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February 19. 2014 5:13PM

Tom Ridge: 2016 presidential hopefuls need a vision for world leadership

Although mid-term elections draw near, presidential hopefuls already have begun to make those critical pilgrimages to the Granite State. Those who aspire to move to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in 2016 must share with us their view on America’s place in the world. They must convince us that their vision is best suited to grow our economy and enhance our national security.

Clearly, within the contemporary political environment, there is support for a fortress America with both economic and political isolationists withdrawing to focus on America first. I believe those views are flawed. Markets are global. Threats are global. To meet the opportunities and answer the challenges, we must be more engaged, not less. We cannot be an observer. We must be an active player using the various tools of influence that can affect outcomes in our best interests.

Passivity and inaction are rarely effective strategies. Although we are rightfully war weary today, we should never preclude the use of our military in the future when the circumstances require us to do so. If it is truly the final option, and it should be, we should not hesitate to use the tools of “soft power,” diplomacy and developmental assistance.

Our national security demands we use the tools to either prevent new conflicts or preserve military gains. Look no further than the counsel of General James Mattis, U.S. Central Command, who told Congress, “If you don’t fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition.” The pervasive threat of terrorism lurks throughout the world. One of the most effective ways to preempt or at least mitigate the threat is through the targeted use of the U.S. international affair programs.

Spin the globe and you’ll discover countries and regions confronting horrific human conditions — hunger, disease, violence, natural disasters. Many of these become fertile regions for recruitment and the spread of anti-American, anti-Western favor. It’s in our best interests to address these humanitarian needs now with the possibility of avoiding military involvement in the future.

And, let’s not forget, America’s economic fate is tied directly to actions and markets around the world. While it is understandable that we focus on economic uncertainty here at home, we should never allow ourselves to think for a moment that our prosperity and our jobs aren’t connected to the economic pulse of a global market.

America cannot afford to ignore domestic growth opportunities connected with emerging overseas markets, particularly developing countries, which consume over half of our exports. Ninety-five percent of our potential consumers for “Buy America” live elsewhere.

New Hampshire exported more than $3.5 billion in goods and services to our foreign markets in 2012. More than one in five jobs is tied to trade. Twenty-five percent of all manufacturing workers in New Hampshire depend on exports for their jobs. Commercial diplomacy and developments build a foundation for U.S. business to enter these markets where citizens and governments seek American goods and services.

All the candidates will talk about creating jobs and putting people back to work. Let’s inquire if they view investments in our international affairs program as a means to do so.

Growing the economy, defending our country and demonstrating our values as a nation are at the epicenter of our global engagement. We rebuilt Europe and Japan after World War II. We are the first to respond to natural disasters around the world. We send doctors, nurses and medical supplies to combat disease; food to combat famine; people and programs to promote freedom and democracy.

Elections are the time for us to have an honest dialogue about how we shape our national security and economic policies to advance America’s interests. Our investments in development and diplomacy are about one percent of federal spending. Let’s ask these presidential candidates if they prefer preventive aid to preemptive war.

Tom Ridge, former governor of Pennsylvania and the first U.S. secretary of Homeland Security, is an Advisory Council member to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition. He speaks at the Politics and Eggs breakfast at 8 a.m. Friday at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics.


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