With Bin Laden Off FBI's Most Wanted List, What's Our Next Big Threat?

The FBI’s Ten Most Wanted thankfully looks much different than it did after 9/11. Osama Bin laden is dead, and the most wanted man in the country is now a teacher who is wanted for child porn charges. 

The death of Bin Laden was in many ways the symbolic end to a mission that began over a decade ago. In the years after 9/11, American foreign policy was focused on minimizing the threat that terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda pose to the U.S. and its allies, and the death of one Al-Qaeda’s leaders was no doubt a significant, if not poignant, achievement fulfilling that goal. However, the death of Bin Laden did not mark the end of Al-Qaeda, and it would be naive to think that attacks similar to those on 9/11 are not being planned by his successors. Al-Qaeda was weakened long before Bin Laden’s death, mainly because of their expulsion from Afghanistan. Even if the Taliban were to retake Afghanistan, it is unlikely that they would allow Al-Qaeda back. Given our current economic situation, as well as the quickly changing geopolitical scene, it is important for American policymakers to not lose sight of other threats outside of terrorism. 

Unfortunately, the most serious security threat facing the United States is the government’s mismanagement of the economy.

Hollywood and the media can help exaggerate the threat of terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and states like Iran and North Korea. To be sure, Al-Qaeda is still aworrying group, and it is worth dedicating resources to ensuring that they do not carry out attacks like those of 9/11 or acquire biological or nuclear weapons. Likewise, a world with a nuclear Iran and North Korea would be less safe than a world without Iran and North Korea enjoying membership in the nuclear family.

Yet, even if Al-Qaeda, Iran, and North Korea acquired nuclear power, there would only be a slight increase in the threat to U.S. soil. Were Iran and North Korea to develop nuclear weapons, it would be years before they would have the ability to launch them at the American mainland. If Al-Qaeda were to acquire nuclear weapons, it is unlikely that they would be able to arm and detonate them in the U.S. and would pose a much greater threat to countries like Pakistan. It is important to remember that the U.S. still has the most advanced and capable military in the world, and it would not be difficult for the U.S. to respond aggressively to any attacks on our mainland.

When discussing national security, even the military realize the gravity of the threat posed by our government’s mismanagement of the economy. Admiral Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in 2010 that the national debt is the most serious security threat that the U.S. faces. History provides us with ample evidence of the danger of debt and economic collapse. Empires and nations rarely collapse because of military insurgency or invasion. Years of economic downturns, inflation, and corruption all contributed to the end of the world’s best known empires.

If the U.S. government does not take the steps necessary to tackle the debt and its level of spending, it will not only be a threat to our prosperity, but our security. A bankrupt nation cannot protect its assets, borrow money, compete, or provide services. The effects of these outcomes would be worse than any single terrorist attack in the long term.

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Matthew Feeney

Anglo-American currently working as Assistant Editor of Reason 24/7 at Reason.com. Before coming to DC I worked in London at the Institute of Economic Affairs and at the headquarters of the Liberal Democrats. I write mostly on economics, civil liberties, and foreign affairs.

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