Four key threats the nation faces will follow the next president of the United States into office. These threats are not new, but will increase if not effectively addressed. Whoever is elected for this leadership position must be equipped with the right information in order to prioritize and make tough decisions regarding these threats.
Perhaps the biggest threat the nation faces in the next coming years is terrorism. Groups like Islamic State group and al-Qaida are no longer threats to just U.S. interests abroad. They are now a significant threat to the homeland, as seen in San Bernardino in 2015. By using the internet to radicalize disenfranchised persons, terrorists are successfully turning people against their governments. In the case of the San Bernardino shooting, the two attackers are suspected of being self-radicalized, and also planned and executed their attack with no major organization support. That attack demonstrated that these organizations have the capability to strike a blow even without their presence in the United States. Additionally, the Paris attacks showed the world that these organizations are also using the Syrian refugee crisis as cover to infiltrate nation states. The Homeland Security Enterprise needs to realize this and act appropriately to counter any threat to U.S. citizens or infrastructure.
Ineffective Current Policies Current policies in practice today must be altered to successfully combat the asymmetric threat of terrorism. The Department of Homeland Security made the first step in this process by establishing the Homeland Security Enterprise. This action was an attempt to bring together intelligence and law enforcement agencies so they can work in concert to protect the homeland. Essentially, this merger was successful and has thwarted many untold terror plots. However, federal, state, local, and tribal agencies need to combine their assets to contain or eliminate new and old threats that are sure to be troublesome in the future. Existing policies need to address terrorism (focusing on self-radicalization), human trafficking, immigration, social stability, and the “war on drugs” to prevent further atrocities.
The nation’s borders are not secure. The porosity of the borders is providing human traffickers the ability to bring in thousands of people and allowing illegal aliens to enter the country uninhibited. It is estimated that, during Obama’s tenure, 2.5 million illegal aliens have settled in the United States. The current administration’s push toward amnesty is compounding the immigration problem, which is barely being contained.
Additionally, the United States is experiencing increasing economic and social instability. The housing bubble implosion left its mark on the economy, which is having adverse effects on the social landscape. In its aftermath, unemployment shot up to 10 percent and has slowly been declining, but not yet back to the rate before the housing market burst. It also needs to be taken into consideration that current rates do not account for people who have simply given up on getting a job; the numbers are based on only those receiving unemployment benefits.
Contributing to all of the problems identified thus far is the failed “war on drugs.” Since its inception in 1971, the battle against drugs has proven to be a costly endeavor with little to no benefit. The U.S. government spends more than $51 billion a year on a system that favors arrests and incarceration over treatment and support. In 2013, 1.5 million U.S. citizens were arrested for nonviolent drug crimes, a majority of whom were minorities and/or from low-income communities. These issues are interrelated, and policy changes must be done during the next presidential term to safeguard the future.
Suggested Policy Changes To protect future generations, the following policy changes are recommended in descending order of severity of the threat they pose:
Terrorism – A primary contributing factor to the radicalization process of a future terrorist is a feeling of being disconnected, not having a voice, and/or a desire to do something significant which incites change on a broad scale. Two of these causes can be alleviated in one simple action: make government transparent to citizens. As of September 2015, U.S. citizens had a 45 percent distrust rate of the government’s ability to handle domestic issues. By adopting transparency initiatives, the public will slowly begin to give trust where trust is due.
Human trafficking/illegal immigration – The United States was founded on immigration. Migrants gave birth to this country and, for a long stretch, immigration continued to bolster the nation as a global power. However, many illegal aliens and those who use human traffickers to enter the country do so because of the bureaucratic mess associated with the legal immigration process. The current process of becoming a citizen is exhausting and expensive. Major reforms need to be made in the application process, so it does not take several years to enjoy and embrace citizen rights. Once the process is streamlined, federal agencies along with local law enforcement need to uphold the law and turn apprehended illegal aliens over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. Once received by ICE, an illegal should be deported at the expense of the illegal’s home country within one month. Additionally, the Secure Fence Act of 2006 needs to come to fruition.
Social instability – Once a transparent government is realized, and the borders are filled with law-abiding citizens, then policies geared toward increasing social capital can be implemented. Engaging citizens and entrusting them with functions typically managed and performed by government officials will help bridge the gap between citizens and governments. Enacting policies that foster a “whole community” concept will prove only to make the nation more resilient to unforeseen tragedies.
Drugs – Because of reactionary criminal justice policies, the country’s prison system is straining to house incarcerated persons. Sentencing policies like “Three Strikes” has crippled the ability of authorities to efficiently house and rehabilitate inmates. To reduce recidivism, policies like the decriminalization of marijuana should be considered. According to drug war statistics, in 2014, 700,993 people were arrested for marijuana, 88 percent of which were arrested for possession. The legalization and taxation of marijuana could serve two purposes: (a) decrease the prison population, which could have tremendous positive effects on social stability; and (b) generate revenue for a struggling economy. It is estimated that California alone could raise $1,400,000,000 annually if marijuana were taxed.
In conclusion, this nation cannot afford another four years of the status quo. In 2008, Obama was able to capture and entrance a population into a hope for change and promised an era of transparency like no other before it. Eight years later, the country is still plagued with threats of terrorism, America’s borders remain porous, Washington politicians continue to be out of touch with the average citizen, and the social fabric that has held everything together thus far is starting to rip at the seams. Failure to enact policies that address the issues discussed here will likely bring the nation to its knees.
Mark-Jon Nichols is a retired U.S. Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer with 21 years of experience in electronic warfare, counter drug and counter improvised explosive device (IED) operations. He earned his Master's degree in Political Science & Terrorism and is now pursuing his second Master's degree in Homeland Security & Emergency Management. He also obtained certifications with the American Board for Certification in Homeland Security in the areas of Domestic Preparedness and Homeland Security. Currently, Mr. Nichols is a Program Manager specializing in military training for the Department of Defense (DoD).