Terrorism. According to the National Counterterrorism Center, while 33 U.S. citizens died from terrorism in 2008, that number decreased to 17 in 2011 (15 in Afghanistan, one in Iraq, and one in Jerusalem). This reduced threat is reflected in the global downward trend of deaths due to terrorism, with 15,732 fatalities in 2008 and 12,533 fatalities in 2011, largely as a result of the increased attention and enforcement efforts in Iraq, Somalia, and Pakistan. Meanwhile, terrorist deaths increased by almost 60 percent in Afghanistan between 2008 and 2011.
Nuclear weapons. The number of global nuclear weapons declined from about 23,360 in 2009 to 19,000 in 2012. At the same time, global stockpiles of highly enriched uranium (HEU) decreased from 1,670 tons to 1,440 tons between 2008 and 2011, while stockpiles of separated plutonium remained constant at 500 tons. However, this good news is tempered by the growth in India's and Pakistan's nuclear arsenals, from 60 to 70 in India to 80 to 100, and from 60 in Pakistan to 90 to 110. Obama reportedly told his staff that loose Pakistani nuclear weapons "was his biggest single national security concern." Moreover, North Korea allegedly built a uranium-enrichment facility estimated to be capable of producing a bomb's worth of HEU per year, and U.S. officials have warned there are other clandestine enrichment sites.
Nuclear security. Building on the strong records of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Obama declared in April 2009 that his greatest foreign-policy priority was to "secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years." Obama administration officials acknowledge that they will fall short of this lofty goal; in March, the Government Accountability Office reported, "NSC officials did not consider the 4-year time frame to be a hard and fast deadline." Nevertheless, important reductions in weapons-capable fissile material were sustained under Obama's watch, including the removal of all HEU from Mexico, Chile, Serbia, Romania, Taiwan, and Turkey. While there were 53 countries with at least 1 kilogram of weapons-usable fissile material in 2005, today there are 34.
Life expectancy. Even before the supposed benefits of Obamacare have been phased in, U.S. life expectancy has continued to increase, from 78.0 years in 2008 to 78.49 years in 2011. In contrast, the average global life span is 69.6 years. Health metrics such as child mortality decreased slightly from a rate of 7.7 per 100,000 in 2008 to 7.5 in 2010, though obesity rates expanded from 33.7 percent in 2008, to 35.7 percent in 2010. Two weeks ago, first lady Michelle Obama declared that obesity was "absolutely" a national security threat to the United States.
Daily life. Although this is a foreign-policy column, it is worth noting that this is the safest time in history to live in the United States. The FBI's (Preliminary Annual) Uniform Crime Report for 2011 shows continued decline in nearly all major crime categories -- including violent crime, motor vehicle theft, and arson -- with only a slight 0.3 percent increase in burglary. Moreover, getting from point A to point B has never been safer. Comparing 2008 to the most recent equivalent data, fewer Americans are dying in motor vehicles, in airplanes, as pedestrians from motor vehicles, or on bicycles.
Both Obama and Romney pepper their stump speeches with explicit and implicit invocations of America as an "exceptional nation." Yet if recent presidents have taught us anything, it is that presidential foreign-policy choices either result in big, intractable catastrophes (see Iraq) or simply maintain an even keel. The first point of wisdom in analyzing U.S. foreign policy is to recognize that very little of what happens on the other 91.77 percent of the Earth's surface has anything to do with the United States. The second is that the ability of any U.S. president to shape, compel, or direct foreign-policy events is both limited and diminishing. On Sept. 24, Romney told an audience in Pueblo, Colorado, that the anti-Western protests "represent events that are spinning out of the kind of influence we'd like to have. We're at the mercy of events rather than shaping the events in the Middle East." The era of American mastery in world affairs was always a myth and has now all but collapsed. All largely positive developments outlined above reflect the complex, interconnected decisions of billions of people. So far, so good.