"War on Terror" Going Better, Despite Pakistan Instability, Survey Finds

| Mon Aug. 18, 2008 10:51 AM EDT

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Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, the main US ally in the war on terror, resigned today under threat of impeachment. The news has Washington's nerves on end for a number of reasons, not least of which is that Pakistan is a nuclear-armed country in a volatile neighborhood, plagued by Islamic militants, and which has in the wings no obvious successor to Musharraf to help keep everything from unraveling.

Pakistan has long been the center of US attention when it comes to fighting Al Qaeda. Now, with Musharraf gone, the strategic alliance between the two will become all the more delicate and uncertain. It's one that Washington must not allow to go sour. According to a survey released today by Foreign Policy and the Center for American Progress, 69 percent of foreign policy experts polled now believe that Pakistan is the nation most likely to transfer nuclear weapons technology to terrorists; just 35 percent thought so last year. (Thanks to A.Q. Khan, it's already the world's leading distributor of the stuff to states seeking nuclear weapons, like Iran and North Korea.)

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That said, all is not doom and gloom. For the first time in its (albeit short) history, the Foreign Policy survey finds that experts are feeling positive about recent developments in the war on terror. From a press release announcing the survey's results:

  • Fewer experts now say that the world is becoming more dangerous for Americans and the United States, from 91 percent in 2007 to 70 percent this year—a 21-point drop in 12 months. Although still a minority, more experts believe we are winning the war on terror—21 percent of the experts compared with 6 percent last year.
  • Experts are more optimistic about Iraq and the surge. Sixty percent of experts now say the surge is promoting U.S. security—up from 17 percent last year. In 2007, 10 percent of experts named the Iraq war as the greatest threat to U.S. security. In May 2008, not a single expert did.
  • Experts' assessments differ from presidential candidates' on key issues. Although nearly 7 in 10 experts support a drawdown of U.S. troops from Iraq in the next 18 months, Republican Sen. John McCain opposes setting a date for withdrawal, saying that if U.S. forces pull out, "al Qaeda will then win and we'll see chaos and genocide in the region." Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, for his part, has continued to criticize the so-called surge of U.S. troops in Iraq, even though almost 90 percent of experts believe it has had a positive effect on Iraq's security.
  • A bipartisan majority (69 percent) says that the United States should redeploy forces from Iraq to Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf. With last year the deadliest on record for Afghanistan since the U.S. invasion in 2001, 80 percent of the experts, including 63 percent of conservatives, report that the United States has focused too much on Iraq and not enough on Afghanistan.
  • A strong majority (74 percent) believe U.S. energy policy is having a negative impact on U.S. national security. The administration received its lowest grade—a 2.2 out of 10—on U.S. energy policy since the index began in 2006.