An 'F' For Antiterrorism
Foreign Policy and The Center For American Progress
June 26, 2006
In the face of persisting threats, including a growing number of terrorist attacks around the world, numerous reports show that Americans are losing faith in their government’s ability to successfully wage the global war on terror as well as to protect them from the terrorists’ next attack. Barely half of Americans today approve of the way in which the war on terror is being handled, and more than one third believe the United States is less safe today than it was before 9/11.
These pessimistic public perceptions could easily be attributed to the high cost, in both treasure and lives, of counterterrorism efforts. After all, Americans are constantly being told by their elected leaders that their pessimism is wrong, that the war is being won. But they’re also told that another attack is inevitable. Which is it? To find out, Foreign Policy and the Center for American Progress teamed up to survey more than 100 of America’s top foreign-policy experts—Republicans and Democrats alike. The Foreign Policy/Center for American Progress Terrorism Index is the first comprehensive effort to mine the highest echelons of America’s foreign-policy establishment for their assessment of how the United States is fighting the war on terror.
Despite today’s highly politicized national security environment, the index results show striking consensus across political party lines. A bipartisan majority (84 percent) of the index’s experts say the United States is not winning the war on terror. Eighty-six percent of the index’s experts see a world today that is growing more dangerous for Americans. Overall, they agree that the U.S. government is falling short in its homeland security efforts. More than eight in 10 expect an attack on the scale of 9/11 within a decade. These dark conclusions appear to stem from the experts’ belief that the U.S. national security apparatus is in serious disrepair.
Respondents sharply criticized U.S. efforts in a number of key areas of national security, including public diplomacy, intelligence, and homeland security. Nearly all of the departments and agencies responsible for fighting the war on terror received poor marks. Only the National Security Agency received an above-average score of 5.2, on a 0 to 10 scale, where 0 represents the worst possible job of guarding the United States. Every other agency received below-average marks. Experts gave the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) the worst grade; its average score was just 2.9. In fact, 36 percent of the experts indicated that the newly created DHS has had a negative impact on America’s national security, and nearly one in five thought the department’s funding should be slashed. In addition, more than half of the index’s experts said that creating the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has had no positive impact in the war against terror.
The index’s experts were similarly critical of most of the policy initiatives put forward by the U.S. Congress and President George W. Bush since 9/11. Majorities believe that the war in Iraq (87 percent), the detention of suspected terrorists at Guantánamo Bay (81 percent), U.S. energy policy (64 percent), and U.S. policy toward Iran (60 percent) have a negative impact on our national security. The index’s experts also disapprove of how America is handling its relations with European allies, how it is controlling the spread of weapons of mass destruction and its dealings with failing states, just to name a few.
These conclusions about the United States’ performance in the war thus far are all the more troubling considering that the index’s experts appear to believe that the battle has just begun. A majority of experts agree that the war requires more emphasis on a victory of ideas and not just guns. That is hardly surprising considering that nearly 80 percent believe a widespread rejection of radical ideologies in the Islamic world is a critical element to victory. Yet the experts simultaneously rated America’s public diplomacy efforts the lowest of any policy initiative, with a median score of just 1.8. Clearly, few believe that the United States is doing its best to win friends and influence people.
To win the battle of ideas, the respondents say, America must place a much higher emphasis on its nonmilitary tools. More than two-thirds say that U.S. policymakers must strengthen the United Nations and other multilateral institutions. At the same time, the experts indicate that the U.S. government must think more creatively about threats. Asked what presents the single greatest danger to U.S. national security, nearly half said loose nukes and other weapons of mass destruction, while just one-third said al-Qaida and terrorism, and a mere four percent said Iran. Five years after the attacks of September 11, it’s a reminder that the greatest challenges may still lie ahead.
Complete results and a list of participants taking part in the index are available at ForeignPolicy.com and AmericanProgress.org. Reprinted with permission from Foreign Policy 155 (July/August 2006), where a longer version appears.