U.S. adversaries and the emerging threats they create span the globe. They range from economic superpowers to invisible microbes. While their ability to do harm grows, our government dictates responses that change at the drop of a hat. Sometimes these responses are well thought out and sound. Sometimes they are purely political and make no sense.
U.S. adversaries battle American politics
There are two examples this week of what happens when these decisions are purely political. The first is Trump’s threatened shutdown over a border wall which became very real last night. The second is his plan to withdraw troops from Syria.
The border wall scuffle is old news. We already know that only open borders will appease opponents of this administration. When faced with a shutdown even Republicans will cower. This should be a homeland security issue. Instead it is a solely partisan political charade.
The uproar over Syria preceded Defense Secretary Mattis’ resignation announcement. It lends more proof that those calling the shots in Washington impact our national security even more than foreign actors.
Have things changed on the ground? The outburst from Capitol Hill is a poor gauge. Posturing is what senators and representatives do best. On the other hand, our Special Representative for Syria Engagement indicated on December 3, 2018 that there is still plenty of fighting left to be done:
We are totally committed to defeating Daesh [ISIS] along the Euphrates. Our local ally in that, as you know, since 2014, has been the SDF, as everybody else knows. They are involved in a very, very tough battle. This is not an organization that has been totally destroyed. We think that we’ll be able to finish the job in the months ahead, but there’s very heavy fighting there and we’re putting a lot of our own effort and the effort of our friends and allies and partners into it.1
How months turned into days and started the hunt for a Mattis replacement is not a national security question. It is a political question that politicians will answer.
26 emerging threats
According to a new GAO Report there are 26 long-range emerging threats2 we should worry about. They are growing and threaten our “political, economic, military, and social systems.”3
What is truly threatening to our security isn’t who or what these adversaries are. It’s how politics dictates our response. Remember Obama’s red line in the sand over chemical weapons in Syria? Democratic Party amnesia aside, we’re still dealing with the consequences today. To make matters worse, Trump opponents are going out of their way to inform U.S. adversaries that our president is incompetent, irrational, and irresponsible not only in Syrian affairs, but everywhere else.
Politicians are just as dangerous
The question has to be asked: are our biggest adversaries Putin, Xi Jinping, and Kim Jong-un or Schumer, Pelosi, and Trump?
Instead of devoting resources to addressing threats, politics has turned America into the adversary. Overthrowing the Trump administration is priority number one for the incoming Democratic House.
Every consideration that doesn’t involve getting rid of Trump will wait. That means important problems will be set aside while lawmakers and investigators race down every rabbit hole they can find.
The frightening question is how far are we willing to compromise our security to block Trump’s every move?
National security for Democrats: eliminating Trump
According to Democrats righting trade imbalances, countering Russian meddling, and stopping Chinese bad behavior are about Trump. These issues are not about protecting our nation against emerging threats from expanding superpowers. They are about one man who offends liberal politicians beyond their limits of endurance.
This makes it easy to ignore warnings about threats like a “mass migration event,” 4 something that is probably inconceivable to House and Senate Democrats who don’t view limiting access at ports of entry to be a security issue. Instead, they see securing the homeland as racial and religious discrimination, xenophobia, and hate from Trump and his base.
While we waste time on investigations and impeachment we should consider this intriguing warning from the GAO:
Adversaries have had over 40 years to study the United States and Western institutions. As such, the nature of warfare has evolved to include “gray zone” conflict-defined as the area between war and peace-where weaker adversaries have learned how to seize territory and advance their agendas in ways not recognized as “war” by Western democracies.5
Emerging threats are political battles
Emerging threats are a litany of U.S. political battles: North Korea, Iran, Chinese and Russian expansion, and terrorism. So absurd is our partisan posturing that Trump’s first effort at dealing with North Korean aggression was met with ridicule and accusations of presidential naiveté:
In a reckless departure from protocols established by previous administrations and an arrogant defiance of recommendations from national security experts and Members of the U.S. Congress, Donald Trump convened the Singapore Summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un without adequate preparation, a thorough understanding of history, or a clear objective for securing North Korea’s nuclear disarmament.6
Representative Waters and her colleagues don’t mention that there hasn’t been a nuclear test since the two leaders talked.
From mushroom clouds to microbes
We may never see the detonation of another nuclear weapon from North Korea or anywhere else, but we can be certain that pandemic and drug-resistant diseases will emerge and kill.
It’s easy to take for granted that our high-tech health care system can do anything if we throw enough money at a problem. It can’t. Ask any family who has lost a loved one to cancer or buried a child during the 2017 flu outbreak. Then consider what might happen when we are suddenly faced with a new threat that ignores antibiotics and vaccines that were not developed because politics came first.
Politicians can’t cure disease. They can, however, decide where the money goes.
The emerging health threat that wasn’t
Zika is a wonderful example of how politics creates an emergency that doesn’t exist. Despite limited U.S. impact compared to the 2017 influenza that killed tens of thousands or cancer that kills hundreds of thousands annually, Zika became a treacherous political crisis. It was a perfect excuse to declare a health emergency that wasn’t:
Last summer, we witnessed the Zika virus become a national public health crisis that unfolded across the country. Following President Obama’s emergency funding request for $1.9 billion in February 2016, tens of thousands of cases of the Zika virus were reported in the United States and its territories, including thousands of cases in pregnant women. Despite continued calls from the medical and research communities, Congressional Republicans delayed acting on the President’s request, letting it languish for months as more Americans contracted the virus.7
CDC data tells the truth about Zika. In 2017 15 cases were acquired in the U.S.8 In 2018 the count is 0.9
The real crisis was about money, not disease. We can make an easy argument that one of the biggest emerging threats in the years to come will be from U.S. adversaries born, raised, and elected on our own soil who will seize any opportunity to shift attention to whatever they think gives them the most power, influence, and political mileage.
This is how emerging threats are created, assessed, and responded to in the U.S. Our international adversaries will continue to grow and threaten while our domestic politics will prove to be at least as destructive as what we face from the rest of the world.
UPDATE December 23, 2018: shutdown reveals who our adversaries really are
Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) summed up his party’s ludicrous position on border security with this remark about the government shutdown that started on Friday:
If the President and Congressional Republicans were serious about border security, they would address the dangerous conditions in Central America that are forcing families to flee for their lives.10
Fixing problems in other countries to keep illegal immigrants out of the U.S. is not the responsibility of the president or U.S. taxpayers, but this is precisely the kind of wrongheaded, adversarial mindset that Democrats get away with. Unfortunately the latest Supreme Court decision on asylum eligibility for illegals bolsters their argument for open, insecure borders. Ironically, the high court announced their ruling the same day that the government shut down.
Conservatives, the president, and Republicans in Congress are not our adversaries for defending American sovereignty. Our adversaries are politicians who refuse to do their job because they seek opportunity and advantage from anywhere they can get it, including Central America, regardless of the impact on the homeland and taxpayers.
Fortunately there is some humor to be found here courtesy of Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy:
This is so stupid. Congress and the White House had a bipartisan agreement to fully fund the government, but now we’re in a shutdown because the president threw a tantrum about his border wall that no one on the border even wants and he promised Mexico would pay for,” said Murphy.11
Yes senator, it’s stupid. It’s just as stupid as pointing out that those at the border don’t want a wall. If I was going to cross over illegally I wouldn’t want one, either.
That is what you meant, isn’t it?
1. “Briefing With Special Representative for Syria Engagement Ambassador James F. Jeffrey.” U.S. Department of State. December 3, 2018. https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2018/12/287752.htm, retrieved December 21, 2018.
2. “NATIONAL SECURITY. Long-Range Emerging Threats Facing the United States As Identified by Federal Agencies.” U.S. Government Accountability Office. December 2018. p. 1. https://www.gao.gov/assets/700/695981.pdf, retrieved December 18, 2018.
4. Ibid., p. 10.
5. Ibid.,, p. 4.
6. “Waters Statement on Donald Trump’s Embrance of our Enemies & Hostility Toward our Allies.” Maxine Waters. June 13, 2018. https://waters.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/rep-waters-statement-donald-trump-embracing-our-enemies-hostility-toward, retrieved December 21, 2018.
7. “Why We Need a Public Health Emergency Fund.” Rosa DeLauro. January 22, 2017. https://delauro.house.gov/public-health-emergency-fund, retrieved December 21, 2018.
8. “2017 Case Counts in the US.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/zika/reporting/2017-case-counts.html, retrieved December 21, 2018.
9. “2018 Case Counts in the US.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/zika/reporting/2018-case-counts.html, retrieved December 21, 2018.
10. “Menendez Statement on Trump Shutdown.” Bob Menendez. December 21, 2018. https://www.menendez.senate.gov/news-and-events/press/menendez-statement-on-trump-shutdown, retrieved December 23, 2018.
11. “Murphy Statement on Government Shutdown.” Chris Murphy. December 22, 2018. https://www.murphy.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/murphy-statement-on-government-shutdown, retrieved December 23, 2018.
Image retrieved from “Understanding Influenza (Flu) Infection: An Influenza Virus Binds to a Respiratory Trace Cell.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/images.htm, retrieved December 21, 2018.