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Are We Winning The War On Terror?

The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge structures collapsing have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness and a quiet, unyielding anger.

The night when President Bush addressed the nation, we learned we were at war — the war on terrorism. So easy to name, so hard to win, a truth time has taught us to understand, comments CBS Sunday Morning contributor Martha Teichner.

The president has had successes to report: his super high-tech new counter-terrorism center where our intelligence agencies actually talk to one another, the capture of Saddam Hussein and a bunch of major al Qaeda figures. Terror plots have been foiled, including the big one announced in Britain last month involving U.S.-bound airliners, and of course, no new attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11.

But are we winning? Has the Bush administration picked its battles wisely. The nation's top foreign policy experts, 120 of them, Republicans and Democrats, have their doubts.

"America's foreign policy community has never been in so much agreement about the performance of an administration overseas — 84 percent of the respondents think that we're losing the war on terror," Mike Boyer, editor of the Terrorism Index, says.

The Terrorism Index was just published by Foreign Policy magazine and shows conservatives and liberals on the same page — serious movers and shakers across the political spectrum.

"These are former secretaries of state, former national security advisors, former CIA directors. These are really the people that have run the national security apparatus over the last 50 years," Boyer says.

The numbers show that with the exception of Afghanistan, the experts think the Bush administration's actions have actually had a negative impact on the war against terror. Eighty-seven percent say the Iraq war has hurt us, 81 percent say Guantanamo Bay prison has.

"At the core of (Osama) bin Laden's argument is the belief that the U.S. is a nation that is a predatory power; that is, seeks to occupy other countries, Muslim countries, seeks to steal their wealth and destroy their religion, and by using our military the way we have, and particularly by invading Iraq, we have inadvertently confirmed that message for lots of people in the Muslim world who are sitting the fence," believes Daniel Benjamin, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic And International Studies.

Benjamin, also the co-author of "The Next Attack," says, "What we have is something that is spreading, something that is becoming more dangerous. It's like a cancer that has metastasized and so, instead of being able to point at just one tumor, you're looking at a lot of bad news in a lot of different places."

What's changed in five years is our government's understanding of just who it's fighting.

It would have been hard to miss the full-court press in the approach to the anniversary of 9/11 and to mid-term elections: the blunt, gloves-off language.

The administration offensive to retake the terrorism initiative, to pre-empt its critics meant invoking the enormity of world war.

"The terrorists who attacked us on September the 11th, 2001, are men without conscience, but they're not madmen. They kill in the name of a clear and focused ideology, a set of beliefs that are evil but not insane," Mr. Bush said recently.

The names of the recognizable bogeymen the United States went after, guns blazing after 9/11 — Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein — have been overshadowed by the name of a greater terror, the real enemy, the president and the policy experts agree, is radical Islam.

Pierre Rehov is a French filmmaker, whose documentary "Suicide Killers," has just been released in New York and Los Angeles.

"After what Osama bin Laden did to the World Trade Center, they think it was a sign for the uprise of Islam," Rehov says. "Unfortunately, Osama bin Laden convinced maybe 10 percent of the moderate Muslim world into becoming extremists and that's the reason why we see so many more guys doing it because this is a way of becoming baseball players."

So how does the United States fight enemies like these? That's where the controversy comes in.

"If we cast this as a war of religions, if we cast this as a clash of civilizations, we really are playing into our enemy's hands because there are 1.2 billion Muslims in the world, and we don't need 1.2 billion enemies," Daniel Benjamin says.

Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, ardently disagrees.

He is an Islamic scholar and Bush supporter, who was years ahead of the curve in identifying the threat of radical Islam.

"Our goal is to destroy radical Islam. That is the priority and along the way if we irritate or alienate people, well so be it," Pipes says.

Pipes explains the strategy, saying, "The rough model for what we do in this war would be the cold war which lasted for decades. You do everything."

Pipes adds, "I think critical is the encouragement of moderate Muslims, of anti-Islamist Muslims to speak out, to find their voice, to organize. That's what's been really missing so far."

If polls are to be believed, something else is missing. According to a CBS News/New York Times poll just released, 45 percent — nearly half the American public — don't believe that a president, any president, can do much about terrorism.

The experts disagree.

In The Terrorism Index, by large majorities the foreign policy experts surveyed said that giving a higher priority to improving intelligence and controlling loose nuclear weapons would make a difference.

But number one on their list: 82 percent said reducing our dependence on foreign oil. Their rationale: why hand billions of dollars over to the very people who want to attack us.

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