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October 27, 2012

Hopefuls address Mideast issues

— The United States has been at war in Afghanistan for 11 years.

Along with that conflict, the country has fought against Iraq twice, endured the 9/11 attacks, bombed Libya, launched drone attacks in Pakistan and carried out anti-terrorism activities in numerous nations throughout the past quarter-century.

Recently, the ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, was killed during an attack at the United States’ consulate in Benghazi.

And, now, a civil war in Syria and the threat of Iran developing a nuclear weapon could potentially lead to further military intervention in the Middle East.

So, candidates seeking federal office, such as U.S. Rep. Mark Critz, D-Johnstown, and Republican Keith Rothfus in Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District, need to develop clear plans outlining what the nation’s policy should be in the region.

Critz and Rothfus have presented similar ideas.

Both feel, barring unforeseen circumstances, the United States should end the Afghanistan war in 2014, as planned. Also, they believe if Israel becomes involved in a war with Iran then America must support its most important ally in the Middle East.

“America needs a strong military and a strong economy to project strength and to maintain peace,” Critz said. “With the end of the war in Iraq and the nearing of the end of the war in Afghanistan, we must rebuild our military and take care of our veterans, while also learning the lessons that came out of both conflicts.”

He thinks the U.S. can reduce its involvement in overseas battles by developing a new energy policy.

“We have fought too many wars in the Middle East and we will continue to be drawn into these conflicts until we become energy independent as a nation. ... The faster we develop a comprehensive policy to make the United States energy independent, the faster we can stop relying on the Middle East for our energy needs,” Critz said.

Rothfus, an Allegheny County lawyer, did not agree with America’s bombing of Libya, which helped rebels overthrow longtime dictator Col. Muammar Gaddafi. Nor does he support taking action in Syria, where supporters of President Bashar al-Assad and opposition forces have clashed since the Arab Spring started in 2011.

“You have to evaluate what are the strategic American interests when you look at a country,” said Rothfus when discussing his nonintervention approach toward Libya and Syria. “I think conservatives, we learn from history. We learned from our experience in Iraq, or we should have. We’ve got to be very careful before we decide to commit our troops, and we have to understand the mission that we’re going into.”

Rothfus thinks President Barack Obama has not dealt strongly enough with unfriendly Middle East nations nor offered enough support to Israel.

“Number one, we have to defend Israel,” Rothfus said. “Now there is so much equivocation, so much uncertainty. When there is that kind of environment, there’s a vacuum. We have not sent a clear message on support for Israel.”

Critz has dealt with the military for more than a decade, dating back to when he worked on the staff of the late U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Johnstown. He currently serves on the House Armed Services Committee.

“Whether it’s meeting with veterans or working with national and local veterans organizations, Mark understands, like Mr. Murtha did, that you have to uphold the promise you made to those who have served our nation,” said Critz’s chief of staff, Matthew Mazonkey. “With his seat on the House Armed Services Committee, Mark speaks regularly with our military’s leaders and troops, and these conversations help to give him a better perspective of what’s really happening around the world.”

Rothfus is on the Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania board of directors. The organization assists veterans in becoming self-sufficient after leaving the military.

“Our veterans are the real American heroes, and our nation owes them a debt of gratitude that can never be truly fulfilled,” said Rothfus. “Their sacrifices on the front lines of our battles for freedom should never be forgotten, and it is our duty to ensure that they are provided the benefits and care they deserve. That’s why I’m proud to serve on the board of directors of the Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania. The VLP provides housing and employment assistance to western Pennsylvania’s veterans, and I am proud to play a part in it.”

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