Terrorism is not an existential threat to the United States. As Greg Jaffe noted in the Washington Post last week, global terrorism has killed fewer Americans in the last decade than falling furniture and televisions. Worldwide, the number of deaths caused by terrorism has never exceeded 13,000 a year -- and the number of deaths resulting from global terrorism was substantially higher in the early 1990s than it is today.
To use an Obama-esque phrase, "let me be clear": I'm not saying that Obama should ignore terrorism. Like global organized crime, it's a very serious problem -- and, in particular, the United States should continue to do everything possible to ensure that nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons stay out of the hands of terrorists, just as we seek to ensure that they stay out of the hands of rogue states. But it's time to stop viewing most of the world through a counter-terrorism lens. In his second term, Obama has a unique opportunity to scale back targeted killings, increase their transparency, and redirect limited human and financial resources towards graver long-term security threats.
2. Stop fixating on Iran.
Speaking of overblown threats, President Obama also has an important opportunity to ratchet down the hysteria level over Iran. The nuclear genie left its bottle a long time ago. Instead of trying fruitlessly to lure it back in, we'd do better to focus on managing the consequences of a nuclear Iran. It's virtually inevitable that Iran will end up with a nuclear weapons capability, unless the United States or Israel takes direct military action. But a strike on Iran would, as former Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said, be catastrophic -- probably a great deal more catastrophic than accepting a nuclear Iran. Obama should do everything possible to talk the Israelis off the ledge and should focus instead on creating incentives for Iran to be a responsible nuclear state. That's not an entirely unrealistic goal: even Ahmadinejad is not as crazy as he seems, and Iran is likely to remain a rational actor -- especially if the United States sets a good example by moving forward on our own pledges to reduce our nuclear arsenal.
3. About those nukes...
As Joe Cirincione argued last week, Obama should make good on the promises he made in Prague in 2009. He needs to issue presidential guidance on the implementation of the 2010 Nuclear Policy Review, and continue reducing U.S. nuclear forces. He needs to reengage Russia on missile defense and further nuclear reductions, push for Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and aggressively push forward on nuclear threat reduction programs to secure or destroy "loose nukes." If we want other states to refrain from the development and use of nuclear technologies, we need to show that we're willing to walk the walk as well as talk the talk.