Sat, Sep 02, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Americans more dubious about Bush's `war on terror'

AP , WASHINGTON

Doubts about the Bush administration's "war on terror" are growing. Most people worry that the cost in blood and money may be too high, and they don't think al-Qaeda kingpin Osama bin Laden will ever be caught, an AP-Ipsos poll found.

Five years after the attacks of Sept. 11, fully one-third of Americans think the terrorists may be winning, the poll suggests. Worries fed by the war in Iraq have spilled over into the broader campaign against terrorists who directly target the US.

Half in the poll question whether the costs of the anti-terror campaign are too great, and even more admit that thought has crossed their mind.

Those costs are already high:

More than 2,600 US troops dead in Iraq, more than 270 dead in Afghanistan and roughly 20,000 wounded in both countries. More than US$430 billion for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other costs overseas, and more than US$250 billion for domestic security.

Increasing skepticism is not surprising to Lee Hamilton, who co-chaired the Sept. 11 commission.

"I think what you're seeing now is a pushback," said Hamilton, who noted he still considers the terror threat an urgent problem.

"Since 9/11, the security folks have won all the arguments. People are beginning to see that security is a very expensive business. ... We're seeing some rebalancing of the scales," he said.

But that shift may be unrelated to any reduction in the threat.

Bin Laden is believed to be hiding out somewhere along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, the conflict in Iraq is edging toward civil war and terrorists are still attempting attacks, as evidenced by the alleged plot, recently foiled by the British, to blow up airliners in the sky.

The AP-Ipsos telephone polling of about 1,000 people found:

Less than half, 46 percent, are confident that bin Laden will ever be caught -- down from 67 percent in December 2003.

More than four in 10, 43 percent, say they're embarrassed by the US image overseas.

The big question for Karen Brown of Gainesville, Virginia, is whether the US efforts are making a difference.

"Things are moving very slowly and not going very well," said Brown, a freelance writer in Northern Virginia. "There's Osama bin Laden still running free. We're deeper into Afghanistan and deeper into Iraq. I don't see any end to it."

Not everyone agrees the war in Iraq is central to the war on terror, as the Bush administration maintains. Six in 10 polled think there will be more terrorism in this country because the US went to war in Iraq. Some feel strongly that the two wars are separate.

"They've been successful in the war on terrorism as long as you distinguish between the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism," said Eva Washington, a semiretired nurse from Washington. "We allowed Iraq to become a home to terrorists by going over there."

And they are divided about whether they are losing personal freedoms, according to polling done between Aug. 7-17 with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

"I think there's a fatigue about the price of doing these activities," said Robert Blendon, a specialist in public opinion at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. "There's also a concern about the competency of how well we're doing them."

Some of the divisions are from political differences.

For example, Democrats are twice as likely as Republicans to think the cost of the terror fight may be too high and twice as likely to think Iraq is making terrorism worse. And this comes when the nation has gone five years without an attack -- possibly making the terror war seem less urgent to some.

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