Against the backdrop of anti-American protests (Translation of sign at left: "No no America"), occasional terrorist bombings, and continuing battles in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush administration has said time and again that the United States and its allies are winning the war on terror.
And there has been undeniable progress: Some terrorist leaders have been arrested, funding and supply lines have been disrupted, and plots have been foiled. In addition, there has been not one major attack on American soil since 9/11. Five years. Not one.
But security and foreign policy experts seem to be talking more and more about the long-term effects of this conflict and painting a bleak picture.
What is the problem? I asked that question of Steven Kull, an analyst who specializes in conducting global opinion surveys. Kull's office overlooks Washington, D.C.'s Massachusetts Avenue, which is lined with embassies representing many of the world's nations. That is where he told me about what he has found through his Program on International Policy Attitudes
"The perception is that the U.S. isn't simply trying to pursue the war on terror in a sense of trying to stop terrorism. The perception is that it's being used as a pretext for the U.S. to promote its interests, to increase its presence in the Middle East, to gain greater access to oil, and to just generally gain a more powerful position in the world," he said.
The key to this rising mistrust of America, he says, is a broad sense, especially in Muslim nations, that America is using its military and economic might to do whatever it wants, with no regard for international opinion. And this, he said, is fundamentally undermining efforts to promote broad-based political alliances, democracy, and sustainable peace, and it is pushing more young Muslims closer to terrorist groups.
The war on terror is a deadly serious matter, and some folks say worries about popularity should and must wait.
My question is the one being posed by numerous foreign policy analysts these days: Are we winning the battle but losing the war?