AUSTIN - The most important job of the President of the United States is keeping Americans safe. The next president will face no shortage of challenges, which national security experts gathered Thursday at the University of Texas to discuss.
No matter who wins in November, the thrill of victory will be short-lived.
"The next president's going to face a very full inbox," said Will Inboden, executive director of the university's Clements Center for National Security. University of Texas System Chancellor Bill McRaven, former director of national intelligence John Negroponte and former deputy national security advisor James Steinberg discussed the national security challenges facing the next president as part of a forum hosted by the Clements Center and the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law.
"You've got North Korea increasing its nuclear weapons program and threatening its neighbors," summarized Inboden, "You've got ISIS, even though they're in some retreat, still launching terrorist attacks, still controlling territory. You've got a resurgent Al Qaeda that is trying to stage new attacks against the United States."
"You have an aggressive Putin, who has already carved up pieces of Ukraine and is making noises about threatening other European countries, and then you have a China that is making its neighbors in the Asia-Pacific nervous as it's trying to increase its own territorial claims," Inboden continued, "Finally, you've got the Iranians who still have their nuclear program, which we're working with them to dismantle as a government, but there's still some uncertainty about how committed they are going to be to that."
The panel warned against letting relations with China and Russia continue to chill, and recommended identifying useful leverage against Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin, such as energy interdependence. One of the biggest challenges identified by the panel is partisan gridlock muddling America's unified voice. McRaven, who commanded the United States Special Operations Command, suggested one thing has gone under the radar: Clean water.
They're not theoretical exercises.
"As we learned on 9/11 fifteen years ago, problems in far away lands can very easily come out and hurt us very painfully here at home," said Inboden.
"In the world we live in now, Russian aggression in the Middle East sends refugees flowing over this way, which we need to deal with. ISIS is not just confining its attacks to Iraq and Syria, as we've seen with Orlando, with San Bernardino, most recently even with New York and New Jersey. They're launching attacks here," Inboden continued. "Chinese intelligence is very actively infiltrating and penetrating our commercial sectors, as well as efforts to penetrate our government."
"So the challenges of the world, we're not insulated from them by two oceans anymore," said Inboden. "They come across our borders."
The next president will have to face them on day one.