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Forget Russia. America has a raft of more pressing problems.
It's time we stopped fighting Cold War demons and dealt with real catastrophes here at home
 
"To be strong abroad, America must first be strong at home."
"To be strong abroad, America must first be strong at home." (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Vladimir Putin once called the collapse of the Soviet Union the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century. He clearly wants to put the Soviet Union back together, in some form, and stick it to America whenever and wherever he can. We must do whatever it takes to stop him. (I worked in Russia for many years, am a student of the Cold War era and know how this guy thinks — I met him many years before his rise to international fame.)

But is Russia really America's No. 1 geopolitical foe, a claim Mitt Romney made in 2012, and which countless conservatives have recently latched onto? More specifically, is Russia really the foe America should be most focused on?

While the threat posed by Russia to the post-Cold War era is undeniable, I think the greatest threats to America's security are homegrown.

Abraham Lincoln said our greatest foe is America itself: "America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves."

So set aside foreign threats for a second. Let's focus on these domestic threats.

The debt. We're up to our eyeballs in red ink: $17 trillion and counting. The interest alone this year will cost us $233 billion. That's 40 percent of the 2014 budget deficit. And it gets worse: the debt is expected to grow to $21 trillion over the next decade.

Our incompetent leaders. Many of our "leaders" in Washington can't acknowledge, much less cooperate on, the most critical issues we face. These obstinate hyper-partisans are a bigger threat to our future than Vladimir Putin can ever be.

The reality gap. Millions of Americans live in ideological cocoons; they're so sure of themselves, so rigid in their beliefs, that they can't deal with others who may be even the slightest bit disagreeable. We blame politicians for not being able to cooperate — but face it: We have trouble doing it ourselves.

Economic stagnation. Median wages in this country peaked way back in 1999. Housing peaked way back in 2006. Job growth is anemic.

Lack of skills. Half of all the jobs in America today "are at high risk of being automated by 2024." To keep up, we have to focus more on STEM skills: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Too bad we're letting other nations kick our behind. In a 2009 survey, American kids ranked 14th out of 34 countries in reading, 17th in science, and 25th in math. Where are the jobs, you ask? They're going to the smart kids in other countries, that's where.

Brain drain. Thousands of students from around the world come here to study at America's great universities. In the past, they'd stay here, start companies, and help power America's economic engine. Now they're increasingly going home — where they often find greater opportunities — and compete against us. This has to stop.

Poverty. Forty-seven million people rely on food stamps. Thirty-eight million households have nothing saved for retirement. Some 1.2 million children are homeless. An estimated 58,000 veterans live on the streets each night. These facts are a national disgrace. America's massive, grinding poverty is eating away at our strength. What kind of a "superpower" allows a million children to fend for themselves on the street?

There's much more. We don't have enough water. We've cut spending on medical research while millions die each year from cancer, heart disease, and other killers. We're whistling in the graveyard while cyberattacks mount. And climate change threatens our species and planet. On and on and on.

To be strong abroad, to defeat threats from the likes of Putin, America must first be strong at home. I fear we're failing.

 
Paul Brandus is an award-winning member of the White House press corps and the founder of WestWingReports.com.

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