By all accounts, the 112th Congress is going to be consumed with cutting government spending and creating jobs. This agenda reflects the election campaign of 2010 in which matters of national security featured not at all.
As in the past, however, when the nation and its leaders indulge in the temptation to focus exclusively on domestic matters and ignore present - and growing - dangers, there are usually nasty surprises in store. Such surprises frequently compel the federal government to give urgent attention to its constitutional mandate to "provide for the common defense," often at the expense of fiscal discipline and other priorities.
One need not look too hard to discern the sorts of threats that could well preoccupy official Washington in the months ahead. For example, the Obama administration's much-ballyhooed "reset" in relations with Russia is becoming ever more one-sided as Vladimir Putin cracks down at home and sells dangerous arms to, and otherwise provides diplomatic protection for, the world's most dangerous regimes. And Communist China is operationalizing its ability to engage in what its military planners have described as "unrestricted warfare" - a strategy for using every instrument of power, from traditional and unconventional weaponry to financial attacks and terrorism - to decisively defeat the United States.
Other sources of what would be, at best, instability, and, at worst, war include: a succession crisis in a bankrupt and nuclear-armed North Korea; the prospect of another nuclear-armed nation, Pakistan, becoming a failed state; the Palestinians obtaining international recognition - including quite possibly from President Obama - for their unilaterally declared statehood; meltdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan catalyzed by the U.S. withdrawal from each; and one-time allies in the Far East, Mideast and Latin America adapting to perceived new realities of waning American power and protection. They may manifest this by capitulating to emerging regional hegemons or by arming themselves to the teeth, in some cases at least with nuclear arms. Either way, our interests will likely suffer.
Two national security threats are particularly likely to demand congressional attention in the New Year:First, Iran has reportedly reached an agreement with Venezuela to deploy ballistic missiles on Venezuelan territory. Initially, these Scud and Shahab 3 missiles may not be able to reach the continental United States, unless employed in a sea-launched mode (a capability the Iranians have demonstrated) and brought closer to our shores aboard ships equipped for that purpose. Certainly, if this deployment goes forward unchallenged - and so far, President Obama has taken no public steps to prevent it - over time, longer-range missiles will surely migrate to our hemisphere, as well.
Such a prospect is all the more alarming insofar as the Senate has just approved a New START Treaty that the Russians say they will remain party to only as long as the United States refrains from making "any quantitative or qualitative improvements" in our missile defenses. Since we have no defenses in place at the moment to defend against threats emanating from the south, Congress will have to reckon with whether to provide for the common defense come what may, or allow Moscow to veto protection for the American people.
Second, the effort to impose or otherwise insinuate into this country the totalitarian, supremacist program the authorities of Islam call "shariah" is likely to intensify in 2011. Our government remains unwilling to recognize this wellspring of jihadist terrorism and insists on legitimating and empowering organizations and individuals associated with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). The latter practice is unconscionable since the MB absolutely shares the same goal as violent groups like al Qaeda, even though, for the moment at least, it chooses in the West use more stealthy forms of jihad to pursue shariah's worldwide triumph under a caliphate.
The good news is that Rep. Pete King (R-NY) the new chairman of the Homeland Security Committee has announced his intention to hold hearings addressing the nature of the threat of what he calls "radical Islam." He wants to end the "political correctness" that has obscured our understanding of and hamstrung our response to this threat. Congressman King's efforts may prove to be among the most important of the 112th Congress and a model for oversight and corrective measures by its intelligence, foreign affairs and armed services committees.
History suggests that, if Congress properly attends to these and related matters, it will have time and resources to address other domestic priorities. If legislators fail to do their part to identify and stave off such dangers, though, they may find their plans for budget cutting and the like go by the board, as they have to refocus big time on Job #1: providing for the common defense.