Viewers of the Democratic presidential debates learned quite a bit this week—from Joe Biden’s views of school busing to Marianne Williamson’s plan to defeat President Donald Trump with love. But I’d bet the next president will be consumed by an issue not a single person mentioned: cyber threats.
Sure, the moderators asked a few candidates what they thought the biggest foreign-policy threat was. There was a question about Iran, lots of talk about climate change, and some China bashing. But in four hours, with enough presidential candidates to play two basketball games and so many moderators they had to take turns sitting in chairs, the foreign-policy parts of the debate seemed truncated at best.
Worse still was the mismatch between the challenges the next president will actually face and the foreign-policy topics the candidates were asked to discuss. Unfortunately, this is the norm for presidential debates, not the exception.
It doesn’t take a wonk with a Ph.D. to know which foreign-policy challenges should worry us most. It just takes a reader. Every year, the U.S. intelligence community issues a public threat assessment of the top dangers confronting the nation. Intelligence officials talk about their analyses in open congressional hearings, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence publishes an unclassified version of the assessment. You can get it on the internet. This year, cyber topped the threat list. It’s literally the first word, in all caps, under the first heading, which reads “Global Threats.” Intelligence agencies are often criticized for wishy-washy language, as in: We assess with moderate confidence that Country X may have Weapon Z but cannot rule out the possibility that it doesn’t. But their warnings about cyber threats couldn’t possibly be clearer.