The Greatest Threat?

By Clint Douglas

As Erin wrote, it's not clear how much foreign policy the candidates will talk about tonight. When they do get around to debating their differing visions of America's place in the world, however, they'll likely be confronted by the perennial question: "What is the greatest threat to America's national security?"

It's not a very good question. It traditionally lends itself to sweeping generalizations that are light on specifics and concrete policy proposals. But how the candidates grapple with an answer will shed some much needed light on what will be their national security priorities for the next four years.

What would my answer be? Pakistan.

Pakistan's parlous state constitutes a direct threat to the United States, and more so than any other country or individual terrorist group. In its 60-year history, Pakistan has rarely functioned as a state, regardless of who happened to control the reigns of power. The civilians have ruled just as poorly as the military.

The latest incarnation of civilian rule is Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. During his wife's administration, Zardari was known as Mr.Ten Percent, in honor of the bribes he required. He assumed the presidency earlier this month, and some say he has failed to reinstate the independently minded chief justice of the Supreme Court, who was sacked by Pervez Musharraf, in part to avoid revisiting corruption allegations stemming from the 1990s.

Zardari's tenure, in all likelihood, will be a weak one. The loyalties of both the armed forces and the infamous Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI, are anybody's guess. Some are no doubt loyal to the civilian government, others to the primacy of the military as a class, and still others to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. What we do know is that the military controls a substantial nuclear weapons stockpile and that at least a portion of that organization facilitated the nuclear smuggling network of A.Q. Khan. We also know that portions of the security apparatus have assisted Taliban operations in Afghanistan and that we increasingly find ourselves in a shooting war with the Pakistanis in the tribal areas that border Afghanistan. And, of course, it's widely accepted that Osama bin Laden and the leadership of al-Qaeda and the Taliban reside somewhere in Pakistan. The country has always been riven by sectarian, ethnic and class divisions; but today this is compounded by the influence of the Pakistani Taliban, which has grown increasingly bold in its attacks on an already brittle civil society.

But as much as America faces a chaotic and at times belligerent Pakistan, we remain dependent on that country as well. The vast majority of goods imported to Afghanistan originate from or pass through Pakistan. A high percentage of the supplies for our troops in Afghanistan also come from Pakistan, and there are no desirable alternatives. Any successful campaign against al-Qaeda and the Taliban requires the active support of Pakistan.

Thus, we face something of a Gordian knot; Pakistan is our ally, upon whom we rely, and simultaneously our foe, who gives aid and comfort to our most implacable enemies. The exact balance of inducements and coercions that will be required to shore up Pakistani support for our operations in Afghanistan, without further destabilizing Pakistani civil society, will require the most agile and creative of minds. Pakistan, Afghanistan, nuclear proliferation and trans-national Islamic terrorism are now fully enmeshed. They are one and the same, and a failed state, Pakistan, is the linchpin to them all.

By Marisa Katz |  September 26, 2008; 5:36 PM ET
Previous: So Much for the Foreign Policy Election | Next: Is It the Economy (Again), Stupid?


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Well I understood that Pakistan -- or more accurately, Pakistan's nuclear arsenal -- was threat long before 911, but I still think you are wrong:

The single greatest threat to the national security of the United States is the Republican Party, and they are a greater threat than all of the other threats combined. It's not even close.

Posted by: cbgittings | September 26, 2008 7:54 PM

Charles always looking at Parties.

My vote: The National Security Council and the associated Serious Folks, Republican and Democrat. Always heavy on concrete proposals and light on consequences and accountability.

Surely there will never be any blowback from keeping all those troops in Saudi Arabia, er, I mean Iraq.

Posted by: srsf1 | September 27, 2008 1:24 AM

Well srsf1, I take it you got the basic point anyway. I certainly wouldn't quarrel with you that the so-called experts of both parties bear much blame, but after eight years of the Bush gangster administration it is impossible for me to ignore the malice, ignorance, and corruption of their political supporters: they are the political equivalent of a malignant brain tumor.

Hence, I repeat: the single greatest threat to the national secuity of the United States is the Republican Party -- in exactly the same sense that the single greatest threat to the national security of Germany in 1938 was the Nazi Party.

Last night John McCain claimed that we are safer from a terrorist attack now than we were on 911 -- a claim which is patently groundless, and which flies in the face of the available facts. There's no doubt that we are safer from the exact tactic that was used on 911, for the simple reason that it depended on surprise, and that was lost bofore the attack even ended.

But nothing the Bush gang has done since has made us safer. They've made us weaker while at the same time doing their best to incite more hatred and further attacks. By their logic, we were safer on 9/10/01 than we were when the first attack on the WTC was made in the early 90's. The only word for that sort of reasoning is stupidity.

Posted by: cbgittings | September 27, 2008 10:11 AM

Let us all be blunt to ourselves as John McCain would be. The surge worked; and, it reestablished a mantel over a volcano. But to sustain this mantel, an endless fielding of 140k troopers, 100k contract supporters and 100k Sunni irregulars at the extension of the empire is necessary.

This is the "success". It is the same success that Johnson achieved in 1967 before Tet, in spring, summer and fall of 1968 after Tet, by Nixon in the spring of 1970 invading Cambodia and in the bombings of 1972. It was similar to a short success after mission accomplished. Yet, in 1968 after Tet, Clark Clifford got his generals to admit that the sustainment commitment was endless. 30000 additional Americans would die to maintain an endless war.

Other empires have had such likewise periods of imposed order but the problem of sustaining such "success" requires the bankruptcy of the empire's treasury and the cannibalizing of the empire's posterity. In the last two World Wars, France, Germany, United Kingdom eat their own children for their empires and two risers, Japan and Italy ended in devastation. Russia and China ended in gulags as their imperial dynasties collapsed.

When John McCain returned from the camps, his fellow officers were studying Thucydides to understand the self destruction of Athens and Alistair Horne's A Savage War of Peace to understand the foolishness of empire, the difficulty of insurgency tied to religion and the courage needed to extract the stranded empire.

He didn't get to that point and his comment of not permitting the Army to win was the old general's line in Vietnam when caught in a lie. By being a hero in prison, he, was in a personal war and learned only the prisoner's ability to endure from it.

His endurance enables him to accept more tags and bracelets for the mothers and widows, endlessly.

In his world, only fiscal bankruptcy of the nation by war debt will end his persistence. Being well married to beer money, his endurance will have no burden.

Posted by: BillKeller | September 27, 2008 11:53 AM

*Thinking* Hmmmm, what scares me....Clowns...their always smiling...what are they trying to hide?...They have a clown "college" doubt a liberal mind control institution...this bears looking into...BEARS...more people are killed by bears than by Al Qaedda!!!!....That's probably not true, but it sure sounds scary...with the right training, bears might even be an existential threat...maybe that's what they are doing at the clown college, training bears....*/thinking*
OK Clint the greatest threat facing America is...

Posted by: dijetlo | September 27, 2008 8:51 PM

The supply-situation in Afghanistan is another reason why this administrations policy towards russia is non-understandable. If Pakistan goes boom, there are no other alternatives.

On that note, its interesting to note todays revealed negotiations with parts of the Taleban, reported at Especially the news of direct communication between Karzai and Hekmatyar strikes me as interesting. I think one of the keypoints in the coming years will be to what extent the US is willing to *let go* and let the region fall back into its previous patterns. To repeat myself, it seems a high time that the US abandons its unilateral approach to the GWOT and sits down and gets the other nations truly on board. One way to do this would be to strengthen Interpol, and give them broader powers and a real foundation, hiring in cops from all over the muslim world as well as the west and going after the terrorists as criminals, not enemy soldiers. As has been pointed out, by calling AQ "jihadis" we give them the status inside the muslim world that they phantazise about, and in many ways the propaganda efforts of our far-right establishment have been the greatest boon for them, with the image of the crusaderarmies of George Bush and the prisoners of Guatanamo/Abu Ghraib working as the two parameters through wich the muslim world will judge our actions.

The coming of a new president is a unique chance to turn this process around and start changing the very fundamental structure of our way of interaction with the muslim world. One very important act would be to stop going it alone, and to recruit forces through the umbrella of the UN that reflects the fact that this is a international problem.

Posted by: fnord1 | September 28, 2008 4:25 PM


In the midst of the unsettled financial markets there's been general agreement about one thing: the outcome of the current crisis will be far-reaching changes to the global financial system. For example, Morgan Stanley's chief economist Stephen Roach believes the world's central banks are now being forced to look afresh at how financial bubbles should be handled. Up to now their attitude has been that the markets must correct financial bubbles themselves.

However, the massive emergence of various kinds of derivative instruments created such huge inverted pyramids above an underlying asset class (such as prime mortgages) that things get out of hand when bubbles burst. Roach believes that central banks can hardly afford to condone bubbles in the future.

The question to be answered is: How and when they must take steps to avoid meltdowns?
Fin Week

As some of Wall Street's most venerable financial institutions teeter on the brink of self-destruction and are either taken over - in the case of Bear Sterns - or, as in the case of Lehman Brothers, allowed to implode, very few financial sectors appear capable of weathering the storms.

In view of the "bail out" agreement reached this past weekend it seems as if financial markets throughout the world will however react positively to this announcement. An announcement in my opinion not made by choice, however rather by force! Financial Guru - Warren Buffet correctly remarked that if the "bail out" plan was not approved - the American Economy would face certain "meltdown"!

In lieu of this it stands to reason that there weren't much alternatives than to see the bail out plan pass through congress? A certain relief for most - al be it temporary. Both Presidential Candidates voted for the plan as has been seen. Not much of a choice by the looks and sounds of it!

Certainly the pressing question on our minds should be to now take a calm and responsible view back, on what has caused this catastrophy? We should all agree that it is a catastrophy, although suspended perhaps for the moment. One can only call it "suspended" as this has still to play out and we will see how this effects the struggling markets and economy alltogether in the short, medium and long term!

IS THERE ANOTHER 700 BILLION US$ available should this not work?

One cannot help but wonder after pondering on all of this for months on end - who is the biggest terrorist or threat facing America after all? Is it Osama Bin Laden - or worse, is it someone or something, much closer to home? I certainly don't want to be in the shoes of the current President and wonder if anybody in his right mind would like to be in the future President's shoes!

However, fill the shoe we have to, and it is now up to every single one of us to realise that the problems facing America is far greater than we want to believe. Republican, Democrat or Independant all stood together, cried together and worked together when the tragedy of 9/11 struck!

The tragedy of September 2008 is far worse!

We don't have the liberty of taking on the world at present! No matter how righteous our beliefs are, no matter how convinced we are that terrosism should be fought in every corner, every nook and cranny, and in any place in the world. More Americans have died in this war than in 9/11 and we are not calling it a tragedy or catastrophy? No, we accept it because we are dying for our country, our beliefs and our ego!

Senator McCain says that he will not see to it that we pull out of this war before victory! He knows how it feels to come home defeated and to live to the consequences of knowing that a lot of people, or so he believes - has died in vain!

Are we staying at war because we don't want to feel bad? Are we loosing our children because of ego's?
Or worse, are we staying at war to loose our country and our very excistence?



Undoubtedly the bail out is necessary, could it have been avoided - too late to ask! Can it be avoided in the future - we have no alternative but to believe it can! The question is how?

Now, we can tighten up the budgets on every field of the economy, we can harness in every corporate company to be more dilligent in their dealings. We can increase or decrease taxes, impose new legislation, fire the wrong doers or restructure government to be more lean and mean.

All of this is however in vain, if we are still going to remain a "country at war"!

It's simple economics people! The war is killing America! It costs us a hell of a lot more than it costs Osama Bin Laden and Company to fight this! Perhaps he is a lot more astute than we will give him credit for! Perhaps he has gone into hiding, knowing that sooner or later - the "meltdown" will begin!

Sure we need to keep face in the world! Are we doing this now?

I don' think so!

It is my opinion that if we wan't to weather the greatest economic storm ever to hit our shores, we need to act and act now, before it's to late! Our leader, Republic or Democrat will have to realise that we can't stay at war and build our economy up again - it's childish to even contemplate that.

If the world believes we are doing the right thing fighting terrorism offshore, then the world should climb in and help finance this war much more than they are currently doing! If not - we need to pack up and go home before it is too late!

No other country in the world other than America is facing a "meltdown"? Why should we?

I know there is a lot more to it than a normal citizen like you and me know about this alltogether. However, it is time we harness our strength as ONE NATION and forget about politics for now. We need to think about America - all of us!

The "Barbarians are at our Gate", not in Irak or Pakistan!

Join me in my blog:


Chase Morgan

Posted by: chasemorgangci | September 29, 2008 7:25 AM

If we "loose" Pakistan we loose Afghanistan by default.

Posted by: nuke41 | September 29, 2008 7:41 AM

""What is the greatest threat to America's national security?"


Posted by: jamesm2 | September 29, 2008 3:37 PM

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