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Another View: We need a President committed to global leadership

December 14. 2011 11:07PM

While the Granite State and the frontlines of America's fight against terrorism may appear to be worlds apart, our efforts in places like Afghanistan and Iraq have very real implications for families here and across our nation. With its first-in-the-nation primary, New Hampshire plays an influential role in determining the next President of the United States, and as I have observed after over four decades in the U.S. Marine Corps, America's global leadership is essential to our country's security at home.

The world has changed dramatically since I became a Marine in the Cold War era when our strategic threats were clear. Today, we fight enemies that do not fly flags, wear uniforms or recognize borders. Our security is threatened by extreme poverty, instability and pandemic diseases that can spread in the blink of an eye. In order to manage that chaos, the United States must invest in all of the tools of national power, and that includes development and diplomacy alongside defense. Through our civilian programs, America stays engaged in the most dangerous corners of the world without putting our troops in harm's way and continues to stand proud as a respected leader in the world.

I have seen firsthand how our development and diplomatic operations work to save lives and make America safer and stronger, in areas as diverse as the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia. For just about one percent of our budget each year, we operate our embassies around the world, save millions of lives by preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, open new markets to American businesses, support clean water and agriculture programs and fight terrorism, international crime and drug trafficking. Programs like these are especially essential in post-conflict societies like Iraq and Afghanistan. As our troops draw down from these areas, we must finish the job with a surge of trained civilians to ensure we don't lose the fragile gains our military men and women have fought so hard to achieve.

During the time I served as commander, the United States Central Command took on a new challenge by assuming responsibility for a number of post-Soviet Central Asian states. Early on, we saw evidence of extremism and activities by radical Islamic groups, so we made clear that regional stability was a national security priority for the United States.

To keep families on American soil safe, we deployed our civilian programs to help train Central Asian militaries to be apolitical, professional, and capable of responding to local humanitarian needs. Today we see the return on our investment with an area of the world that did not turn out to be the powder keg it could have been.

Yet despite the many successes of our international affairs programs, some in Washington want to turn away from global leadership. In my opinion, that would be shortsighted and dangerous. That is why the citizens of New Hampshire must call on all the candidates for President of the United States - President Obama and his potential GOP opponents - to embrace a smart power strategy that invests in America's global leadership.

American engagement has always been indispensable, and never more so than today. Our international development programs rebuilt Europe after World War II and helped South Korea move from desperate poverty to a high-tech hub and the United States' seventh largest trading partner. The next Europes and South Koreas are waiting for us around the world, and turning our backs on them now will cost us dearly down the road, in blood and treasure.

In January of 2013, the American people will be counting on their President to keep our country safe for the next four years. In my experience, the most cost-effective way to do that is to support a comprehensive foreign policy that ensures the United States remains a leader in the world.

Gen. Anthony Zinni served nearly four decades in the U.S. Marine Corps, including as Commander in Chief of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) from 1997-2000. He will speak at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College on Friday.


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