Most Powerful Women

Why the greatest threat to the U.S. is our own anger

October 5, 2010: 6:31 PM ET

Jami Miscik, the former deputy director of intelligence for the CIA, says the U.S. is losing its edge, and our biggest problem is the divisive culture we're forming here at home.

By Tory Newmyer, writer

In case you don't have enough to worry about, here are some extras to keep you up at night: a crippling disruption of the global supply chain, our continued vulnerability to a cyber attack, the inevitability of a nuclear-armed Iran, and a succession crisis that further destabilizes North Korea.

And yet, in spite of that whirlwind tour of international problem spots, Jami Miscik, the CIA's former deputy director of intelligence, sees the greatest threat residing at home. Specifically, she said, it's us — our angry electorate, our polarized politics, and our inability to develop consensus around our common interests. "We're losing our edge and our ability to get the things done that we all think should be done, like education, like infrastructure, like controlling the deficit," Miscik, president of Kissinger Associates, said at Fortune's Most Powerful Women's Conference on Tuesday.

That state of play has international consequences, she said, since the rest of the world is watching to see if we're in decline. "And I think they see divisiveness and indicators that we will not be as strong as we have been, that we won't be able to be as relied upon as an ally or as able to affect international policy and speak with one voice and then stick to it," Miscik said.

Beyond our borders, she said China poses the greatest strategic challenge the U.S. long term. We tend to view them in a binary fashion — either as a vast new market for business or as a rising military threat. And they have the same schizophrenic view of us: "We're either a very important country that they really need and therefore have to stay engaged with, or we're a country on the way down and we want to take them down with us," Miscik said.

"When you've got those kinds of attitudes ... and these kinds of big geopolitical shifts taking place, that's really when you have the potential to have misunderstandings, to have tensions go up," she said, "and it really becomes important to stay focused on the strategic aspects of that challenge."

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