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As Congress departs for summer recess and the 2016 presidential election season begins, national security is set to dominate the agenda. Although the economy, the Affordable Health Care Act, and taxes remain issues of great interest, the state of our foreign affairs and national security now necessarily are the critical issues to be addressed over the next two years. There are many crises occurring around the world impacting security affairs, but just a few afford a glimpse of the tremendous threats emerging to the United States and its interests:
Libya The nation liberated just two years ago has fallen into chaos. There is really no central government to speak of and terrorists are taking root in this major country bordering Tunisia and in close proximity to Egypt. Just last week, the U.S. embassy was evacuated in Tripoli due to the threats imposed by jihadists. It is no small measure to evacuate an embassy, and should give pause to those not following this situation as closely as seems pragmatic. Additionally, the major airport in Tripoli was shut down last week due to threats from extremists.
Syria The Assad government remains in control, but is still under attack by revolutionaries linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Instability continues to reign as refugees from the conflict pour into Turkey. It remains unclear who to side with in this conflict. Neither the existing government nor the Islamic fighters offer real alternatives to the United States. The chemical weapons issue remains a threat, and the control of a nation geographically critical to U.S. allies is of paramount importance.
Iraq As ISIS continues to strengthen, the radical group has seized chemical weapons as well as uranium that could potentially be used as a dirty bomb. The leader of ISIS is well known to have declared, when being released from U.S. custody after fighting alongside al-Qaida, that he "will return to NY." Such rhetoric is frightening to say the least.
It appears the gains and efforts made by our armed forces in Iraq over the past decade have been significantly diminished. Beyond which, Iran is lurking in the background and seeking to provide enhanced support and relations to the Shiite led government. Recently, the declaration of the self-proclaimed Caliph in Mosul that any Christians must either convert to Islam, or leave their homes and the city or else face beheading is a chilling reminder of the vicious nature of the enemies the nation has been fighting since 9/11.
Russia The Ukrainian situation is similar to the Cold War efforts of the 1980s. A proxy war is now occurring in this fragile nation. After the downed airliner crash, the world community now has prima facia evidence of Russian involvement in the destabilization of the region - both in Crimea and Ukraine. Beyond the clear intent of Putin to resurrect the greatness of the former Soviet Union in this region, he has also placed the Arctic as a centerpiece of his military's efforts.
Putin views the Arctic as "Russian," and as evidence of melting in the region continues to occur, the Russian leader is placing tremendous effort in ensuring others do not stake claims to this oil reserve rich region. The United States needs to continue to assert its rights in the Arctic, diplomatically and legally.
Israel-Gaza The historical battle between Palestine and Israel in Gaza is at an apex. The fierce fighting between Hamas and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has resulted in thousands of deaths - many innocent civilians. The U.S. is struggling between supporting Israel's inherent right of self-defense against rocket attacks and "tunnel terrorism," while understanding the very real need for the Palestinians to be able to live in peace and free from intervention (not to mention the now 1,000-plus civilian casualties during the conflict). The global community must continue to pursue diplomatic efforts to prevent further bloodshed and destabilization in this volatile area.
Additionally, there are other challenges calling for U.S. leadership as well, for example: Nigeria and the Boko Horam (we have nearly forgotten about the 250 school girls who were kidnapped and the attacks on Christian churches there as well), the issues in the South China Sea, the southern border and the national security challenges associated with illegal immigration, etc.
The instability in the world is significant and in many ways, mind-boggling. But the "big five" presented above offer a glimpse of what policy makers need to confront during the next two years and, in some fashion, resolve, in order to ensure security and safety to the homeland, as well as protecting U.S. interests and allies around the globe.
These issues should dominate the campaigns and the media coverage of candidates over the next election cycle.
Glenn Sulmasy is Homeland and National Security Law Fellow at the Center for National Policy in Washington DC and a professor of law at the U. S. Coast Guard Academy. The views expressed are his own.