WASHINGTON — According to the pollsters and the so-called mainstream media, as of the dead of summer, the presidential contest between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney is a dead heat. We also are told this race is all about the "economy" or "jobs" or "middle-class taxes" or "repealing Obamacare." Or not.
Supposedly, we're turned off by negative campaign ads, but we also want to know whether Romney really caused the death of an unemployed woman a half-dozen years ago — as alleged by a Democratic super PAC commercial. And of course, we all are looking forward to poring over every tax return ever filed by Romney and the hidden papers, test scores and college transcripts of young Obama. Or not.
It's now less than three months until our presidential election. With the closing of the London Summer Olympics, we are told by the potentates of the press that the American people will soon stop counting medals and debating which team is better, the 1992 "Dream Team" or the 2012 USA basketball team. In theory, that means that next week, we will abruptly shift focus to hiring a chief executive, head of state and commander in chief. Or not.
With the U.S. unemployment rate still higher than 8 percent and stagnant job growth, one might expect our media to begin a conversation about which candidate offers the best course of action for our economy. Don't count on it. Next week, the pollsters and pundits are likelier to focus on the Republican vice presidential selection.
Meanwhile, crucial national security issues that will be determined in less than 12 weeks are mentioned rarely by the candidates and by those covering their campaigns. All we really know for sure about Obama's national security policy is that he likes to "lead from behind," that "he killed Osama bin Laden" and that his administration leaks like a sieve. Little more is known about Romney's foreign policy or how it would protect the American people.
Thanks to the ever-helpful media elites and Obama campaign commercials, we're aware that Romney's wife had a horse entered in the London Olympics, that the former governor of Massachusetts knows Israel's capital is Jerusalem, that he regards Iranian nuclear weapons to be an existential threat to the Jewish state and that by speaking in Poland, Romney is somehow a racist.
If the pollsters are indeed correct and this really is a neck-and-neck presidential race, the difference between the two candidates could well be defined by their positions on national security issues that matter as much or more than their tax policies. Here are just five — and some questions that need to be asked and answered in the days ahead:
—Energy policy. The "pain at the pump" is getting worse. The cost of getting to work and lighting, heating and cooling our homes and businesses keeps going up. Can we exploit our own domestic resources with a goal of achieving energy independence, or will we continue to fund our adversaries by sending petrodollars to those who hate us? Must we persist in burning our food as motor fuel? Which man is willing to tell our Canadian allies, "Build the Keystone XL pipeline, ASAP!"
—Iran. The O-Team counts on the United Nations to keep the ayatollahs from acquiring an atomic arsenal. Just eight days after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that "we will not allow them to develop a nuclear weapon," Israel's Defense Ministry claimed that the O-Team has a new intelligence estimate showing that the Iranians are making "significant and surprising progress toward a military nuclear capability." What would President Romney do differently?
—War on terror. All U.S. and NATO military forces have been withdrawn from Iraq and now are being pulled out of Afghanistan. All combat units are scheduled to be out by 2014. The U.S. has "residual forces" in Kuwait and the Persian Gulf. Syria is in a catastrophic civil war, and Jordan may be the "next Egypt." Is radical Islam still a threat to American citizens and interests? Are "targeted attacks" by drones an appropriate response?
—Missile defense. The O-Team abandoned ballistic missile defense plans in Poland and the Czech Republic to placate Moscow, but the famous "reset button" failed to work with Vladimir Putin. In March, Obama begged Russia's then president, Dmitry Medvedev, for "space" until after the U.S. election. What did he mean by this? What would President Romney do differently? In an era of diminished defense budgets, can we spend scarce dollars on protecting the American people from incoming nuclear warheads? Can we afford not to?
—Narco-terrorism/border protection. Drug-fueled violence threatens the stability of democratic governments in Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala. The O-Team has slow-rolled delivery of counter-narcotics aid to these countries, refused to improve security on our southern border and initiated the infamous Operation Fast and Furious, which allowed firearms to be exported illegally to drug cartels. What would President Romney do differently?
The midsummer madness is almost over. Is it too much to hope that the matters above will rise in importance? Probably.
Oliver North is the host of "War Stories" on Fox News Channel, the founder and honorary chairman of Freedom Alliance, and the author of "American Heroes in Special Operations." To find out more about Oliver North and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.