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Assessing Our National Security

CAP Hosts Reps. Reyes and Shays to Discuss Findings of the Terrorism Index

Reps. Reyes and Shays highlight findings of the new, nonpartisan survey of top foreign policy experts from CAP and FOREIGN POLICY.

“The results of the current [Terrorism Index] reveal deep pessimism about the state of national security,” John Podesta, President and CEO of the Center for American Progress, said yesterday at an event to release the second biannual, nonpartisan survey of foreign policy experts, created by the Center for American Progress and Foreign Policy magazine. The Terrorism Index polls more than 100 top experts for their assessment of the war on terror and the state of U.S. national security.

The Center for American Progress’ Distinguished Senior Fellow Tom Daschle moderated the event that brought together Reps. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) and Christopher Shays (R-CT) to discuss the survey’s findings and the current state of U.S. national security.

“I certainly believe that it’s a much more dangerous world today,” Rep. Reyes said, responding to the finding that 81 percent of experts believe the world is getting more dangerous for the United States and the American people.

“Somehow, we’ve got to collect ourselves and come up with a worldwide, comprehensive strategy,” Rep. Reyes asserted. Congressman Shays agreed, saying, “We have not had a national debate about what our strategy is.” Indeed, the survey found that 75 percent of experts do not think the United States is winning the war on terrorist networks, and 70 percent agree that the Bush administration does not have a clear plan for protecting the U.S. from terrorism.

The Terrorism Index also shows that pessimism over national security is closely tied to the grave and deteriorating situation in Iraq. The greatest number of experts—41 percent—named the Iraq war as the principal reason why the world is becoming more dangerous, a 13 percent increase since the last survey six months ago.

Rep. Reyes was particularly pessimistic about the ability of the Iraq escalation—the recent plan presented by the administration—to have a meaningful impact on either Iraq or our national security. “We’ve got a country [Iraq] that is broken,” Reyes said. “The generals are the ones who are the experts in this, and they told me this window [for a surge to make a major impact] has closed.”

Despite the negative reports coming from Iraq, Rep. Shays believes that “accepting defeat” in Iraq would be a sign of vulnerability to our enemies world wide. “[The terrorists] are checking our resolve…If they can defeat us there, they can defeat us anywhere,” Shays said. “As long as the terrorists feel there is a point where we give up…we’re doomed!”

Rep. Reyes disagreed that our troop presence, much less an increased troop presence, in Iraq is the best path to improving our national security. “The one thing we can not afford to do is keep our troops in the middle of [the Iraqi] conflict,” Reyes said.

Experts surveyed in the Terrorism Index overwhelmingly support Reyes’s assertion that there are more important objectives for a sustainable national security than U.S. involvement in the escalating civil war in Iraq. In fact, 88 percent of the experts polled agree that the war in Iraq has had a negative impact on enhancing U.S. national security and combating terrorism. 66% of the experts also did not believe we should add more U.S. troops to Iraq.

Rep. Shays, despite supporting the escalation, also recognizes the effect the Iraq war has had on our national security as well as the potential need to redeploy. “The [Iraq Study Group] had it right…If they [Iraqis] choose not to [settle their political differences], then we leave. The knowledge that we will leave is an incentive for them to work out their differences.”

Yet a central message of the event and the Index was that we may not be focused on the most important threats. Will Dobson, Managing Editor of Foreign Policy, reminded those at the event that before 9/11, al-Qaeda was a threat that was ignored. The experts in the Terrorism Index seem to point to a similar trend today as the United States focuses on Iraq. The majority of the experts believe that Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Taliban have all become stronger in the past year, as we have focused elsewhere.

When asked what was the most important U.S. national security objective to achieve in the next five years, more chose a denuclearized North Korea than any other option. This was chosen more than a stable, secure Iraq, an Iran that renounces uranium enrichment, and a viable national missile defense.

Surveyed experts also pointed to the importance of Afghanistan, saying that the United States should redeploy troops from Iraq to Afghanistan. While 66 percent of the experts believe that the U.S. should not increase troop levels in Iraq, 69 percent of experts agree that the U.S. should increase troop levels in Afghanistan. Dobson described the near consensus opinion of the experts on the Iraq escalation when he said, “They seem to believe it’s the right strategy for the wrong place.”

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