Stephen Walt is puzzled:
One of the great puzzles of contemporary national security policy is why the mighty United States gets its knickers in a twist over lots of security issues in lots of unimportant places. After all, it’s the world’s most advanced economy, by far the world’s most powerful military force, it is insulated from many world problems by two enormous oceans (which do still matter, by the way), and it has an array of stable allies in most corners of the world. And oh yes, it has a nuclear deterrent consistent of thousands of warheads, more than enough to devastate any country that threatened the United States directly or threatened our independence.
Yet Americans are constantly fretting about supposedly grave threats in far-flung corners of the world, and marching off to spend billions (or even trillions) fighting long and inconclusive wars in strategic backwaters like Afghanistan. To be perfectly blunt, it makes one wonder if the national security establishment in this country is even capable of a careful, sober, even-tempered analysis anymore.
Walt points to an analytical article titled Clear and Present Safety:The United States Is More Secure Than Washington Thinks by Micah Zenko and Michael A. Cohen (which is unfortunately behind a paywall) but gives a key quote from it that sums up their thesis:
Within the foreign policy elite, there exists a pervasive belief that the post-Cold War world is treacherous place, full of great uncertainty and grave risks…There is just one problem. It is simply wrong. The world that the United States inhabits today is a remarkably safe and secure place. It is a world with fewer violent conflicts and greater political freedom than at virtually any other point in human history…The United States faces no plausible existential threats, no great-power rival, and no near term competition for the role of global hegemon. The U.S. military is the world’s most powerful, and even in the middle of a sustained downturn, the U.S economy remains among one of the world’s most vibrant and adaptive…[Yet] this reality is barely reflect in U.S. national security strategy or in American foreign policy debates.
This view of an overall decline in worldwide decline in violence is consistent with what Steven Pinker said in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, that I reviewed here.
FDR’s words in his first inaugural address in 1933 that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance” seems even more apropos today. But reality faces powerful odds against a political-media machine that thrives on using fear to keep the population cowed and subservient.