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FROM THE ANTHOLOGY: The Best of 2012

Clear and Present Safety

The United States Is More Secure Than Washington Thinks

A U.S. Capitol police officer in Washington, February 2012.  KEVIN LAMARQUE / REUTERS

Last August, the Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney performed what has become a quadrennial rite of passage in American presidential politics: he delivered a speech to the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. His message was rooted in another grand American tradition: hyping foreign threats to the United States. It is “wishful thinking,” Romney declared, “that the world is becoming a safer place. The opposite is true. Consider simply the jihadists, a near-nuclear Iran, a turbulent Middle East, an unstable Pakistan, a delusional North Korea, an assertive Russia, and an emerging global power called China. No, the world is not becoming safer.”

Not long after, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta echoed Romney’s statement. In a lecture last October, Panetta warned of threats arising “from terrorism to nuclear proliferation; from rogue states to cyber attacks; from revolutions in the Middle East, to economic crisis in

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