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October 18, 2012

Idea for the Final Debate: Talk About the Biggest Challenge of Our Time

By Stanley Weiss and Tim Heinemann

WASHINGTON — Both political parties should be ashamed.

Through the last three debates, we Americans have listened to such bumper sticker one-liners as “GM is alive and bin Ladin is dead” and “I know how to run a business.” We have heard new slants on old themes, more accusations and counter-accusations, verbal whiteouts of statistics, formulas and gotchas, and studied political-consultant rhetoric certified to make the speaker sound “presidential.” It is a no-brainer to assert: “I was the one who decided to go after bin Ladin,” as if any American would not have made the same decision. Doesn’t real presidential leadership require focusing on the toughest issues, where Americans are at the greatest risk?

One of us has spent most of the past decade working on counter-terrorism for the Defense Department. The other has been deeply engaged in both international business and global security issues at the highest levels. Each has met and talked frankly with both senior and mid-level government representatives from over one hundred nations. Again and again we have heard the same lament. When asked what is the Number One threat to their national security, an unnerving number have replied, “China.” Some will say this publicly. Many will only admit it in private, explaining that their countries are becoming more and more dependent on China.

Their unanimous reason is that China creates economic dependencies, monopolizes markets, destroys local competition and drives off local labor. In country after country, we have heard that China uses its financial power to corrupt government officials, shape politics, buy off intelligence officials, secure strategic terrain (such as the Panama Canal and Myanmar’s direct seaport access to the Indian Ocean) and then intimidate other nations, as it is presently doing with Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam in disputes over islands in Asian rim waters.

Meanwhile, back home, both parties and candidates have danced around this, the biggest national security and economic security challenge of our time. Governor Romney’s assertion that “If China cheats” we will punish them or call them to accountability misses the mark just as widely as President Obama’s cool aloofness, not mentioning China at all.

Here is the simple — and simply ignored — fact that has emerged from our separate global conversations: China is waging a full-scale war “by other means” against the United States. While our candidates fiddle with one-liners and argue statistics, the Chinese proceed at, to use military jargon, flank speed and on plan, with potentially devastating consequences on a global scale.

It is a delicate dance to poke at the nation to which we owe trillions, but that is exactly what those who claim to be presidential must do. Candidates for the highest office in the land now skirt around compelling China-related issues at our collective peril.

To be sure, bringing jobs back to America is something both candidates and all Americans agree on. But the China challenge is not just about “jobs and the economy,” though these two concerns hit home hard in tough times. Even more, it is about how a centrally coordinated authoritarian regime encroaches, monopolizes, dominates, intimidates and steals much more than intellectual property, patents and American jobs. In increments it steals our safety and independence.

This coming Monday night it would be both refreshing and responsible for both candidates to square off, not against each other, but as Americans together facing China on the issues of jobs, economy, dependencies, monopolies, espionage, intellectual property theft, aggressive cyber warfare and “war by other means.” Bin Ladin is dead and so, unfortunately, is our Ambassador to Libya. China and its aggressive agenda are, however, very much alive and posing significant threats to our national security, our prosperity and our freedom.

How about some equal time next week on this?