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Washington Officials Should Stop Stressing about the World

Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice needs a long rest. Before leaving office she told a reporter that Canada “is one of the few countries on the planet that I don’t stress about.” 

Obviously the world is a messy place. But what stresses American policymakers? It’s not the problem of defending the U.S. 

America firstNo other country has a conventional capability to reach America. Thus, the National Security Advisor need not worry about the sort of potential threats facing virtually every other nation. 

China and Russia possess nuclear weapons and intercontinental missiles, but if they attacked both would be destroyed in return. North Korea is seeking to join China and Russia with its own missile and nuclear programs. However, absent America’s military presence in South Korea Pyongyang would have no interest in a potentially suicidal attack on the U.S. 

The only other obvious direct threat against America comes from terrorism. It is horrific but almost entirely non-state. It also mostly grows out of U.S. foreign policy. By way of explanation, not justification, the more Washington bombs, invades, and occupies other countries, the more enemies it creates. 

Other nations have suffered similarly as a result of their policies. The U.S. government could reduce the threat by being more judicious before making other states’ enemies America’s enemies. 

Beyond these the dangers to America—and causes of stress—ebb quickly. There’s no need for U.S. officials to worry much about Europe. The continent isn’t likely to collapse economically, despite continuing Eurozone strains and Great Britain’s looming departure from the European Union. And no one imagines a war is going to break out. 

Despite frenetic efforts to bolster NATO, Russia has shown no interest in targeting even the Baltic States, and the Putin regime would gain little while losing much if it started a war. Georgia and Ukraine will remain weak and vulnerable, but are of minor geopolitical interest to Washington. There’s certainly nothing for the NSA to stress over. 

Africa has become an increasing battleground for the U.S., though largely out of the public eye. Yet little there poses a significant threat to America. There are places Washington can help, but the continent’s destiny remains largely its own. 

Latin America is much the same. The major threat comes from the drug trade, but that is fueled by America’s policy of prohibition, which has turned illicit substances into a huge revenue source for gangs and guerrillas alike. Cuba and Venezuela are humanitarian hellholes, not security threats. 

The Middle East is a constant horror, but not so dangerous to America. Nuclear-armed Israel is a regional superpower with working relationships with several Arab states. The real threat to Israel, as then-Secretary of State John Kerry observed, is whether Israel can remain both Jewish and democratic. The end of U.S. subsidies for self-destructive Israeli policies would ease the NSA’s stress. 

With expanding energy production around the world, the Middle East’s oil matters less for the industrial world. Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States seem reasonably secure, their internal strains largely beyond Washington’s reach. 

The Iran agreement reduces the likelihood of an Iranian nuke while offering the younger generation greater economic opportunities beyond Islamist tyranny. The Syrian conflict is a humanitarian horror, but was never of much geopolitical interest to America and cannot be fixed by Washington. The next NSA would have less stress if Washington stops jumping into imbroglios which should be avoided. 

Which leaves Asia. Washington should have left Afghanistan long ago. Pakistan remains a dangerous mess, but that is another reason to exit Afghanistan, which would reduce reliance on Islamabad. 

America’s relationship with India has improved in recent years. Washington should wish Southeast Asian nations well but America will be fine however they turn out. 

Northeast Asia may be of greatest concern, but much of the stress is of Washington’s own making. South Korea long ago surpassed North Korea on most measures of national power and is capable of defending itself. 

So, too, Japan. The only nations which should conceivably contemplate war over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands are China and Japan. 

In general, Washington should back away, focusing its policy on ensuring navigational freedom and the independence of friendly states. While preserving U.S. dominance along China’s border might benefit Washington, it is neither vital nor, over the long term, achievable at reasonable cost. 

America actually is remarkably secure. Mike Flynn, the National Security Adviser, should be stressed by only a few nations, not by all but a few ones. He should learn from Susan Rice’s tired example.

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