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The President We Need in Perilous Times

In 2008, America must elect a president prepared for complex geopolitical challenges or the country risks disaster. 

The next president will inherit wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, the horn of Africa and violent situations across almost every continent which jeopardize vital American economic and security interests. 

Our security challenges are especially daunting.  There are at least 35 nations armed with long-range ballistic missiles and some of those countries seek nuclear weapons.  China is emerging as an economic and threatening military giant and Russia is re-emerging as a Soviet-like adversary.  Europe is slowly losing its fight with Islamic immigrants and as a result is less willing to share international security burdens.  Africa remains an economic basket case and home to Islamic terrorist networks, and the Mideast is exploding.  Terror threats at home have officials preparing for far worse situations than we experienced on September 11, 2001. 

That’s why on January 20, 2009, inauguration day, our next president must take office equipped with the right mix of national security and foreign affairs experience, skills, characteristics and knowledge to hit the ground running.  We can’t afford a new commander-in-chief who comes with training wheels.

Americans esteem former presidents George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt.  These men guided our nation through tough wars — Revolutionary, Civil War and World War II.   They were right for their time. 

Our new president must be equally fit for modern war.  Unfortunately, America tends to draw its presidents from the famous, the elected class and the wealthy.  Few of this candidate pool have meaningful national security and foreign affairs experiences that prepare them for the complex geopolitical world.  That’s why we tend to naively handicap our new leaders by giving them a wait-and-see honeymoon hoping the training wheels come off before the administration faces its first baptism of fire.

This dangerous world will no longer afford super-power America the luxury of time to mature the new guy.  Therefore, voters need to employ a new paradigm when selecting the leader of the free world.  We need a strong leader that is a true national security and foreign affairs expert: this must be the litmus test for the next president.

Our next president needs to be a leader who is competent, intelligent and has demonstrated strong character.  He must be more concerned about substance than image and integrity must be at the top of his administration’s agenda.  He must be a visionary that can set a course and stick with it.  We need a decisive leader with the fortitude and moral courage to buck Washington’s bureaucracies and we need someone that brings prestige to the Office of the President.

He must speak well, stand tall, demonstrate courage and be able to look our adversaries in the eye and not blink.  He should be proud to lead the world’s only remaining super-power and not afraid to let the enemies of our nation know that they are playing with hellfire and damnation if they challenge us. And while doing this, he must convey a strong, statesmanlike demeanor.

We need someone who is able to identify who our allies are and keep them close even if we do not approve totally of their domestic and political philosophies.  We bailed on Chiang Kai-shek and ended up with Red China.  Mohammad ibn Reza Shah al-Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, was exiled for lack of our support and today we have Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mr. “Wipe Israel off the map,” and his radical ayatollah bosses.

Our new president must recognize his limitations and admit his mistakes.  He must be accountable, compassionate and demonstrate a sense of humor.  He needs to be calm and confident and in control of his emotions. He needs to have a fixed world view that provides him a clear picture of the nature of man.

The next president needs a resume full of meaningful overseas experiences.  He should have lived abroad in places other than London-Paris-Berlin where he saw outside the western bubble and had to learn another language and earn a living.  Ideally he has made a foreign payroll and understands the challenges of actually being responsible for growing a company but has no residual obligations with former business partners or their countries. 

Real life experiences for the new commander-in-chief must include a thorough understanding of our military.  He doesn’t have to be a veteran but that helps.  America’s new president must not figuratively wear the uniform either — that’s the job of the Joint Chiefs — but he needs to appreciate our military’s culture and its capabilities and limitations. 

There are knowledge requirements for the new president as well.  He needs to understand the politics of defense such as the importance of the Military Industrial Complex.  A good understanding of homeland security in context with all other players is critical.

He needs to understand how the international system works: balance of power and national interactions.  Read some of Harvard professor and geopolitical icon Samuel Huntington’s work to understand these issues, “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order” and “Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity.” 

“History is the great lamp that illumines every other study.  Without it we grope in the dark,” wrote historian Douglas S. Freeman.  Presidents need to study to understand history lest they repeat its mistakes.

Most of our terror problems have an Islamic component.  The president needs a working knowledge of Islamic faith and history.  Study works by Bernard Lewis, professor emeritus at Princeton, such as his latest book “From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East” and Daniel Pipes’ latest book “Islam and Political Power.”

Chaos and uncertainty of advice and intelligence challenge every president.  The next president will have many tools for gathering information and sorting out the facts.  But he must bring to the job a matured ability to sort through conflicting material.  A solid core of guiding principles is critical.

The president must believe that “America should be first because America is best.”  Unfortunately, some leaders seem willing to sacrifice America.  Our new leader must focus on his principal role to defend the Constitution and the American people and our way of life. 

We need to elect a president that can confidently lead America.  That means the new commander-in-chief must be a strong leader, possess matured national security credentials and have foreign policy experiences that give him confidence as he charts America’s path through these perilous times.

Written By

Robert Maginnis is a retired Army lieutenant colonel, and a national security and foreign affairs analyst for radio and television.

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