Are We Winning the War on Terror?

ARE WE WINNING THE WAR ON TERROR?….After I wrote my post yesterday about the State Department’s latest report on global terrorism, I got to thinking. How are we doing in the war on terrorism?

We all know about the Bush administration’s mania for results, not process, and this shows up, for example, in their dedication to national testing standards for schools. After all, we can’t judge educational progress unless we can measure educational progress, and that means tests, tests, tests.

The State Department’s report provides plenty of anecdotal evidence ? shoe bombers arrested, new cabinet departments created ? but no metrics for gauging how we’re doing against al-Qaeda. But what should they be?

  • Number of terrorist attacks/number of people killed. This seems like a decent overall metric, but as we saw yesterday it can be misleading. What we care about are large scale al-Qaeda style attacks, not pipeline bombings in Colombia.

  • Terrorism in America. That’s pretty problematic too, since the number of terrorist attacks in the United States has always been tiny.

  • Terrorist attacks foiled. Better, but awfully hard to measure. What counts as “foiled”? In any case, there have been precious few of these reported, and you gotta figure that everything that could even remotely count as a foiled terrorist attack has been loudly trumpeted.

  • Al-Qaeda specific measures. Not sure what these would be, and it’s probably impossible to get the data anyway, what with them being such a secretive organization and all.

  • Wars won. We’re doing pretty well on that one.

The bottom line is that none of us really knows how we’re doing. As LeanLeft notes, this is partly due to lack of information: the Bush administration is fighting tooth and nail to obstruct the release of the 9/11 report. Why? Because it might be politically embarrassing.

This, of course, is the basic dilemma for the Bushies: they need to look like they’re winning the war on terrorism, but at the same time fear of terrorism is critical to both their foreign policy agenda and their reelection campaign. It’s a real tightrope they’re walking.

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