NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
Since September the 11th, terrorists have repeatedly demonstrated the ability to organize and strike; in Madrid, in Bali, and in Britain, to name just a few of the targets. On the eve of the anniversary of last week's attacks in London, Foreign Policy magazine released a survey of 100 experts on how they think the war on terror is going. It's called the Terrorism Index. The magazine polled national security analysts, former heads of major government agencies, retired military, intelligence veterans, journalists and scholars, conservatives and liberals.
Eighty-six percent agree that the world is a more dangerous place for the United States and the American people. Eight-four percent disagree with President Bush that the United States is winning the war on terror. Only one U.S. agency scored more than a five, on a scale of 10. And the experts gave the Department of Homeland Security the worst grade of all. Seventy-nine percent believe an attack on the scale of 9/11 is likely or certain within five years. And 82 percent think reducing America's dependence on foreign oil should be a higher priority.
In just a moment, a conversation with the editor of the Index and with a participant. Later in the hour, the London bombings, one year on, and more lessons on investing with The Motley Fools.
But first, the Terrorism Index. If you have questions about the survey's results, or how it was conducted, give us a call. Are we safer? The number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. And the e-mail address is email@example.com.
And we begin with Mike Boyer, a senior editor of Foreign Policy magazine, editor of the Terrorism Index. He's with us here in Studio 3A.
Nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION today.
Mr. MIKE BOYER (Editor, Foreign Policy Magazine): Good afternoon. Thank you.
CONAN: And it seems extraordinary that such a high percentage of people would disagree with President Bush that the war is being won.
Mr. BOYER: We were surprised by the results, especially given the high level of experience that these individuals have. We were surprised to find as much consensus, as we did, across political party lines in the wake of the last few years.
CONAN: One of the curiosities, though, one of the ways you put the question is, you know, the American public is constantly told that we are winning the war on terror. And that yet, on the other hand, being told that another attack, it's not a question of when, it's a question of when, that it's inevitable. And you say, you know, which of these is true? Can't both those things be true? That's not necessarily a contradiction in terms?
Mr. BOYER: I think the results show that both of those things are true. The reason we wanted to conduct the Index is American people do constantly receive what is sort of a mixed message. They're told on the one hand that the United States is winning the war on terror...
Mr. BOYER: They're told on the other hand that an attack is inevitable. And I think what the experts said is the United States is not winning the war on terror, and an attack may be inevitable.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Yet, even if the United States, if you take the opposite view, the United States is winning the war on terrorism. Another attack doesn't mean you're losing the war on terrorism.
Mr. BOYER: Exactly. In fact, the experts don't define victory in the war on terrorism in terms of whether or not there will be another attack, which was one interesting result that we found. A majority of the Index's experts - over 80 percent - said that victory in the war on terror could be defined by a rejection of radicals Islamist ideologies around the world. And so that's sort of hardly surprising then that they think we're losing the war, because they see America's public diplomacy efforts as being rather poor.
In fact, that was the policy initiative of the United States that received the lowest score of any on the scale of one to 10. It was something like a 1.7 average. So it's not surprising that they think we're losing, considering that's how they define victory.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. There is also a - you know, in terms of where priority should be placed, in terms of funding, a majority agree that the Pentagon budget, the Defense budget, ought to either stay steady, or decline. While a majority agree that the State Department budget, in particular public diplomacy, ought to be increased.
Mr. BOYER: Exactly. Yeah. Eighty-seven percent of the respondents said that the State Department's budget should be increased. And I think that's a function again of how they see the tasks that America need to carry out in the war on terror. If you're going to win the public diplomacy battle, which is critical to a rejection of radical ideologies around the world, then you need to fund the State Department. It needs more resources, these experts say, to do their job.
CONAN: And this is not exactly, however, a burning issue amongst politicians. There's not exactly, you know, a wave of public opinion demanding more money for the State Department.
Mr. BOYER: It's rare to find, especially certain politicians, probably more so conservative politicians, saying that the State Department needs more money. Still, of our experts, over 70 percent of those who self-identified themselves as conservatives, said that the State Department needs more money. So that is, I think, a unique finding.
CONAN: Still, fewer politicians, and still fewer conservatives, would say the Department of Defense needs a cut.
Mr. BOYER: Exactly. Exactly. And yet, we did see those results as well. So I think that, you know, these - this is a wakeup call for legislators and budgeters, that this group of experts, over 80 percent of whom have very high level government experience, saying, hey, we need to look at our priorities and see what we can do better.
CONAN: And there's a gaping disparity between your results, your experts and the beliefs and tactics of the Bush administration. But I want to raise a point. I mean, almost by definition, if you're finding a hundred experts outside of government now. Aren't they a hundred experts, all of whom believe they could do the job better than the people who are doing it now?
Mr. BOYER: Probably, but I think that's...
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Mr. BOYER: ...a finding that you often get in Washington. The reason we didn't want to include any current government people is that there's sort of an inherent bias involved in that. We wanted people who have run America's national security apparatus over the last 50 years or so, but no one whose serving currently in government. Because you're not going to get a State Department employee to say, hey, give me less money to do my job.
CONAN: Let's get a caller in on the conversation. If you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255. E-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
And this is Evan(ph). Evan calling from Danville in California?
EVAN (Caller): Hi, there.
Mr. BOYER: Hi.
EVAN: I'm curious whether or not - or why you didn't ask people from other countries and experts to participate in this survey?
Mr. BOYER: Yeah. That's an excellent question. The reason we didn't do that, basically, is because it's extremely difficult. And the other reason that we wanted to do it is because the United States is really the country that's leading the war on terror. It may be something that we do in the future to broaden it out more globally. But, initially, when we set out to do this, we decided to keep it local, in the United States, and try and do it that way.
CONAN: Okay. Evan, good question. Thank you.
CONAN: Let's bring somebody who did participate in this study. Joining us now from a studio at Harvard University is Jessica Stern, author of the book Terror in the Name of God, and a former member of the National Security Council during the Clinton administration.
And it's good to talk with you again.
Ms. JESSICA STERN (Author, Terror in the Name of God): Thanks for having me.
CONAN: Does it come as any surprise to you that the foreign policy establishment, those not currently in office, think that this is being mishandled broadly by the Bush administration?
Ms. STERN: Not really. It's taken a while, I think, for this consensus to develop. But I think it's fairly clear. I mean, obviously, I've thought this all along, so I can't pretend that...
Ms. STERN: ...it's a big surprise that people would come around to see the world the way it is. But it's so glaringly obvious that the war on terrorism, as currently conceived, is a disaster.
CONAN: In particular -in which ways do you think?
Ms. STERN: This bad idea that the West is out to humiliate and destroy the Islamic world is now spreading almost like a fad. I mean, it's just - what started out as an organization with a bad idea turned into a kind of movement and now it's just an idea - it's a fad. I think of it almost like gangsta rap, you know, that it's just spread everywhere and this is what the war on terrorism has currently conceived - I think created.
CONAN: This is not the intent of the Bush administration, I hope you're saying, but rather its effect.
Ms. STERN: Exactly. I certainly don't think this is the intent of the Bush administration. I think they are trying to make all Americans safer, but I think the notion that the way to fight a bad idea is with military means is wrong and that that's now - we're now reaping the results.
CONAN: Mike Boyer, that was consensus amongst the experts.
Mr. BOYER: Yeah, it's interesting. One of the results that we found, for instance, is that 82 percent of the experts thought that reducing our dependence on foreign oil should be a high priority on the war on terror. In fact, they ranked that above improving our intelligence capability, killing or capturing terrorist leaders and increasing the size of our military strength. So I think what we're seeing is a lot of these experts are saying, hey, there's things that we can do that would help the war on terror that are the right thing to do. They're fairly easy to do. They're something we can accomplish and yet we're not focusing on those; and so I think it's a question of where priorities are placed in the war, not necessarily the intent.
CONAN: Let's get another listener in. This is Drew(ph). Drew calling us from Wichita in Kansas.
DREW (Caller): Hi, thank you.
DREW: With a lot of anti-terrorism activities being done in secret, or trying to be done in secret, and since you said that a lot of the experts you had, in fact, all the experts you had, were not government people…
CONAN: Not currently government people.
DREW: Right. Do you really feel that they were able to get an accurate look at what's being done and make a good evaluation that way?
CONAN: Yep. We hear about all the mistakes but rarely do we hear about any of the successes.
Mr. BOYER: Sure, and maybe there are successes we don't know are happening that are classified. That's an excellent point. But the answer to your question is, I think these people do know what's going on. Eighty percent of these people served in high levels of the U.S. government. Of those, about half were in the executive branch, nearly a third were in the military, and almost 20 percent served in the intelligence community. So these are people that have excellent contacts. They have security clearances. They talk to people in the government. They know what's going on. So, the answer is yeah, I think these people have a pretty clear picture of what's happening.
CONAN: Jessica Stern, let me ask you. Do you need to have inside information to know what's going on?
Ms. STERN: Well, I have no doubt that there are all kinds of successes that we don't read about in The New York Times, but when we look at the end result -the net result - that's where I think it is clear, despite those successes that we don't know about, that we can see what's happening around the world; and what's happening around the world is that we see little groups of homegrown terrorists now excited by an idea that was once shared by just a small, relatively small group of thugs.
DREW: As a way of helping evaluate your study, just as a curiosity, are your experts publicly known? Are they named?
Mr. BOYER: Absolutely. You can go to our Web site, foreignpolicy.com, and read a list of the participants. And our partners in the survey - Center for American Progress - you can go to their Web site and see that list of individuals as well. We can't discuss individual responses - people like Jessica - but their names absolutely are publicly available.
DREW: Super. Thank you, all.
Mr. BOYER: Thank you.
CONAN: Thanks for the call, Drew. We're going to take a short break. Again, if you'd like to join the conversation, our number is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. We're discussing the war on terror. Are Americans safer?
A little bit later, the one-year anniversary of the London bombings and a new video that was just broadcast today. You could also send us e-mail if you'd like. The address: email@example.com. I'm Neal Conan. We'll be back after the break. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. We're discussing the Terrorism Index, a survey of experts in Foreign Policy magazine that assesses the global war on terror. Are we safer?
Our guests are Mike Boyer, senior editor of Foreign Policy magazine, and Jessica Stern, author of the book, most recently, Terror in the Name of God, and former member of the National Security Council during the Clinton administration.
Of course, you're invited to join us. Our number is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. And why don't we talk with Jim? Jim's calling us up from Raleigh in North Carolina.
JIM (Caller): Yes, hello. How do you fight an ideal with guns and also capturing the leaders? And who defines who the leaders are? I mean, the foreign policy efforts of the United States often don't seem to address the other fundamental issues that are fueling the ideals.
CONAN: Mike Boyer, that seems to be one of the conclusions your survey of experts agreed with.
Mr. BOYER: That's a huge theme that emerged from the Index is that these people are saying that there's been an overemphasis, in their opinion, on military means to fight this war and that we need to give greater resources, greater attention to the non military means to fight this battle.
CONAN: And Jessica Stern, that's not to say that military means are never the right option. Afghanistan - I think a lot of people will say - it may not have been pursued in the right direction, but it was something that needed to be done.
Ms. STERN: Absolutely. I doubt that many of the respondents would claim that military tools are not an absolutely critical part of the war on terrorism; it's just that they're not nearly enough.
JIM: Question. I also was wondering - it seems like most of the rest of the world speaks English and we only speak English and not the native tongues of the other people, so how are our rhetorical speeches being given by the president addressed by the people that are outside of the country?
CONAN: In other words, how are American statements being received abroad? Is that…
CONAN: Yeah, well, I guess that gets to the question of public diplomacy, doesn't it?
Mr. BOYER: Exactly, and if you look at what the experts in this survey responded, I think their answer would be that they're either not being interpreted or they're not being interpreted very well. So I think that it's not surprising that that's the sense that people have.
Ms. STERN: I'd like to give an example of that, if I could. When President Bush talked about a crusade, that was a very exciting moment for jihadis and jihadi sympathizers around the world, because the feeling was that President Bush was at last telling the truth as they saw it, that this is a war against Islam.
Mr. BOYER: One of the aspects also that I think this gets at is this question of our friends and allies. And one of the interesting things that we found is that nearly two thirds of the respondents think, for instance, that Saudi Arabia, which is a major U.S. ally in the Middle East, is also producing the largest number of terrorists in the world, followed shortly by Egypt and Pakistan and the other two marquee allies that the United States has in the Middle East. So, I think, you know, it's not surprising that these people have these thoughts.
CONAN: Jim, thank you.
JIM: Thank you, all.
CONAN: Goodbye. Let's turn now to Mohammed(ph). Mohammed's calling us from Corvallis in Oregon.
MOHAMMED (Caller): Hi, Neal.
MOHAMMED: I'm almost an American. I became American about 20 years ago and I'm a physician. I'm very faithful to my religion and after September 11 -Corvallis is a wonderful town and we met in a public library and at that time I had a comment. I said that Bush and his administration have a golden opportunity to turn things around and I believe that the administration could have gone two ways. One, is to capture the people who did this awful act in New York, Washington, Pennsylvania. And the second is to try to find out the root cause of this problem, which is the system, so that we're supporting with our money; like the system in Egypt, for example, where we've been paying these people $2 billion a year since 1976, during Carter administration. Unfortunately…
CONAN: On the treaty agreement following the agreement with Israel. Yes. Go ahead.
MOHAMMED: Right. Unfortunately, Bush did exactly what al-Qaida wanted him to do, and expected him to do. Go unleash this war that even I - that I consider myself a modern and educated person who lived in America almost half his life now - considers that it's a war against Islam.
CONAN: Afghanistan - excuse me - Afghanistan was a war against Islam?
MOHAMMED: Well, you know, listen, he could have gone and got these people who did that and find another way, but just to unleash a war, in general - where is Afghanistan now? It's second-class and Afghani people have not benefited anything from this.
I mean, we went to there, we have our troops there, we're still fighting, Taliban is back. Iraq was very unnecessary. We are after, you know, every Islamic state and - take Korea. I mean, North Korea has said that it has weapons - nuclear weapons, and we always talk North Korean. We talk Korean language but we can't - we talk Arabic language. We can't go and decide about Saddam. We are sure we have weapons - I'm not supporting Saddam, by the way. I'm just telling you that, you know, it feels predetermined, preemptive to go, you know. You look anywhere. It's something, and the word crusade, as your guests have said, if Mr. Bush does not read, and I know that he does not, he needs to understand what this magic word means in the Middle East…
CONAN: Yes -
MOHAMMED: (Unintelligible) in history.
CONAN: Jessica Stern, clearly the use of the word crusade, used just once, was acknowledged by…
MOHAMMED: (Unintelligible) by the way.
CONAN: …and just once and was acknowledged by an error by the administration. Nevertheless, I think what Mohammed is talking about in a lot of ways is squandered opportunities and misplaced priorities.
Ms. STERN: Yes, I think that's right. You know, one of the surprises for me going around and talking to kids, Muslim kids around the world, especially in the West, is how common this view is that the Mossad or the CIA was responsible for 9/11.
I think there really are bad ideas out there about what America is all about. Also, the notion that Bush is no different from Saddam. Yes, it was probably a good thing that Saddam being a vicious tyrant be removed from power, but then when it turns out we are guilty of some atrocities. For example, Abu Ghraib. Kids react to that. They think, well, what does America stand for? And these are very important developments and I think the Bush administration doesn't quite - hasn't quite taken onboard the importance of ideas in this war.
CONAN: Let's get one final caller in on this point. John(ph). John's calling us from Wilmington in North Carolina. Hello, John, are you there? I think John has left us. So we'll thank him for calling, and let's go now to - this is Tim(ph). Tim in Miami, Florida.
TIM (Caller): Hello. Yes, thank you for having me on your show.
TIM: I'd just like to say that I think one of the other reasons why, in terms of the Terrorism Index, why countries, especially Muslim countries, tend to be so angry with us is our actions in the region. But I think our actions in the region is a result of our lack of knowledge of our history in the region.
For example, in 1953, something we don't talk about in this country, is that in 1953 the United States and Great Britain overthrew Iran's government to bring in place someone with, I guess catered to the needs of the west, and then turned around and supported Saddam Hussein in the Iran/Iraq war where, I guess, roughly a million people died. So I think one of the other reasons we keep making the same mistakes and…
CONAN: Jessica Stern, you know, certainly history in the region is -contributes to this.
Ms. STERN: Yes, I think Americans are less aware of history than Muslims around the world are. It's just a big part of the way ordinary, not necessarily highly educated, Muslims think about the world. It's just a bigger part of the lens that they use to look at the world.
CONAN: Tim, thanks for the call. Appreciate it.
TIM: Thank you.
CONAN: And we'd like to thank Jessica Stern for her time today. Jessica Stern, a lecturer on terrorism and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, author of Terror in the name of God, and served on the National Security Counsel staff during the Clinton administration. She joined us today from a studio there at Harvard. Always good to speak with you, Jessica Stern.
Ms. STERN: Thank you so much.
CONAN: Appreciate it.
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