to its enhanced fleet of nuclear submarines. From a strategic standpoint China's considerable investment in modern weapon technology must be considered a message to both Moscow and Washington.

Beijing has also made clear its intention to extend its political and economic reach in Africa. The increased import requirements of the contemporary Chinese state are enormous, especially as regard raw materials of all types. Its impact on the world petroleum market already has had an effect. By 2008-2012 the role China will play in the world petroleum market definitely will be come part of the Washington-Beijing trade and finance equation.

Sometime during the next administration the U.S. will have to deal aggressively with an increasingly antagonistic presence in Latin America of leftist political leaders. Hugo Chavez, for one, already has shown signs of seeking to assume the mantle of the aged and ill Fidel Castro as the chief antagonist of the hated capitalist United States.

Chavez has indicated his willingness to reach out internationally to the likes of Iran's Ahmadinejad in an effort to enhance his international status. The question now exists as to how far Venezuela's paratrooper president is willing to go to twist Washington's tail and what will the next president do about it?

The ramifications of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will linger on long after the departing Bush administration, no matter the degree to which American military presence is cut back. Al Qaeda in one form or another will still seek to terrorize the U.S. and the West. Pakistan will have to face the reality of its own dangerous internal conflicts, and the next American president will have to handle that "sticky wicket."

It would take an extraordinary optimist to perceive a near-term future involving Israel and Palestine that is much more peaceful and closer to settlement. No American president is going to be able to wave a wand and make that problem disappear -- and that's the situation used by Islam's radicals to keep the Middle East on a boil.

Lest we forget, North Korea has shown it still has the ability to make the Northwest Pacific dance around to its tune any time Pyongyang wishes to shoot off a few missiles. Its existing nuclear weapon program is the only real leverage it has. Any delay in rolling back its current small stockpile works to its strategic advantage.

These are only some of the many international issues facing our next commander-in-chief. Who among the many are the best qualified to deal with these myriad concerns? Do they really have the ability to take on this grueling job that has left so many of the past presidents aged far beyond their years? And we haven't yet begun to consider the domestic issues to be faced.

Well, candidate, are you really ready to be president? Are you really?

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About the Author
George H. Wittman writes a weekly column on international affairs for The American Spectator online. He was the founding chairman of the National Institute for Public Policy.