Americans Think These Are the USA’s Most Dangerous Enemies

banner depicting President Bashar al-Assad
Syrians walk past a banner depicting President Bashar al-Assad on December 21, 2017. Four percent of Americans named Syria as the U.S.’s number 1 enemy. | George Ourfalian/AFP/Getty Images

The world is fraught with danger. Whether you’re discussing the ongoing developments with Russia or contending with new economic powers like China and India, America is in a precarious position. The United States may be a global superpower — the only one for quite a stretch — but others are hot on our heels. Rival nations, or our geopolitical enemies, if you want to call them that, are catching up in terms of military strength, technological prowess, and economic muscle, and that makes a lot of people very nervous.

Though it’s up for debate as to just how nervous you should be — and why.

But if you were asked to name America’s biggest rival, or greatest enemy, even, what would you say? There’s no clear answer these days. There are definitely a few top answers that probably spring to mind. But this isn’t the Cold War era where the Soviet Union was the clear and present danger on the international stage. Or even back during the World Wars, where the lines were clearly drawn as to which country was on America’s side.

So, who is America’s greatest rival or biggest enemy? A 2016 Gallup poll shows that a handful of countries clearly stick out to most Americans. Gallup polled more than 1,000 people in early 2016 and asked them to name America’s “greatest enemy”. The results, for the bulk of respondents (toward the top of our list), isn’t much of a surprise. But there were many curious answers, as we’ll see.

Who is America’s greatest enemy? These are the country’s that most Americans named, per the Gallup poll.

8. Syria

  • Percentage of Americans naming Syria as America’s “greatest enemy”: 4%

There is an ongoing crisis in Syria, and the country has been a staple in the news cycle for the past several years. That is probably one of the main reasons it’s on this list with 4% of poll respondents naming Syria America’s “greatest enemy”. But it’s a very complicated situation; While the Syrian regime may or may not be America’s friends, Syria, as a nation, is playing host to American enemies. It’s not as simple as the guys in Syrian uniforms being the “bad guys”.

Next: The country that has bogged America down for a decade and a half.

7. Afghanistan

A US soldier (R) from the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade and a Polish soldier handle a dog inside the cabin of a UH-60 Black Hawk medevac helicopter during a training drill at Forward Operating Base Ghazni on May 17, 2013. US-led coalition forces are winding down their operations before a scheduled withdrawal of the bulk of their 100,000 troops by the end of 2014, and racing to prepare Afghan forces to take over responsibility for security. | Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP/Getty Images
A US soldier and a Polish soldier in Afghanistan in 2013. | Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP/Getty Images
  • Percentage of Americans naming Afghanistan as America’s “greatest enemy”: 4%

Like Syria, Afghanistan is a curious entry on this list. Also like Syria, 4% of Gallup’s poll respondents named Afghanistan America’s “greatest enemy”. It probably has something to do with the fact that we’re currently bogged down in the longest war in American history in Afghanistan — now going on 16 years. But it’s not Afghanistan itself that we’re fighting there. And like with Syria, there isn’t really a clear goal or exit strategy to end the engagement.

Next: Another country in the Middle East.

6. Iraq

Iraqi army forces
Iraqi forces hold a position on November 4, 2017, near the Syrian border after recapturing the border town of Qaim, west of Anbar, from the Islamic State (IS) group jihadists. | Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images
  • Percentage of Americans naming Iraq as America’s “greatest enemy”: 5%

We’ve been to war in Iraq twice in the past 30 years or so. And still, many Americans — 5% of Gallup’s poll — said the country remains America’s “greatest enemy”. Like our previous two countries, the circle is hard to square when it comes to Iraq. Saddam Hussein was defeated and a friendlier government was installed. The war is all but over in Iraq, but there is still fighting. As with the Syria and Afghanistan, it’s a very complicated situation.

Next: This isn’t a country at all, curiously.

5. ISIS (wherever they operate)

Iraqi pro-government forces detain men suspected of belonging to the Islamic State
Iraqi pro-government forces detain men suspected of belonging to the Islamic State | Moadh Al-Dulaimi/AFP/Getty Images
  • Percentage of Americans naming ISIS as America’s “greatest enemy”: 5%

Though the Islamic State is not actually a state, we’re including it because 5% of Gallup’s respondent named it as America’s biggest enemy. Actually, respondents said that the nations in which ISIS is active and fighting qualify for the “enemy” distinction, which includes a number of countries in and around the Middle East. The good news is that ISIS has been largely defeated for now. Though it could create another power vacuum or allow for the terror group to huddle and relaunch operations.

Next: The biggest economic rival the U.S. faces.

4. China

Chinese People's Liberation Army Air Force
Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force personnel march with their national flag | STR/AFP/Getty Images
  • Percentage of Americans naming China as America’s “greatest enemy”: 12%

We haven’t been involved in any military operations or engagements with China since the 1950s. And these days, China is much more of an economic rival than anything. Though that could change. America and China are carefully intertwined economically, however, which may be the key to keeping the peace between the two. The American leadership has sent mixed signals regarding the two countries’ relationship, but either way, 12% of poll respondents named China our biggest threat.

Next: A nation that shouldn’t surprise most readers.

3. Iran

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani | Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images
  • Percentage of Americans naming Iran as America’s “greatest enemy”: 14%

Now we’re getting into the real meat of the poll. Iran was named by 14% of respondents as America’s biggest rival, and most people know why. Iran has been a thorn in the side of the U.S. for some time, though there has yet to be any large-scale military operations between the two countries. Instead, there have been proxy battles, much like what is going on between the U.S. and Russia or China. The recent nuclear deal struck by the Obama administration gave many people hope for a brighter future between the two countries, but leadership for both has seemingly switched gears over the past year.

Next: A country that presents a real danger — despite what our president thinks.

2. Russia

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin walks near a new Russian fighter jet Sukhoi T-50
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin | Alexey Druzhinin/AFP/Getty Images
  • Percentage of Americans naming Russia as America’s “greatest enemy”: 15%

There’s an awful lot that can be said about America’s relationship with Russia. But suffice it to say that the 2016 election and the Trump administration’s response to Russia’s meddling haven’t helped. In early 2016, 15% of Gallup’s poll respondent named Russia as America’s “greatest enemy”. Now, with plenty of time passed, it’s probably a safe bet that that percentage has increased.

Finally: A nuclear power that has America’s leadership seriously worried.

1. North Korea

Kim Jong Un
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un | STR/AFP/Getty Images
  • Percentage of Americans naming North Korea as America’s “greatest enemy”: 16%

Another country which would probably win a bigger percentage of respondents today is North Korea. Over the past year, American leaders and North Korean officials have jawed at each other seemingly non-stop. All the while, North Korea has been perfecting its nuclear missile technology. For that reason, North Korea is at the top of the list and may stay there for some time.

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