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An Open Letter to the Candidates

By Richard Halloran

An Open Letter To Senators Clinton, McCain, Obama and Governor Huckabee,

With due respect, you as candidates for the presidency of the United States have so far shown little vision about where you would lead this nation in international affairs, including national security and foreign policy, should you enter the White House on January 20, 2009.

Each of you, for instance, has declared how you would conduct or end the war in Iraq. There has been little said, however, about what comes after that. All wars must end but the issues confronting America will go on so as long as the Republic endures.

The US armed forces today are stretched thin and are deployed further afield than any force in history, including the Roman legions and the cavalry of Genghis Khan. The American soldiers posted in Bagram, Afghanistan, are about as far from the geographic center of the continental US as they can go and still be in the Northern Hemisphere.

It is 7200 miles from Kansas City, near the geographic center of the continental US, to Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, whether going west across the Pacific or east across the Atlantic and Mediterranean.

What then, candidates, are your plans for rebuilding the tired and depleted armed forces to make them ready to defend the national interests of the United States for the ensuing years of the 21st century? Will you continue the far flung posting of US forces--or pull back to a more manageable alignment?

Recall that Sun Tzu, the Chinese strategist, said 2500 years ago: "Maintaining an army at a distance causes the people to be impoverished."

Secondly, poll after poll in recent years have shown clearly that ending the threat of terror by Islamic extremists is high on the list of priorities of American voters. Only the economy ranks higher among the concerns of the electorate.

Yet none of the four remaining candidates have enunciated a strategy for the nation to cope with what may be as long and intense a threat as Soviet communism was during the Cold War.

A third issue: Americans, for a variety of reasons, have a thick strand of emotional, political, and military ties to Israel and an abiding national interest in seeing that the hatred and menace of the Palestinians and their Arab cousins is abated.

President Bush, perhaps desperate to leave behind some sort of positive legacy after so many failures elsewhere, has been making a final endeavor to bring peace to that part of the Middle East and by encouraging the birth of a separate Palestine. What his successor might do is unclear.

A fourth concern confronting the United States is the rise of Asia, particularly China. The armed forces of the US are gradually adjusting to this fact of life, repositioning troops and seeking to revitalize alliances and friendships in South Korea, Japan, the Central Pacific, Southeast Asia, and South Asia.

In contrast, the Bush Administration's senior officials, including the leaders of the Defense and State Departments, have been so preoccupied with the war in Iraq that they have not fashioned a comprehensive strategy for coping with the rising East. Nor have you potential successors.

Last is an issue hard to define and maybe can only be sensed, which is the fatigue of the American people. Americans have been at war, more often than not, for 110 years, since the Spanish-American that began in 1898. Americans have fought in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and Desert Storm in Iraq.

In-between have been deployments to the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Grenada, Panama, Libya, and Lebanon, all of which have induced tensions into the body politic. Add to that the long Cold War with the Soviet Union, the constant alert of nuclear forces, and the economic strains of rebuilding former enemies after World War II. Then the terrorist assaults of 9/11 opened a new era of peril.

All this, and undoubtedly more, probably explains why several polls in recent years have reported that 70 percent of the voters and taxpayers think the nation is stumbling down the wrong track. Rumbles of isolationism and protectionism may be a consequence of feelings that America's burdens have become overwhelming.

Of your plans to lift the spirits of the American people, candidates, the voters have heard practically nothing. After the primaries are over and the Democratic and Republican candidates have been chosen, perhaps you will favor the voters with a vision of where you intend to lead the nation in the international arena.

Richard Halloran, a free lance writer in Honolulu, was a military correspondent for The New York Times for ten years. He can be reached at

Copyright 2008, Real Clear Politics

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