Americans Think Terrorists Are Winning. They’re Not.

Author: Matthew Kriner

Fears of a terrorist attack happening in the US are at their highest since 2005, and the level at which Americans seem to think we’re losing a war on terrorism is surprisingly high.

CNN Poll 1According to a CNN/ORC poll released Dec. 28, 2015, 80% of Americans see the US as failing to win the war on terrorism, while 40% of respondents indicated that the terrorists are winning the war on terrorism. Another 40% of respondents said that neither side is winning, and only a pitiful 18% viewed Americans as holding the upper hand in the global war on terror.  Compare that to the 2006 numbers just after the highly lauded Anbar Awakening (a stratagem being floated today as a response to ISIS’ growth and control in Iraq), when nearly the same numbers of Americans said neither side was winning, but 34% gave the victory to the US and its allies, and only 20% said the terrorists were winning.

At first, one would expect a surge in attacks on American soil would be the culprit, but the reality is that America is enjoying a period of relative safety from global terrorist organizations like al Qaeda. So what is it that’s driving Americans to perceive their world as MORE dangerous, particularly when so many favorably view the Administration’s ability to stop terrorist attacks?

Simply put, it’s the media. Not just American or Western media outlets, but the media arm of ISIS itself.

CNN Poll 2.pngHaving mastered the attention-grabbing terror spectacular we’ve grown uncomfortably used to seeing in the media, ISIS has ramped up its propaganda machine to the point that even a casual observer would assume that it has dramatically expanded its territorial claims. However, the organization has lost roughly 14% of its controlled lands in the last year, is currently facing a 20-30% fighter return rate, and just recently ceded Ramadi back to Iraqi forces.  Not exactly a formula for success.

Consider another factor – the political rhetoric bordering on xenophobia in the 2016 Presidential race. Candidates such as Donald Trump have staked an impossible to flank position on combatting terrorism by suggesting a ban on Muslims entering the US, claiming that Muslims danced and cheered in New Jersey on 9/11, and adopting an attitude of machismo which has driven other candidates in the field toward more extreme rhetoric. Take for instance this line by Ted Cruz from a Dec. 5 speech at Rising Tide Summit, a Freedomworks event with significant conservative and Tea Party connections: “[W]e will utterly destroy ISIS. We will carpet bomb them into oblivion. I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out.”

Blustery bravado like this will invariably paint the picture that ISIS is as potentially destructive as the Third Reich, particularly when it’s paired with the terror spectacular media coverage surrounding the self-declared caliphate. The simple fact is that ISIS presents a low direct operational threat to the American homeland, and we have whipped ourselves into a paranoid frenzy concerning its capabilities and growth. Thus, the resurgent fears of a major (or even minor) terrorist attack, with direct operational connections to ISIS core, occurring in the US following the events in Paris and San Bernardino are all too understandable. People desire strength in the face of existential threats, and that’s precisely how both ISIS has portrayed itself to the West, and how Western leaders have portrayed ISIS to their citizens. But it is not an existential threat to the United States of America. And while we shouldn’t be surprised that 40% of Americans think we’re losing the war on terror or that neither side is winning, we also shouldn’t accept the rabble rousing narratives of fear mongers. To do so would give terrorist propaganda legitimacy, and ultimately make winning the war on terrorism impossible.

Image Credit: CNN, MissingPeace 

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