Jewish World Review Sept. 28, 2004 / 13 Tishrei, 5765

John C. Bersia

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Pin down Bush, Kerry on the most pressing issue: Terrorism


http://www.jewishworldreview.com | Six weeks before Election Day, it angers me that President George W. Bush and Democratic contender John Kerry continue to focus more energy on taking potshots at each other than on informing Americans about their strategies to deal with critical global issues such as terrorism.

Americans deserve better, particularly in light of the fact that global issues hold center stage this year - unlike the typical experience of past elections. Although some people say that they plan to vote according to the candidates' "domestic" stands, that is, matters such as the economy or social views, it's not that simple. The line between the exclusively domestic and the exclusively international has blurred considerably in the current era of accelerated globalization, integration and interdependence. Little happens beyond the nation's shores that does not affect individual Americans' lives.

Furthermore, if the next president fails to get his hands around the most pressing issue of modern times - the war against terrorism - the other concerns will not matter that much. After all, global terrorists seek to undermine Americans' very way of life and have settled in for a lengthy struggle.

Al-Qaeda's schemes may begin with the stated goal of removing the U.S. presence from Muslim countries, but they have longer term and more ominous aspects. In truth, the group will feel threatened as long as the United States commands influence anywhere. Therefore, al-Qaeda can be expected to use every weapon at its disposal - including devices of mass destruction - in its efforts to discourage and humble America.

In light of that threat, why are Bush and Kerry wasting time, mocking each other's credentials to serve as commander in chief? Instead, why not pour their energy into providing unambiguous outlines of the actions that they plan to take internationally, starting with the war against terrorism?


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I would like to hear - in detail, not in sound bites - how they define the war against terrorism; how they would prosecute it; whether they would act preemptively and under what circumstances; how they would encourage and strengthen international coalitions; what kinds of U.S. military counterterrorism training and spending they would emphasize; how they would modify, modernize and bolster American intelligence capabilities; how they would enhance defense of the homeland; and the effort that they would put into global education and cultural awareness.

Turning to Iraq, the situation there - whether one agrees with the Bush administration's decision to intervene or not - is inextricably linked to the terrorism conundrum. I am not referring to Saddam Hussein's active flirtation with and support of various terrorist groups when he was still in power, but to Iraq's evolution, as a consequence of the U.S.-led invasion, into a magnet for global terrorists who relish the chance to confront Washington. That is a fact of life; Americans must understand that Iraq is now a key front in the war against terrorism.

In response, the candidates should offer step-by-step plans - with an emphasis on resolving the crisis, not on finding a way out. Frankly, I am sick and tired of hearing conversations on Iraq that start with talk of "bringing the troops home" and an "exit strategy." It goes without saying that no American would want U.S. troops to stay in Iraq or other trouble spots one day longer than necessary.

However, the job in Iraq remains unfinished, and the ramifications of a premature withdrawal could threaten the security and stability not only of the Persian Gulf but of the entire Middle East.

Bush and Kerry should level with Americans and tell them that the Iraqi crisis probably will require more troops - whether U.S. or coalition - not less during the short term. The Iraqi government eventually will develop its own counterterrorism and other self-defense capabilities, but not within a matter of months.

If Bush and Kerry wish to inspire Americans about their commander-in-chief capabilities and offer voters a clearer choice, they should seize the opportunity in the remaining weeks of the campaign to show some leadership, imagination, forcefulness and evidence of deeper thinking on the key global issues that complicate and challenge Americans' lives.

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John C. Bersia, who won a Pulitzer Prize in editorial writing for the Orlando Sentinel in 2000, is also the special assistant to the president for global perspectives and a professor at the University of Central Florida. Comment by clicking here.

Up

06/08/04: U.S. intelligence agencies must increase awareness in order to grow
05/20/04: Societies, markets will survive, thrive
05/04/04: With terror on the rise worldwide, America can't afford to be isolationists
11/18/03: U.S. now has right view on China
10/14/03: Reinstitute mandatory smallpox vaccinations as biodefense precaution?
08/05/03: It's time to be realistic on new age of terrorism


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