Do you really want to be president?

By Harlan Ullman, Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist  |  Jan. 11, 2016 at 1:45 PM
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Events of the past few weeks could have made exciting plots for the next James Bond or Jason Bourne extravaganza.

Kim Jong Un, North Korea's 33-year-old ruler, announced that his country had an H-bomb. Most experts doubt Pyongyang possesses a fusion weapon with about a thousand times more explosive power than a fission A-bomb. More likely the north has turned a science project in the form of a nuclear device into a nuclear weapon that can be fitted onto a missile.

Saudi Arabia's beheading of a well-known Shia cleric moved the spat with Iran from a hissing competition to something potentially far more threatening. The burning of the Saudi embassy in Tehran, labeled "criminal" by Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, led to a withdrawal of ambassadors by several Sunni states. Whether this confrontation dooms the coming peace talks on Syria is moot. But the signs are not promising. And as oil sinks below $35 a barrel, questions about the ability of the Saudi leadership to keep the ship of state afloat are no longer hypothetical.

Iraqi security forces appear to have retaken Ramadi in Anbar Province from the Islamic State. While the coalition has boasted of reclaiming about 30 percent of the territory occupied by IS, the northern Iraqi city of Mosul---second largest in the country---remains in Jihadi control. And whether the Baghdad government will be able to retake Mosul later this year is questionable. Meanwhile, IS inspired attacks by lone wolves have spread to France, Britain and the United States.

Vladimir Putin has now identified the United States and NATO as threats. Ukraine is still divided. And Russian forces have surely strengthened the hand of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. Meanwhile, Moscow is peddling more of its arms to that region, including Iran, attempting to enhance its influence.

Afghanistan's security situation is steadily deteriorating as the Taliban increase their attacks and extend their control of the country in the south and east. Pakistan and India continue to pose a potential crisis spot despite the efforts of their prime ministers to forge more amicable relations.

Beyond North Korea's nuclear tests, China's stock markets are in free fall. While those markets are relatively small, the bourses and exchanges in Europe and the United States suffered through the first week of January and the worst in U.S. history. The DOW lost over 1,000 points, and the NASDAQ plummeted below 5,000.

Given these events, who then would want to be president? And do any of the candidates possess the vision, experience, character and judgment to deal with this explosion of crises from H-bombs to potential financial weapons of mass destruction?

The first presidential debates of 2016 should provide the opportunity to grill each of the candidates on how they would deal with this mélange of emerging nightmarish scenarios and challenges. Here are several questions that should be asked of the two current leading candidates from each party.

-- Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, you led the Obama administration's "strategic pivot to Asia." Now North Korea has exploded what appears to be a real nuclear weapon. China is building a second aircraft carrier and enlarging the artificial islands it has constructed in the China seas. Its stock market is crashing.

You now oppose the Transpacific Trade Pact. Your husband tried without success to halt North Korea's nuclear ambitions. What would be your policies toward Asia to deal with China's military expansion and economic fragilities and with Kim Jong Un?

-- Donald Trump, you have said that you will negotiate better deals with friends and adversaries alike. You have called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran the worst deal ever. And you would stop China's currency manipulation.

What specific deals do you think you could negotiate with Iran and China, and what makes you think that you would have any credibility or indeed the experience to be successful? Be specific.

Of course, these and other tough questions are unlikely to be asked or answered. The media interrogators are journalists or talk show hosts better at reporting stories than delving into the real substance of difficult issues. Hence, platitudes and prevarications will prevail. Answers such as "I will strengthen defense" or "I will not be pushed around by ....fill in the blank" will dominate more thoughtful responses, given no simple or easy solutions exist to these highly complex problems.

But the most relevant question should be this: Given this array of crises and problems from hell, why on God's earth would you wish to be president?

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Harlan Ullman is UPI's Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist; chairman of the Killowen Group that advises leaders of government and business; and senior adviser at Washington, D.C.'s, Atlantic Council and Business Executives for National Security. His latest book is "A Handful of Bullets: How the Murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand Still Menaces the Peace."

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