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You should need more than plans to get elected president

MARC CARLISLE

As Summit County residents, all you need to know to decide between John Kerry or George Bush is that Bush is a mountain biker and Kerry is a roadie.The president took up mountain biking a couple of years ago because cycling is much easier on the joints than jogging, choosing a mountain bike to ride the Texas hill country or the coastal foothills of Maine. The senator, on the other hand, has always been a pavement jockey, with a $3,000 handmade Serrotta to ride the paved urban trails of Washington, D.C., and Boston. In a way, it’s good to know that both candidates are cyclists, albeit very different cyclists; on the other hand, it’s a frivolous distinction, akin to arguing over who “won” the debates, so far.That’s not relevant, although the debates have allowed the candidates to draw some clear distinctions. But in the discussion over whether the president scowls too much or the senator talks too much, one key question remains unanswered.Health care is the gut domestic policy issue on the agenda, a massive governmental expense, an out-of-control personal expense for those with insurance and catastrophic for those who don’t have access to medical care.

There’s too much at stake, too many people affected and too much money involved for the candidates to talk about health care during a political campaign in anything other than general terms such as “we’ve got to fix it” or by grabbing the elephant’s tail to talk about lawyers, a very small part of the whole issue. And on the battle in Iraq, there’s plenty of information and opinion out there now for voters to decide whether the president has done a good job, or whether someone else could have done better, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. But what’s the plan for the future of the war on terrorism – that’s the key question. Will we be attacked again without warning, or not? Will the United States fight more wars regardless of the outcome of the battle in Iraq, or not?What has and will the United States done to address the root causes of Middle East terrorism? The future of the war on terrorism, rather than rehashing the battle in Iraq, has really only come up in a single exchange.In the first debate, the moderator asked the president, “Does the Iraq experience make it more or less likely that you would take the U.S. into another preemptive military action?”

This question was about the future: Would the president take the next obvious step to prevent what he has said over and over again is the big threat to America? That of a terrorist with a nuclear device, and attack nation-states which really do harbor terrorists and really do have nuclear devices (unlike Iraq), such as Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, Libya and Cuba, all of which are on the terrorist watch list, to say nothing of Lebanon, Indonesia, Pakistan and India.Because if you believe, as the president demonstrated by sending troops into Iraq, that the appropriate response to the 9/11 attack was war, then America must plan on more wars.If you believe that terrorists like al-Qaeda have no motivation other than jealousy of the American way, and hate for Americans, then the policy must be to take out terrorists before they can strike again. The president’s response was, “I hope I would never have to.”His answer, coupled with his flat statement that the United States would not draft troops, gives the clear impression to me that preemptive wars in self defense are out of the question. So, what is next? If terrorists are irrationally evil and we’ve got to strike first before we’re hit, what is the plan?

Certainly our intelligence capabilities and thus our ability to defend ourselves have not improved; the U.S. didn’t predict any of the subsequent terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Russia or Spain, nor have the troops on the ground in Iraq been given good intelligence.Either the president is afraid to spook voters by talking about more wars, or he’s unwilling to start any more wars, which means the United States will wait for the next attack. Voters should worry that on the defining issue of the election, the war on terrorism, the president hasn’t said what he’ll do next. Either he doesn’t know himself (scary), or he’s not saying (also scary), leaving voters to make a gut choice – in the absence of information from the president and a track record from the senator – on which one will make them safer in 2005.Marc Carlisle writes a Thursday column. He can be reached at summitindie@yahoo.com.


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