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America Has Never Been Safer -- So Why Are Politicians and the Media Trying to Terrify Us?

Republicans tend to engage in blatant alarmism about foreign threats and Democrats respond in kind for fear of being portrayed as weak.

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The United States has never been more secure, and Americans have never been safer than at this moment in history. Violent conflicts are at an all-time low around the world, and we still maintain significant military superiority over other major powers. The Al Qaeda network has been rendered largely incapable of mounting major attacks.

So write foreign policy analysts Michael Cohen and Micah Zenko in the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs . Their argument appears to be a contrarian one, but only because our political and media establishements continue to tell us that we are in constant peril. Cohen and Zenko write that the facts say otherwise:

In 1992, there were 53 armed conflicts raging in 39 countries around the world; in 2010, there were 30 armed conflicts in 25 countries. Of the latter, only four have resulted in at least 1,000 battle-related deaths and can therefore be classified as wars, according to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program: the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Somalia, two of which were started by the United States.

Today, wars tend to be low-intensity conflicts that, on average, kill about 90 percent fewer people than did violent struggles in the 1950s. Indeed, the first decade of this century witnessed fewer deaths from war than any decade in the last century.

Michael Cohen appeared on the AlterNet Radio Hour to talk about the disconnect between the facts and the perception when it comes to national security. This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Joshua Holland: During the recent GOP debate/cavalcade of clowns in Mesa, Arizona, we learned some interesting things. Mitt Romney said, “The world is more dangerous. It is not safer. North Korea is going through transition, the Arab Spring has become the Arab Winter, Syria is in flux, and of course Pakistan with 100 nuclear weapons or more represents a potential threat. Northern Mexico is a real danger area ... you have Hezbollah in Latin America and Mexico....” (I did not know Hezbollah was in Latin America and Mexico, by the way.) Then Newt Gingrich piped in and said, “You live in a world of total warfare. And everyone needs to understand, we live in an age when we have to genuinely worry about nuclear weapons going off in our own cities.” And he said further that, “all of us are at more risk today, men and woman, boys and girls, than at any time in the history of this country.”

I noticed that when they were talking about that, your head was basically exploding.

Michael Cohen: [laughs] I mean it’s almost hard to figure out where to respond with all that. It’s so ludicrous and empirically incorrect that it just doesn’t make any sense at all. For Gingrich to say, for example, that we are in a period of total warfare is completely untrue. We are literally in a moment in history of fewer wars, fewer civil wars, fewer violent wars that harm civilians than at any point in recent memory.

If you look back even to the '90s during the wars in the former Yugoslavia, the conflicts in the Congo, in Darfur – even going back a few years it was worse. But going a bit further back still -- go to the Vietnam War, go back to Korea -- these are much more violent periods in history.

This is actually a very peaceful time in human history. And it’s something we should all be happy about and we should all be taking advantage of as opposed to looking for boogeymen to justify this sort of fear-mongering.

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