Foreign-policy experts deem U.S. national-security strategy in disrepair, the war in Iraq alarmingly off course, and the world increasingly more dangerous for Americans.
They also have a negative view of the Bush administration's so-called "troop surge" in Iraq, but disagree with the public's call for immediate withdrawal from the region.
These sentiments, from more than 100 foreign-policy experts, were logged in a recent survey by Foreign Policy magazine and the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank. Respondents include former White House officials, former secretaries of state, a retired CIA director, liberals and conservatives.
The survey, known as the Terrorism Index, is an attempt to discern the American foreign-policy establishment's assessment of how the United States is fighting the war on terror.
Some 53 percent say that the surge is having a negative impact, an increase of 22 percentage points in the past six months. And nearly all of the experts (92 percent) believe that the war in Iraq is having a negative impact on U.S. national security.
Mike Boyer, senior editor of Foreign Policy, which published the survey in its September/October issue, described the respondents' doubt about the way the war in Iraq is being conducted.
"The main reason for this pessimism appears to be events on the ground in Iraq," Boyer said.
Thousands of military personnel have been killed and maimed.
Aaron Friedberg, who was surveyed and spent two years as deputy national security adviser to Vice President Cheney, cautions that more is to be considered than the experts' opinions.
"You always have to ask, what would be better and where would we be if we were pursuing policies very much different than those that we have been?" said Friedberg. "It's possible that we would be better off in certain respects, but we might be worse off in others."
Further details on the war's status will be disclosed in a report by Gen. David Petraeus on Sept. 15.
A bipartisan majority (68 percent) now say that the United States should redeploy troops from Iraq in the next 18 months, though most oppose an immediate withdrawal. Surprisingly, more conservatives (25 percent) called for an immediate pullout than liberals or moderates.
Overall, nearly all of the experts (91 percent) say that the world is becoming more dangerous for Americans and report that the country is not winning the war on terror (84 percent).
Georgetown University professor Bruce Hoffman, who also participated in the survey, said it's difficult not to read the poll as a repudiation of the Bush administration's conduct of the war on terror.
"If you wanted to take a bumper sticker from both my experience and then from this poll, it's that where we've been particularly either remiss or ineffectual is in fighting the al-Qaida brand as hard as we've fought the actual al-Qaida terrorists."
More than 80 percent predict a terrorist attack on the scale of the one on Sep. 11, 2001, within the next decade.
Pakistan was named as the country most likely to become the next al-Qaida stronghold, ahead of Iraq. About 75 percent of those surveyed also said that Pakistan –- home to Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, who is revered in Pakistan as the father of the country's nuclear bomb — was the most likely to transfer nuclear technology to terrorists in the near future.
But when the experts were asked to name the ally that least serves U.S. security interests, Pakistan placed second to Russia, with Moscow's consistent criticism of the United States, refusal to back tougher sanctions against Iran, and the increasingly authoritarian tendencies of President Vladimir Putin likely weighing on the experts' minds.
Yet, the experts didn't have ready answers about to what to do.
"Everyone seemed to be pointing to how dire the situation was with Pakistan. But the experts were all over the map about what we do about it," said Caroline Wadhams of the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank.
One topic on which there was relative consensus: Iran. Just 8 percent of the foreign policy experts favor military strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities. Some 8 percent to 10 percent say the U.S. should instead opt for sanctions or diplomacy to contain Iran's nuclear ambitions.