The Terrorism Index
By FOREIGN POLICY and the Center for American Progress | August 18, 2008
Complete survey results (pdf)
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.
For 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.