Besides applying these metaphors while simultaneously defending the necessity and relevance of their service or agency, national security officials have also seized the opportunity to paint the world as increasingly dangerous, unstable, and unpredictable. This casual threat inflation — unquestioned by congressional members and the vast majority of punditry and media outlets — has serious consequences for America’s future foreign policy agenda. …

First, given the historically healthy, prosperous, and secure world, will U.S. officials ever characterize the United States as safe? If not now, when? Dempsey and others contend that due to interconnectivity and the spread of potentially lethal technologies (prominently including computers) to “super-empowered individuals,” the world will only become more and more precarious. Over the past 12 years, the number of people connected to the Internet has expanded from 361 million to 2.4 billion. By 2020, there will be 28 billion devices connected to the Internet. By this logic, more connectivity and computers will only lead to increased threats to the United States.

Second, a core justification for maintaining a large peacetime military is to prevent and deter conflict, manage instability, and “to shape the threat, however indefinable it is out there,” as Marine Commandant Gen. Carl Mundy noted before Congress in 1992. Recently, Gen. Dempsey warned that one of the consequences of sequestration would be the “progressive contraction of security commitments around the world and a less proactive approach to protecting our interests.” But if the world is only becoming progressively more dangerous, despite costly “shaping” commitments around the world, then what is the U.S. military doing wrong? And if the military’s current strategy isn’t working, why would more money make it work? Unless, of course, the United States has limited and diminishing capacity to shape and direct foreign-policy events, in which case a strategic rethink is called for.