Last week, the Obama administration attempted to float the notion that the war on terror was over, probably in anticipation of its celebrations this week of the mission that killed Osama bin Laden. National Journal got the officially unofficial leak from the White House about the nomenclature change, as well as an almost-immediate retreat:
“The war on terror is over,” one senior State Department official who works on Mideast issues told me. “Now that we have killed most of al Qaida, now that people have come to see legitimate means of expression, people who once might have gone into al Qaida see an opportunity for a legitimate Islamism.” (In a Tuesday night update to this post, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor clarified that while the “war on terror” concept has been dropped, “we absolutely have never said our war against al Qaida is over. We are prosecuting that war at an unprecedented pace.”
At the most obvious level, this is a very strange argument to make. We have tens of thousands of troops in a shooting war in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban, al-Qaeda’s ally and one-time enablers. Barack Obama himself wisely increased the number of combat troops in that theater to ensure that we maintained our advantage. If that’s not a war on terror, then what exactly is it?
The test balloon didn’t exactly resonate with the American public. A Rasmussen poll released yesterday shows that only 11% believe the war on terror is over, and a majority think that a terrorist attack in the next year is still a realistic possibility:
Voters overwhelmingly reject the idea that the war on terror is over one year after the death of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, although most feel his al Qaeda terrorist group is weaker today. But a majority also still thinks a terrorist attack is possible in the next year.
A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 11% of Likely U.S. Voters think the war on terror is over. Seventy-nine percent (79%) say that war, declared after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on America, is not over. Another 11% are undecided.
The poll has some good news for Obama, though:
Fifty percent (50%) believe the United States and its allies are winning the war on terror. Prior to the killing of bin Laden, confidence that the United States was winning the war on terror generally ranged from the high 30s to the low 40s in regular tracking since early 2005. But following bin Laden’s death, that finding surged into the 50s and has generally been in the high 40s and low 50s ever since.
Fifty-five percent (55%) now think al Qaeda is weaker than it was before 9/11, the highest finding in regular surveys for several years. Only 12% believe the terrorist group is stronger, while 28% rate their strength about the same.
So who exactly believes that the war on terror is over? Looking over the demographics, it’s clear that no particular set of voters buy that. The best score in the demos for that position is among those who make under $20K a year, and that’s 25/62. The declaration of victory only gets 16/65 among self-described liberals, the best in the ideological demos. Only 15% of Democrats agree, with 70% disagreeing, and it’s 8/80 among independents. Interestingly, that message scores worse among women (8/80) than among men (13/78), although the difference is on the outside edge of the margin of error.
Last night I moderated an AM1280 The Patriot event with Dennis Prager and Rep. Michele Bachmann, who mentioned this White House trial balloon, and issued a challenge. If the Obama administration really believes that the war on terror is over, Bachmann said, then they should disband the TSA. Think that will happen any time soon? Naaaaah.