In celebration of the year, I’m coming back to Stephen Kinder’s April op-ed. It’s not optimism to say that America can be secure in relation to its neighbors. It’s reality:
When Americans look out at the world, we see a swarm of threats. China seems resurgent and ambitious. Russia is aggressive. Iran menaces our allies. Middle East nations we once relied on are collapsing in flames. Latin American leaders sound steadily more anti-Yankee. Terror groups capture territory and commit horrific atrocities. We fight Ebola with one hand while fending off Central American children with the other.
In fact, this world of threats is an illusion. The United States has no potent enemies. We are not only safe, but safer than any big power has been in all of modern history.
Geography is our greatest protector. Wide oceans separate us from potential aggressors. Our vast homeland is rich and productive. No other power on earth is blessed with this security.
Our other asset is the weakness of potential rivals. It will be generations before China is able to pose a serious challenge to the United States — and there is little evidence it wishes to do so. Russia is weak and in deep economic trouble — not always a friendly neighbor but no threat to the United States. Heart-rending violence in the Middle East has no serious implication for American security. As for domestic terrorism, the risk for Americans is modest: You have more chance of being struck by lightning on your birthday than of dying in a terror attack.
Promoting the image of a world full of enemies creates a “security psychosis” that misshapes our view of the world. It tempts us to interpret defensive steps taken by other countries as threatening. In extreme cases, it pushes us into wars aimed at preempting threats that do not actually exist.
We should be more concerned with our own communities than with the happenings of distant nations. In the new year, it’s worth thinking about how we can make the places we live and love as special as this time of year.