Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Foreign Policy: The Terrorism Index, Take Deux

Awhile back I linked to this [link fixed] survey of foreign policy experts, but never got around to discussing it. I see Kevin Drum's talking about it today, so that remined me to say some things I meant to say.

Now, FP did this poll with the Center for American Progress, and there were slightly more liberals than conservatives in the pool. But they tried to correct for this in the results...and, more importantly, the results do not show anything like a close call. There is a great deal of consensus about the important numbers.

Good liberal that I am, I spend a lot of time second-guessing my own political opinions. So the results of the survey are a kind of good news-bad news thing from my perspective. The good news: I'm not crazy. The bad news: I (and liberals in general) appear to be pretty much right about the efficacy of the Bush administration's approach to our efforts against terrorism.

Only 13% of the experts thought that we are winning the GWoT, while 84% thought we weren't. (Breakdown: Yes, we are: conservative, 23%; moderate, 8%; liberal 9%...No, we're not: conservative, 71%; moderate, 90%; liberal, 89%).

Only 10% of the experts thought that the world was getting safer for Americans, while 86% thought it was getting more dangerous.

When identifying the greatest threat to our national security, 47% said "nuclear weapons/nuclear materials/WMDs", 32% said al Qaeda, 14% said "Bush administration policies," and 9% said "the war in Iraq/Mideast conflict." Were I guessing at the relative dangers here, I might have ranked al Qaeda slightly lower and "Bush administration policies" slightly higher...but that means I'm probably wrong about that. At any rate, these conclusions are consistent with what many liberals have been saying--that Bush erred when he cut the Nunn-Lugar program to buy nuclear material from the former Soviet Union, and that Bush administration policies are disastrous enough that it makes sense to speak of them in the same breath with al Qaeda when we are discussing threats. (That our own policies are nearly half as dangerous to us those who perpetrated 9/11 should in and of itself generate outrage.) And that the Iraq war has made us less safe rather than more so.

(Note: it's too bad there wasn't more separation of issues here. It'd be good to know the relative levels of danger posed by nukes as opposed to other "WMD"s, and to be able to separate out the Iraq war from other Mideast conflicts).

One of the most interesting sets of data comes here, where expert opinion is compared to public opinion. In almost every instance, public opinion more closely tracks conservative/Bush administration opinion, whereas expert opinion more closely tracks with what we might call "common liberal opinion" (my opinions, too, in most cases.)

Finally: though overall I was really surprised about how closely my own tentative judgments match expert opinion here, there was one important judgment about which I was staggeringly off-base--to wit, the judgment about whether we are winning or losing the "war" against terrorism. As I've said many times, I thought we were winning, but by a far, far narrower margin than anyone could have predicted on 9/11/01. However, as I've noted, the experts disagree resoundingly, with only 13% (23% of conservatives) saying that we're winning.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post.

Just curious, and in a serious way, what makes you think (or made you think) we were winining the war on terror?

Not snark, just curious, because to tell the truth that is a metric I wouldn't even know how to measure (as in, are we winning the war on obesity?)

I am not a fan of declaring war on things that can't be beaten, such as drugs and terrorism. War on poverty, in a limited sense, might cause me to enlist in the cause, but I am a pragmatist, and the use of the word "war" seems needlessly violent, simple, and un-doable in most situations.

You didn't deploy the term, obviously. I'm just sincerely perplexed about what winning a war on terror would mean, or how it could be measured.

BTW, good to see you posting regularly, makes my day better.

4:10 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Yo, thanks. Nice to see you back commenting regularly, too.

JQ asked me the same thing--why did I think we were winning?

Well, first I think it's unclear what the victory conditions are here, so that accounts for some of the disagreement. If this were a game and you wanted to win, would you rather play al Qaeda or America? I'd still take the latter, but I now see that that doesn't mean that the latter is winning. If Mohammed Ali gets into the ring with Tim Russert and is so cocky and fights so stupidly that Russert rings his bell repeatedly throughout the first round, you'd still bet on Ali, but that doesn't mean that Russert didn't win the first round.

Second, we hurt al Qaeda pretty bad in Afghanistan, even though Bush let OBL get away, so maybe I weighed that too heavily.

Third, so far as I could tell, this "war" was hard to lose. So long as we approached it in a minimally rational way, we'd win. Although the administration has blown it big time, it seemed to me that things were so heavily weighted in our favor that one would still have to count us as the winners, even though we were acting more incompetently than anyone could ever have predicted. Again, that's confused.

Now that I reflect on these reasons, I recognize their pathetic inadequacy. Bush took a weak enemy and made it strong, took a united America and divided it, took a group of allies that was eager to follow us an help us and alienated them.

The first 5 years of the GWoT will almost certainly go down in history as one of America's greatest strategic failures. I already realized that...but I was confused about what should count as winning.

7:17 AM  

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