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October 14, 2015 7:00 am

5 Questions for Candidates Running for President

avatar by John Bolton

August's Republican Presidential debate. Photo: Screenshot.

August’s Republican Presidential debate. Photo: Screenshot.

With America’s international influence declining at an ever-faster pace under Barack Obama, the importance of making national security the 2016 presidential campaign’s central issue has increased correspondingly. Although the conventional wisdom of political operatives and commentators is that voters do not pay attention to foreign and defense policy, threatening events around the world now compel a different conclusion.

In fact, American citizens do understand that the president’s principal job is to keep the country safe. In the 2014 elections, for example, when ISIS began beheading American citizens, the issue of international terrorism rose quickly to the top of the agenda in many hotly contested Senate and House races. Today, the spectacle of Russian air assets in Syria and continued threats to Ukraine; ISIS redrawing the map of the Middle East; Obama’s appalling nuclear deal with Iran; and China taking control of the South China Sea all show why international leadership must be the primary qualification for presidential aspirants.

To aid voters in evaluating the presidential race, here are five basic questions all the candidates must answer:

1. What is America’s proper place in the world?

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Do the candidates see a strong U.S. international presence contributing to international peace and security, which has been the traditional Republican view, often summarized as “peace through strength”? Or do they see American economic, political and military power — both as a deterrent but even more so when actually put to work — as causing as much international tension and conflict as the hostile, aggressive designs of our adversaries?

The latter is Obama’s view, characterized by repeated apologies for past American foreign policies. Thus, Obama and John Kerry have ascribed Tehran’s anti-Americanism to U.S. involvement in the 1953 coup overthrowing Prime Minister Mosaddeq. Most Americans, by contrast, understand that Iran’s mullahs despise us because of their radical Islamicist ideology. Accordingly, for almost seven years, Obama has tried appeasing Iran on its nuclear program to overcome the mullahs’ hostility.

2. How does U.S. foreign policy affect domestic policy?

Not long ago, this question was unnecessary. Sadly, however, many politicians misunderstood our Cold War victory. Gulled by “the end of history,” and seeking a fanciful “peace dividend,” they concluded that foreign affairs would thereafter be far less important. In reality, of course, foreign and domestic policies are inextricably linked, energy policy being perhaps the best example.

We cannot effectively protect our interests and our friends abroad without a strong domestic economy. And that economy is not sustainable without a stable, open international trade and investment environment, buttressed by security structures, which the United States has led in providing since 1945. Ignoring this linkage guarantees failure, and thereby helps explain why we are in trouble today. A candidate who focuses only on domestic policy is only half a candidate.

3. What are the primary threats and opportunities America faces abroad?

The long-term strategic dangers posed by aggressive Russian and Chinese behavior, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and international terrorism’s continuing menace should top the list of threats. Opportunities are harder to find, because, especially after Obama’s tenure, when even our friends are hedging their bets. Candidates need to do more than read staff-written speeches or answer debate questions with pre-programmed talking points. They must demonstrate the intellect and character to detect, analyze, and respond to threats and opportunities.

4. How should America respond to those threats and opportunities?

Describing our manifold, growing problems and critiquing Obama’s failures are not enough. We must urgently restore the confidence of our friends and allies, and, as importantly, remind our adversaries that we are fully capable of acting to protect our global interests and friends. How do the presidential candidates propose to do this? How will they resurrect the deterrence capabilities that have fallen into disuse and disrepair?

For example, do they understand, especially after the Vienna deal with Iran and years of ignoring North Korea’s nuclear threat, that we must rapidly restore our national missile defense program? Vague generalities are not enough.

5. What resources are required for our national defense? In addition to political will and determination, America needs the resources necessary to match its strategic priorities. While aggregate federal spending must be dramatically reduced, the reality is that Obama has slashed military and intelligence spending catastrophically, gravely impairing our defense capabilities. Even as a new president cuts domestic spending to acceptable levels, military and intelligence spending must rise significantly and urgently, as with Ronald Reagan in 1981. Rhetoric is costless, but budget allocations are scored in hard dollars.

Many important issues face America but 2016 voters should not give presidential candidates a second look if they cannot persuasively answer national security questions like these.

This article was originally published by The Pittsburgh Tribune Review. 

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