What is the biggest threat to the national security of the United States?
There are several nominees for the position. In the post-9/11 world, it used to be incontestable that the prize goes to al-Qaeda. No more. That the former head of the CIA, David Petraeus, could openly call for an alliance with the heirs of Osama bin Laden is proof positive, in my view, that the baton has been passed to other entrants.
Okay, then, what about ISIS, a.k.a. the “Islamic State”? Surely these head-choppers, whose brutal crimes make al-Qaeda look “moderate,” qualify for the prize? Well, not exactly, at least in the estimation of our wise rulers, since a) US-supported Syrian rebels of an Islamist bent have regularly defected to the Islamic State’s ranks, demonstrating that the line between friend and foe is blurry at best, and b) Russia’s entry into the fight against the self-proclaimed “Caliphate,” far from being welcomed by Washington, has elicited denunciations from US government officials and politicians of all stripes, on the grounds that they’re poaching on our territory, as well as making no distinction between alleged“moderates” and the Islamic State.
If ISIS were indeed the main danger to US national security, then wouldn’t we welcome the Russian initiative?
Which leads us to our third candidate, which is Russia itself, and specifically Vladimir Putin’s Russia – because prior to the Russian leader’s rise to power, the former Soviet Union was considered a spent force. However, under Putin – who is routinely demonized as the second coming of Stalin – a vastly shrunken Russia is now characterized as a “revisionist” power which seeks to reclaim its lost empire by any means necessary. A nation with a rapidly falling birth rate, an economy that is on the skids, and a level of public health that is far below what it was during the Soviet era, is now being held up as the main obstacle to American military and ideological primacy across the globe.
How credible is that?
Another nominee for Biggest Threat is China, in spite of the fact that the Chinese military budget is a small fraction of our own, and in direct contradiction to China’s actual record, which clearly shows that its territorial ambitions don’t extend much beyond the South China Sea. Yet our alarmists contend that, due merely to its population and its rising economic power, China represents a dire threat to the US.
The reality is far different, however: the Chinese are supremely uninterested in projecting power beyond their borders, choosing to concentrate instead on the goal of raising their standard of living. “To get rich is glorious,” said Deng Xiaoping, the late Chinese leader who supplanted Mao as the chief ideologist and “Great Helmsman” of the post-Mao era, and certainly the Chinese have taken him up on his challenge: the nation’s industry and technological development has undergone unparalleled growth. The Chinese are too preoccupied with their own internal affairs – including, I might add, the fragility of the Communist Party’s hold on power – to bother with empire-building. They have enough on their plate.
None of these alleged threats to the United States measure up to their billing: the terrorist threat was always inflated, and has since abated with the shrinkage of al-Qaeda. The Russians are a ramshackle remnant of their former glory, and the Chinese are wisely more concerned with economic than military matters.
We should emulate the Chinese in their fiscal focus, since the real threat to our national security is economic rather than any external military peril. Admiral Michael Mullen, former head of the joint chiefs of staff, was on target when he identified the soaring national debt – now standing at $20 trillion – as the biggest threat we must confront before it’s too late.
And he hasn’t changed his opinion since he first enunciated his view in a 2010 speech. By 2012, he pointed out then, the interest on the debt will equal a full year of defense spending. And he isn’t alone in his concerns.
The year before, then Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair warned that a global economic crisis is the single greatest danger we face. In his first appearance before Congress, “the nation’s new intelligence chief warned that the global economic crisis is the most serious security peril facing the United States, threatening to topple governments, trigger waves of refugees and undermine the ability of America’s allies to help in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The economic collapse ‘already looms as the most serious one in decades, if not in centuries,’” he said.
The US government operates on borrowed money. The debt is projected to reach and then exceed $20 trillion by 2019, sparking an inevitable interest rate hike. This will greatly increase the cost of government borrowing, provoking a further spike in the debt – and an ever-accelerating spiral of fiscal insolvency.
The social consequences of the effective collapse of the dollar – after all, our currency isn’t backed by tangible value, like gold, but by “faith” in the US government – will set off social unrest in this country the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Civil War. The welfare state will be unable to function, and this alone would incite a violent reaction on the home front that could rival what we had to deal with in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The rule of austerity would not be confined to our shores, however, as the financial crisis takes on a global character and our allies – already facing an economic crisis in Europe – are caught up in a worldwide sociopolitical explosion that shakes the very foundations of the modern world.
Today we are paying for the massive military buildup that occurred after the 9/11 attacks – and the irony is that the economic consequences are undermining our national security in a way al-Qaeda never could. Indeed, it was Osama bin Laden who predicted – and hoped for – this, when he said:
“We are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy. Allah willing, and nothing is too great for Allah. We, alongside the mujahedeen, bled Russia for 10 years until it went bankrupt and was forced to withdraw in defeat.
"All that we have to do is to send two mujahedeen to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al Qaeda, in order to make generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses without their achieving anything of note other than some benefits for their private corporations.”
Bin Laden’s “bleed-until-bankrupt” strategy seems to be proceeding right on schedule. Every time Congress votes to raise the debt limit, every time we spend money we don’t have – say, on $50 billion in military aid to Israel – bin Laden’s shade has a good laugh.
Empires cost money, and the price of ours – which in based on the principle of everything goes out and nothing comes in – is exorbitantly high. Which is probably what led Center for American Progress head honcho Neera Tanden, who is close to Hillary Clinton, to propose charging countries that we invade and conquer for the costs of subjugating and occupying them. Tanden proposed – seriously – that we seize Libya’s oil as the price for “liberating” them, i.e. turning their country into a terrorist version of Disney World.
In which case, we would be like Rome in every respect – plundering conquered nations and hauling the loot back to the imperial capital, to be distributed to the populace at the Emperor’s pleasure. That would surely mark our final decline from a republic of freemen to an empire of corruption.
The American Empire is eating its own tail, and will soon be consuming the rest of its substance – but there is little consolation in that. For we will be caught up and dragged down into the resulting chaos
Tonight [Tuesday, November 10] the Republican candidates for President will have another one of their frequent debates, the main subject of which is the economy. Once again, the paucity of questions about foreign policy will be readily apparent: but when you’re an empire, there is no difference between economic and foreign policy issues. With the possible exception of Rand Paul, not a single one of these aspiring chief executives will address the real main threat to US national security. For all the GOP’s alleged devotion to fiscal conservatism, most want huge increases in the military budget, and are eager for more wars to fight abroad.
These people – and their Democratic opponents, who share their devotion to huge government cash outlays – are the biggest threat to our national security. They are the enemy within: the deadliest enemies of all.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.