To hear Nick Kristof tell it, congressional Republicans aren’t just wrong; they’re literally putting the United States at risk.

If China or Iran threatened our national credit rating and tried to drive up our interest rates, or if they sought to damage our education system, we would erupt in outrage.

Well, wake up to the national security threat. Only it’s not coming from abroad, but from our own domestic extremists.

We tend to think of national security narrowly as the risk of a military or terrorist attack. But national security is about protecting our people and our national strength — and the blunt truth is that the biggest threat to America’s national security this summer doesn’t come from China, Iran or any other foreign power. It comes from budget machinations, and budget maniacs, at home.

House Republicans start from a legitimate concern about rising long-term debt. Politicians are usually focused only on short-term issues, so it would be commendable to see the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party seriously focused on containing long-term debt. But on this issue, many House Republicans aren’t serious, they’re just obsessive in a destructive way.

Is Kristof suggesting that GOP lawmakers represent some kind of domestic threat, willing to undermine the nation’s interests from within? Well, the column certainly comes close to going there.

The NYT columnist walks through the drastic consequences of failure to raise the debt ceiling, which would be the direct result of Republican “fanaticism.” GOP recklessness would also “leave America a global laughingstock,” undermining not only our economy, but also our security.

“[L]et’s remember not only the national security risks posed by Iran and Al Qaeda,” Kristof concludes. “Let’s also focus on the risks, however unintentional, from domestic zealots.”

This is pretty bold stuff from a media establishment figure. Kristof isn’t saying Republicans are trying to destroy the strength of the United States, but he seems to be saying the GOP is doing so inadvertently, due entirely to a fanatical agenda.

It’s not like Kristof has a reputation for being an unhinged polemicist. On the contrary, he’s pretty mainstream, especially on domestic politics.

And yet, today, Kristof suggests Americans have every reason to fear Republican radicalism. Indeed, he seems to believe there may be no greater threat to the nation’s strength.

That’s quite an argument from an influential columnist at the nation’s most important newspaper.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.