The Terrorism Index

A survey of foreign policy experts on U.S. security, foreign affairs, and America's place in the world.


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Read past releases of the Terrorism Index: June 2006 | February 2007 | August 2007

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Signs of progress in Iraq have left America’s top foreign-policy experts experiencing a rare sensation: optimism. For the first time, the national security establishment appears more positive about the war in Iraq, U.S. efforts in fighting global terrorist networks, and the security of the United States and its people. But these experts are increasingly critical of the U.S. government’s approach to the world—from Iran and Pakistan to U.S. energy policy and addressing failed states.

graph oneFor the first time since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, issues of national security no longer dominate political discourse. Rising energy costs, the subprime mortgage implosion, and other domestic imperatives now monopolize the national conversation. In a recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, Americans ranked terrorism as the country’s 10th-most important priority—behind healthcare, education, and the federal budget deficit. But even as attentions shift, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have become the longest U.S. military engagements in a century, with the exception of Vietnam. Around the world, terrorists have continued to strike with deadly effect—from Athens and Paris to Beirut and Baghdad. The upcoming presidential election presents the United States with a choice about how it will seek to combat this threat, even as, somewhere, terrorists might be plotting their next attack. Wherever the war on terror may exist in the public’s consciousness, there is no doubt that it rages on.

But is it making the United States safer? To find out, each year Foreign Policy and the Center for American Progress survey the very people who have run America’s national security apparatus during the past half century. Surveying more than 100 top U.S. foreign-policy experts—Republicans and Democrats alike—the Foreign Policy / Center for American Progress Terrorism Index is the only comprehensive, nonpartisan effort to poll the highest echelons of the country’s national security establishment for its assessment of how the United States is fighting the war on terror. First released in July 2006, then again in February and September 2007, the index attempts to draw definitive conclusions about the war’s priorities, policies, and progress. Its participants include people who have served as national security advisor, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, senior White House aides, top Pentagon commanders, seasoned intelligence professionals, and distinguished academics.

Although most of these experts still see a world with considerable dangers, this year’s index revealed a new trend: signs of progress. For the first time since the index was launched in 2006, the experts have become more optimistic. A year ago, 91 percent of the experts said they believed the world was growing more dangerous for Americans and the United States. This year that figure fell to 70 percent, a 21-point drop in 12 months. Similarly, when asked in 2007 if they agreed or disagreed with the statement, “The United States is winning the war on terror,” just 6 percent of the experts agreed. Today, 21 percent of the experts say the United States is making headway in fighting terrorism. Overall, the percentage of experts who see the threat of global terrorist networks as increasing dropped from 83 percent last year to 55 percent today. Such assessments, broadly speaking, represent the most positive scores in the two-year history of the index.

Some of this optimism might stem from what the experts see as good news in Iraq. Sixty percent of the experts, for instance, say that the so-called surge in Iraq has had a positive impact on the war effort. That figure represents a massive reversal from a year ago, when 53 percent of the experts said the surge was failing. The experts also see progress in U.S. policy elsewhere, including the Korean Peninsula. Forty-six percent of the experts believe that U.S. policy toward North Korea is positively advancing America’s national security goals, a 35-point increase from two years ago and a 12-point increase in the past 12 months. More than half the experts say that U.S. policy toward China is having a positive impact, up 25 points from 2006.

The experts are not, however, without concern. On issues ranging from the war in Afghanistan to Iran to U.S. energy policy, they find worrisome trends. Perhaps nowhere is this truer than with regard to the war in Afghanistan. Eighty percent of the experts say that the United States has focused too much on the war in Iraq and not enough on the war in Afghanistan. A majority, 66 percent, continues to say that the war in Afghanistan is having a positive impact on U.S. national security, but that figure is down 27 points from two years ago. The U.S. government’s efforts to stabilize and rebuild Afghanistan have been judged to be below average. Eighty-two percent of the experts say that the threat posed by competition for scarce resources is growing, an increase of 13 percentage points from last year. More than 8 in 10 experts say that the current U.S. policy toward Iran is having a negative impact on national security. And, though a large bipartisan majority agrees that creating peace between Israelis and Palestinians is important to addressing the threat of Islamist terrorism, they grade U.S. efforts at working toward that goal to be just 3.3 on a 10-point scale.

A Surge of Support

picture oneWhat a difference a year makes. When the index’s experts were asked a year ago about the so-called surge of U.S. troops into Iraq, 53 percent believed it was doing little good. Today, 60 percent of the experts see the surge as a reason for progress. Seventy-nine percent say the surge helped to lift Iraq’s economy. Nearly 9 in 10 say the surge benefited Iraq’s security. And about half say that the surge assisted Iraqi political reconciliation. But don’t confuse this change of heart with unconditional support. Despite being more positive about the surge’s gains, the experts do not want the surge to continue. A large majority, 87 percent, does not want to see the United States add more troops to Iraq. Nor does a majority believe the status quo can persist—62 percent do not think that current troop levels should be maintained. Instead, almost 70 percent recommend that the majority of U.S. forces be withdrawn and redeployed to Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf in the next 18 months. Perhaps most tellingly, when asked what the most important U.S. policy objective during the next five years should be, only 8 percent of the experts listed a stable, secure Iraq. Whether out of frustration or just plain exhaustion, it appears many in the foreign-policy community just want to move on.graph two

The belief that some threats are increasing while others are ebbing may help explain why, over the long term, the experts’ views about the threats we face remain consistent. As in the previous indexes, a large majority of experts—71 percent—continues to say that a terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11 is likely or certain within the next decade. As has also historically been the case, an even larger majority—85 percent—continues to expect a smaller-scale attack akin to those that occurred in Madrid and London within the next 10 years. It’s a reminder that, though the public’s priorities may shift, the war on terror continues.

The Tehran Timelinegraph three

What is the principal strategic outcome from the war in Iraq? According to the index’s experts, it’s not the end of Saddam’s dictatorship, a rise in militant Islam, or even a war-torn Iraq. Rather, almost half of the experts say that the most important outcome is the emergence of Iran as the most powerful country in the Middle East. Worse, three quarters of the experts believe that the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions is rising.

The U.S.-led war has not only benefited the United States’ chief regional nemesis, but the experts are no longer optimistic that Washington knows what to do about it. Their confidence that U.S. policies can adequately address the Iranian threat has never been lower. The experts give U.S. policy toward Tehran an average grade of just 2.8 on a 10-point scale, where 10 means the United States is doing the best possible job. More than 80 percent of the experts, including 69 percent of conservatives, believe that U.S. policy toward Iran is negatively affecting America’s national security goals. This appraisal represents the most critical view of U.S. policy toward Iran since the index began two years ago.

Bordering on Neglect

A year ago, the experts said Iraq was the mission most in danger of failing. Today, however, they have set their sights on the war in Afghanistan. Last year was the deadliest on record since the U.S. invasion in 2001, with a 33 percent increase in attacks since 2006. This spring, Taliban raids along the country’s border with Pakistan jumped from 60 to roughly 100 a week.

pic 5It comes as no surprise then that nearly a third of the index’s experts now sees the war in Afghanistan as having a negative impact on U.S. national security, up from 20 percent last year and a mere 4 percent in 2006. They grade the administration’s policy decisions there at just 4.3 on a 10-point scale, where 10 represents the best possible performance. Iraq itself, the experts say, may be partially to blame for the troubles in Afghanistan. Eighty percent of the experts, including 63 percent of conservatives, believe that the United States has focused too much on Iraq and not enough on Afghanistan. And nearly 70 percent would like to see a redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq to Afghanistan (and other parts of the Persian Gulf) in the next 18 months.

The costs of the Afghan campaign are likely to extend beyond the sacrifices made by troops on the ground. Almost 1 in 3 experts believes that, in 10 years’ time, the war in Afghanistan will have weakened the power and credibility of the United States. Nearly the same number, 32 percent, believes that the NATO alliance will be weaker as a result of the war. One in 3 says that the war has already proven that NATO is obsolete. Asked how to turn the situation around, roughly 1 in 4 experts says more alliance troops must be deployed fast. As in Iraq, a surge in troops might be what Afghanistan—and NATO—desperately needs.

The Breeding Ground

Pakistan seems to be moving from bad to worse. With the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the ousting of President Pervez Musharraf’s ruling party in the February elections, and a string of deadly terrorist attacks, the country has been beset with instability during the past year.pic 6

For a majority of the experts, that instability is making Pakistan a country fraught with risk. A large majority, 69 percent, of the experts considers Pakistan the country most likely to transfer nuclear technology to terrorists. A year ago, 35 percent of the experts said that Pakistan was the country most likely to serve as al Qaeda’s next home base. Now more than half share this fear.

The index’s experts are not impressed with how the United States is attempting to address this challenge. They give U.S. policy toward Pakistan a score of just 3.7 on a 10-point scale. Sixty-six percent believe that U.S. policy toward Pakistan is having a negative impact on America’s national security, an increase of 13 points from a year ago. The highest percentage of experts says that, over the long term, correcting course will require the United States to support efforts to integrate the tribal areas into the rest of Pakistan, to increase U. S. development assistance, and to condition U.S. aid on Islamabad’s willingness to confront militants.

But if the experts agree on what is needed in the long term, there is almost no consensus about what to do if the United States must act quickly. Asked if the United States should take military action in Pakistan if there is a chance to capture or kill high-ranking members of al Qaeda, assuming Islamabad has not given the ok, 65 percent of the experts say they are unsure which course of action is correct. In a country so volatile, there appear to be more dangers than easy answers.


The Terrorism Index is based on the results of a survey designed by the Center for American Progress and FOREIGN POLICY. Participants in the survey were selected by FOREIGN POLICY and the Center for American Progress for their expertise in terrorism and U.S. national security. No one currently working in an official U.S. government capacity was invited to participate.

The nonscientific survey was administered online from April 21 to May 22, 2008. In the survey, respondents were asked to self-identify their ideological bias from choices across a spectrum: very conservative, conservative, somewhat conservative, moderate, somewhat liberal, liberal, and very liberal. Thirty-four people identified themselves as some level of conservative, 39 identified as moderate, and 44 identified as some level of liberal. In order to ensure balance, the survey was weighted according to ideology to make the number of weighted liberal respondents equal to the number of conservative respondents. Moderate and conservative respondents remained unweighted.


David Albright, Jon Alterman, John Arquilla, Stanley Arthur, Ron Asmus, Scott Atran, Andrew Bacevich, Thomas Barnett, Rand Beers, Ilan Berman, Richard Betts, Mia Bloom, Philip Bobbitt, Joe Bouchard, Arnold Braswell, Paul Bremer, Dan Byman, John Campbell, Ted Carpenter, Joseph Cirincione, Richard Clarke, Steve Coll, James Comstock, Roger Cressey, Sheba Crocker, PJ Crowley, Arnaud de Borchgrave, James Delk, Matt Devost, Dana Dillon, Jim Dobbins, Daniel Drezner, Ivan Eland, Clark Ervin, John Esposito, Douglas Farah, Douglas Feith, Michelle Flournoy, Stephen Flynn, Ronald Fogleman, James Forest, David Franz, William Frenzel, David Frum, Kathy Gannon, Gregory Gause, Leslie Gelb, Fawaz Gerges, Larry Goodson, Slade Gorton, Lee F. Gunn, Nina Hachigian, Mort Halperin, Gary Hart, David Heyman, Joseph Hoar, Bruce Hoffman, Leonard Holder, Laura Holgate, John Horgan, John Hulsman, Jo Husbands, Robert Hutchings, Michael Jacobson, Gregory Johnson, Larry C. Johnson, John Jumper, Robert Kagan, Kenneth Katzman, Lawrence Korb, Tim LaFleur, Ellen Laipson, Anthony Lake, Thomas Lippman, Robert Malley, Thomas Marks, Jessica Matthews, John McCarthy, Mary McCarthy, John Mearsheimer, Steven Metz, William Nash, Vali Nasr, John Nathman, Richard Neal, Joseph Nye, William Odom (deceased), Michael O’Hanlon, Patrick O’Hara, Robert Pape, Thomas Pickering, Paul Pillar, Daniel Pipes, Christopher Preble, Dennis Reimer, Richard Reynard, Susan Rice, Bruce Riedel, Barnett Rubin, Marc Sageman, Leon Salomon, Amy Sands, Robert Satloff, Robert Scales, Stephen Sestanovich, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Gayle Smith, Britt Snider, Nancy Soderberg, James Steinberg, Raymond Tanter, Wallace Terrill, Edward Walker, Stephen Walt, William Wechsler, Lawrence Wilkerson, James Woolsey

Experts Available for Comment

Center for American Progress experts

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Caroline Wadhams, Senior Policy Analyst

Caroline Wadhams is a Senior Policy Analyst for National Security at the Center for American Progress, where she leads the Center’s Terrorism Index project. She focuses on Afghanistan, Pakistan and terrorism issues. Prior to joining the Center, she served as a Legislative Assistant for Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) on foreign policy issues. Wadhams also worked at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C. as the Assistant Director for the Meetings Program and in New York as a Research Associate on national security issues. Prior to the Council on Foreign Relations, she worked at ABC News in New York.

Her overseas experience includes work with the International Rescue Committee in Sierra Leone and two years in Ecuador and Chile. She recently participated in the U.S. election observation mission of Pakistan’s parliamentary elections in February 2008. She is a 2005 Manfred Wörner Fellow with the German Marshall Fund and a Term Member at the Council on Foreign Relations. She received a Master’s degree in international relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Wadhams has been a guest analyst with numerous international, national, and local news outlets, including BBC, C-Span, CBC, Voice of America, Al Jazeera, FOX, Reuters, and NPR.

Brian Katulis, Senior Fellow

Brian Katulis is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, where his work focuses on U.S. national security policy with an emphasis on the Middle East, Iraq, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and Pakistan. He is co-author of The Prosperity Agenda, a book on U.S. national security published by John Wiley & Sons in the summer of 2008. At the Center, he also serves as an advisor to the Middle East Progress project. Katulis has served as a consultant to numerous U.S. government agencies, private corporations, and non-governmental organizations on projects in two dozen countries, including Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Egypt, Colombia, Morocco, and Bangladesh.

His previous experience includes work on the Policy Planning Staff at the State Department from 1999 to 2000, a graduate fellowship at the National Security Council’s Near East and South Asian Affairs Directorate in 1998, and work in the Department of Defense during his undergraduate studies. From 1995 to 1998, he lived and worked in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and Egypt for the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs.

Katulis received a master’s degree from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International Affairs and a BA in History and Arab and Islamic Studies from Villanova University. In 1994 and 1995, he was a Fulbright scholar in Amman, Jordan, where he conducted research on the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan. Katulis has published articles in several newspapers and journals, including the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Baltimore Sun, and Middle East Policy, among other publications. Katulis speaks Arabic.

Rudy deLeon, Senior Vive President of National Security and International Policy

Rudy deLeon is the Senior Vice President of National Security and International Policy at American Progress in Washington, DC. He serves on several non-profit boards and is a part-time college instructor. DeLeon is also a former senior U.S. Department of Defense official, staff director on Capitol Hill, and retired corporate executive. For five years, beginning in 2001, he served as a senior vice president for the Boeing Company.

DeLeon’s twenty-five year government career concluded in 2001 after his tenure as Deputy Secretary of Defense, where he was a member of the Deputies Committee of the National Security Council and the National Partnership Council. In earlier Pentagon assignments, deLeon served as Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness (1997-2000), and as Under Secretary of the Air Force (1994–1997). He was nominated for these positions by President Bill Clinton and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

From November 1985 through 1993, deLeon served on the Committee on Armed Services in the U.S. House of Representatives as a member of the professional staff and as staff director. In 1986, deLeon participated in the debate and passage of the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act, which made fundamental changes in military organization and operations. DeLeon began his career in the federal government in 1975, holding various staff positions in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.

Rudy deLeon earned a bachelor’s degree from Loyola Marymount University in 1974. In 1984, he completed the Executive Program in National and International Security at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. DeLeon received the Defense Civilian Distinguished Service Award in 1994, 1995 and 2001, and received the National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal in 2001. He was recognized by the National League of POW-MIA Families in 1999 and by the National Military Families Association in 2000. FOREIGN POLICY magazine

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William J. Dobson became FP’s managing editor in 2004. He is responsible for managing the editorial planning of the magazine, as well as editing and commissioning feature articles, reviews, and essays. Prior to joining FP, he served as Newsweek International’s Senior Editor for Asia and as an associate editor at Foreign Affairs. While at Newsweek, he supervised coverage that was honored for overall general excellence by the Society of Asia Publishers in 2003 and 2004.

For the past three years, FP has been nominated for the National Magazine Award, and won for overall general excellence in 2007. Dobson was named a 2006 Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. He has written for FOREIGN POLICY, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and The New Republic. He holds a law degree from Harvard Law School and a Master’s degree in East Asian Studies from Harvard University. He received his bachelor’s degree in history, summa cum laude, from Middlebury College.

Carolyn O’Hara, Senior Editor

Carolyn O’Hara is senior editor at FP, which she joined in January 2005. A native of Petersburg, Illinois, she holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and history from Columbia University and a master’s degree in international relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science. In addition to her writings in the magazine, her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The New Republic Online, the New Statesman, and the Christian Science Monitor.

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