You Can Stop Being Scared Now: Controversial good news from two foreign-policy experts: The world is safer than we think
President Obama and his presumptive challenger Mitt Romney agree on at least one important matter: the world these days is a terrifying place. Romney talks about the “bewildering” array of threats; Obama about the perils of nuclear weapons in the wrong hands. They differ only on the details.
A bipartisan emphasis on threats from outside has always been a hallmark of American foreign-policy thinking, but it has grown more widespread and more heightened in the decade since 9/11. General Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, captured the spirit when he spoke in front of Congress recently: “It’s the most dangerous period in my military career, 38 years,” he said. “I wake up every morning waiting for that cyberattack or waiting for that terrorist attack or waiting for that nuclear proliferation.”
The unpredictability and extremism of America’s enemies today, the thinking goes, makes them even more threatening than our old conventional foes. The old enemy was distant armies and rival ideologies; today, it’s a theocracy with missiles, or a lone wolf trying to detonate a suitcase nuke in an American city.
But what if the entire political and foreign policy elite is wrong? What if America is safer than it ever has been before, and by focusing on imagined and exaggerated dangers it is misplacing its priorities?
That’s the bombshell argument put forth by a pair of policy thinkers in the influential journal Foreign Affairs. In an essay entitled “Clear and Present Safety: The United States Is More Secure Than Washington Thinks,” authors Micah Zenko and Michael A. Cohen argue that that American policy leaders have fallen into a nearly universal error. Across the ideological board, our leaders and experts genuinely believe that the world has gotten increasingly dangerous for America, while all available evidence suggests exactly the opposite: we’re safer than we’ve ever been.
“The United States faces no serious threats, no great-power rival, and no near-term competition for the role of global hegemon,” Cohen says. “Yet this reality of the 21st century is simply not reflected in US foreign policy debates or national security strategy.”