Rethinking Our Strategy on Terrorism

Experts surveyed in the recent Terrorism Index overwhelmingly agree that the U.S. must shift its focus in the war on global terrorist networks.

The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities held a hearing yesterday to discuss the Defense Department’s counterterrorism and counter-proliferation priorities. The Center for American Progress and Foreign Policy magazine have teamed up recently to examine just this question in The Terrorism Index, a biannual nonpartisan survey of foreign policy experts.

The Terrorism Index takes a comprehensive look at experts’ opinions on our national security, the Bush administration’s handling of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and where we should focus our efforts in the global war on terrorist networks.

Experts surveyed agree that the United States must shift focus in its counterterrorism efforts. More than two-thirds of the experts believe that Iraq is not the central front in the war on terrorism and 88 percent think that operations in Iraq are undermining U.S. national security.

The majority of experts believe instead that the United States’ number one priority should be denuclearizing the Korean peninsula. Experts ranked nuclear nonproliferation goals in North Korea higher than securing and stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan, creating a national missile defense system, and convincing Iran to abandon its uranium enrichment program.

The Bush administration’s misguided tactics in the fight against global terrorist networks are making the United States a more dangerous place. Eighty-two percent of the experts expect another 9/11-scale attack on the United States sometime in the next decade, and 83 percent believe that the Taliban, Hamas, and Hezbollah have all strengthened over the past year. An overwhelming 91 percent urge the United States to dramatically increase pressure on Pakistan, which many believe will become the next Al Qaeda stronghold. The United States needs to turn its attention away from Iraq if it hopes to contain these terrorist groups.

The war in Iraq distracts our military from more important pursuits. Experts recommend that U.S. military efforts shift away from Iraq and toward Afghanistan. Sixty-six percent of experts oppose increasing the number of troops in Iraq, but 70 percent support deploying more troops to Afghanistan. This makes sense, considering that 64 percent believe the war in Afghanistan has actually advanced U.S. national security goals.

Mirroring U.S. public opinion, the experts uniformly disapprove of the United States’ handling of the war in Iraq. Ninety-two percent say the Bush administration’s performance on Iraq has been below average, and nearly six out of 10 experts across the ideological spectrum say the administration is doing the “worst possible job” in Iraq. Participants also found shortcomings in public diplomacy policy, homeland security policy, and energy policy.

The results of the survey were not entirely negative, however. Foreign policy experts applaud the Bush administration’s successes in curtailing the flow of terrorist money worldwide. Ninety-five percent say that some or a great deal of progress has been made in terms of freezing terrorist funds. In fact, over the last six years, the Bush administration has successful frozen more than $140 million in terrorist assets in 1,400 bank accounts worldwide. These successes demonstrate what works when it comes to tracking and containing terrorists.

Although the results of the most recent Terrorism Index closely resemble the results of the first, there are certain changes worth noting. Perhaps most significant, in the first index, the highest percentage of experts identified Islamist animosity as the principal reason for the world becoming more dangerous; in the second index, the highest percentage of experts identified the Iraq war.

The Terrorism Index provides comprehensive and nonpartisan answers to important questions on our national counterterrorism policy and shows that the United States must rethink its approach to stopping global terrorist networks. Thousands of lives and billions of dollars have been lost to an incredibly unpopular war that experts say is distracting the United States from its mission in the fight against terrorism. If the Bush administration does not shift its focus, both militarily and monetarily, the United States will become vulnerable to another terrorist attack.

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