When discussing threats to the United States of America, many issues can be thrown around. Organizations such as Daesh and al-Qaeda are notable, but also terms such as Climate Change, Nuclear Proliferation, and Global Economic Crash strike a chord. It would be easy to write a paper on how Islamic Extremism or Power Vacuums in the Middle East pose the greatest risk to the American people but following that narrative would be disingenuous and narrow-sighted. Take, for example, power vacuums in nation-states such as Iraq and Libya; before 2003 and 2011 respectively, both countries had fairly strong, authoritarian governments with no sign of becoming failed states. After the United States invaded and toppled the governments of both of these nations without providing subsequent plans for succession or restructuring, power vacuums and struggles for legitimacy arose. Within these power vacuums, most notably in Iraq, extremism was bred, violence was utilized, and America was in greater danger. It was the policy decisions of the United States of America that would eventually lead to issues that Americans would classify as detrimental to their way of life. This is why the greatest threat to the United States, and subsequently the world, is the United States itself.
The U.S. has made it a business practice to promote military interests and intervention abroad. With the end of World War II came the dawn of the ‘American Military Superpower'; this war had provided the tools to pull the American economy out of the Great Depression. War was now a profitable and reliable stabilizer for the U.S. economy. Europe and Colonial Africa were in shambles, and it was left to the United States and the Soviet Union to pick up the pieces. America, fearing the spread of Soviet-style communism, began a systematic process of cultural and ideological imperialism to ensure spheres of influence.
During the Cold War, the United States actively pursued arming ‘Freedom Fighters' globally in a policy move known more commonly as the Reagan Doctrine. Fearing the establishment of a Soviet puppet state in the Afghanistan, the CIA funded and provided training to Islamic rebels, also known as the Mujahideen, in 1979. The CIA and the Mujahideen came out victorious almost a decade later and the U.S.S.R. withdrew from Afghanistan. With the removal of the Communist puppet government, however, came an immense power vacuum; various Mujahideen fighters, now referring to themselves as the Taliban, rose to the occasion, seized power, and provided shelter to prominent jihadist group al-Qaeda. Instead of ensuring democratic rule of law was instituted, the United States pulled out entirely of Afghanistan and left the crippled nation to fend for itself. The CIA were aware that al-Qaeda had jihadist training camps in rural Afghanistan but did absolutely nothing. Unfortunately, these were the camps that trained the terrorists who carried out the attacks on September 11, 2001.
The United States proclaims itself to be a champion of democratic values abroad, especially in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. While this may be a very patriotic talking-point, it is just that: a talking point. In all actuality, the United States provides military aid to 73% of the world's dictatorships, one of these being Saudi Arabia (Whitney 2017). The U.S. has had a long, and frankly unsavory relationship with Saudi Arabia, however, there are two things that remain consistent: U.S. oil companies get access to large quantities of oil and the Saudi Kingdom gets immense amounts of resources from the largest military the world has ever seen.
Time and time again, Saudi Arabia has been caught supporting or directly involving themselves in international scandals. 15 out of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudi nationals and some of them were in contact with individuals who have connections to the House of Saud (Kroft 2016). The Saudi government is currently leading a coalition that has instituted a blockade and bombing campaign of Yemen, not even allowing humanitarian aid through its borders. Even in the midst of this clear violation of the Geneva Convention, the United States not only allows Saudi Arabia to continue their genocide, but actively supplies their military with billions of dollars in arms and training programs (Zavis and Ahmed 2017). This is the exact set of circumstances that breeds extremism and anti-American sentiments. Young children in Yemen are seeing their entire families killed in their homes with bomb casings plastered with the words “Made in the United States”. If the roles were reversed, American victims and the American government would immediately seek retribution for any loss of life. These Yemeni victims, now armed with a purpose and hatred of Americans, pose a significant risk to Homeland Security, thanks in part to U.S. foreign policy choices of the last 70 years.
While it is common place for the United States' foreign policy decisions to have less than desirable outcomes, domestic policies have also created threats that had the potential to, and in some cases did negatively impact the lives of Americans. What is most commonly referenced when dealing with domestic policy blunders is the repeal of Glass-Steagall and the Great Recession of 2008. The financial crisis that ravaged middle and lower-class Americans is described by Dr. Donald Kettl in his book System under Stress as a “policy lightning”, a product of a potentially unknown origin in which the time that it was going to strike was also unknown (Kettl 2014, 6). With the financial meltdown of 2008, while the time in which the crash was coming was unknown, the cause was most certainly the Clinton-era repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1932. This Act was passed in the midst of the Great Depression and separated investment and commercial banking, stating that commercial banking posed too great of a risk to a depositor. Due to in part lobbying on behalf of investment firms, in 1999, Gramm-Leach-Billey Act Section 101 repealed Glass-Steagall and opened up opportunities for investment banks to once again take depositor's money and invest it in Wall Street (U.S. Congress 1999).
Many factors contributed to the eventual collapse of the Housing Market, but the major determining factor was the Subprime Mortgage Crisis. Lenders were selling subprime mortgages, mortgages that are offered to people with low credit scores, as mortgage-backed securities. After the loan was finalized, the lender would sell the loan to an investment bank, which would group similar loans together for the purpose of further investment. More and more subprime mortgages were being offered, and therefore more and more Americans who wouldn't have otherwise been able to afford a home were able to, causing a housing bubble. Unfortunately, the bubble burst, interest rates skyrocketed, and these new homeowners could no longer afford their mortgage payments. This caused a massive foreclosure epidemic, causing the value of these homes to plummet. This in turn hurt bank's profits, causing them to default on their debts. The investment banks that had invested in these loans originally also defaulted on their debts. All of this combined caused the economy to go in a downwards spiral.
While former Clinton aids will deny this, the United States' Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission determined that lack of regulation on the part of the federal government along with excessively risky maneuvers by Wall Street investment banks was the main cause of this otherwise avoidable issue. According to the Pew Research Center, the average U.S. household lost about $5,800 in income from September of 2008 to December of 2009 and more than 5.5 million jobs were lost as a result of the crash (Pew Research Center 2010). The Financial Crisis of 2008 was not a perceived or hypothetical threat in the mind of an average American, however, it has done way more damage to the average American than any terrorist group or enemy nation-state. It wasn't Daesh or Iran who had caused this crisis, it was the legal repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act by the 106th Congress. Because of policy blunders by the United States Congress and greed on the part of Wall Street investment banks, millions of Americans were laid off and hundreds of thousands lost their homes. What is even more frightening is even in the aftermath of the 2008 Financial Crisis, no efforts have been made to reinstate Glass-Steagall regulations, so it is very likely another crash will be coming, with possibly even more detrimental effects.
Speaking again on economic issues, the United States in the last half century has had a strong stance on recreational drugs, both pharmaceutical and recreational. While participating in activities involving drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and heroine had been illegal since 1914, the Nixon administration very much stepped up these regulations. At a press conference on June 17, 1971, President Nixon declared that drug abuse was “public enemy number one” and that in order to combat the increasingly prominent substance addiction problem, the United States should declare a ‘War on Drugs' (Nixon 1971). The number one goal of the ‘War on Drugs' was to reduce drug use nationwide. Rather than viewing addiction as an illness, the Nixon administration viewed addiction as a civil disobedience problem and believed in aggressive criminal justice policies to disincentivize drug use.
A stark deviation from the ‘War on Drugs' harsh policy, however, was the legalization of some formerly categorized ‘illicit drugs' through use in the pharmaceutical sector. Drugs such as hydrocodone and oxycodone were now offered by pharmaceutical companies as a supposed non-addictive alternative to pain relief. The healthcare sector jumped in and began prescribing opiates in high numbers as it was seen to be a medical breakthrough in the fight against chronic pain. However, these doctors and pharmaceutical companies were poorly informed about the addictive and dangerous nature of opiate medications. In 2017, the pharmaceutical opiate crisis was declared by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as a public health emergency. According to the public health emergency declaration, more than 130 people died daily in the United States in 2016 from opiate-related drug overdoses (Department of Health and Human Services 2018). As a reactionary measure, prescribing rules regarding opioids have been changed to limit the number of patients on opiates any one doctor can have. Doctors, rather than deal with consequences from the Department of Health and Human Services, began to wean or completely cut off supplies of opioids to patients who had for years relied on these drugs.
The handling of the American Opioid Epidemic was grossly mishandled in two ways. Firstly, the U.S. failed to ensure transparency with pharmacies marketing opiates. In a recently leaked Justice Department report, an investigation into Purdue Pharma proved that they intentionally concealed information about high potentials of abuse for opioids. Instead of choosing to indict the officials responsible, the U.S. settled the case against them (Meier 2018). Secondly, the United States Department of Health and Human Services recommended an immediate cutback on the prescribing of opiate pain killers without viable alternatives. Those already addicted to opioids or those who relied on them for genuine pain management were left without options. As mentioned previously, when the traditional market fails to supply, the black market will always come up to meet the demand. There is now a widely publicized heroin epidemic claiming the lives of thousands yearly. There are no options for detox without retribution, as drug abuse is still viewed as a criminal, not a health issue. Because of this, addicted users began to turn to illicit drugs to fill their needs. This opiate drug epidemic threatening the lives of millions of Americans can be directly traced back to the failings of the United States government to properly regulate.
The United States has long held a notion that those who threaten the safety of the American homeland and people do it purely out of hate of freedom and liberty. While this may be the case for a few potential threats, the vast majority of issues that pose the greatest risk to the American people can be directly or indirectly traced to the policy decisions of the United States government. However, this clear fact will never be discussed on a mainstream level. American exceptionalism is such an engrained thought in the average American, that it is difficult for them to even recognize that the U.S. could cause these threats. Without widespread recognition of these policy failures, the United States will continue to unintentionally put the lives and wellbeing of Americans at risk.
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