Monday, 10 September 2007

American Perceptions of the "Gathering Storm"

American Perceptions of the "Gathering Storm"
Awareness of Threats Against the U.S.
By Rick Santorum
Posted: Wednesday, September 5, 2007


Publication Date: September 5, 2007

The following is a summary of a recent national survey conducted by Public Opinion Strategies for the Program to Protect America's Freedom at the Ethics and Public Policy Center (August 19-20, 800 registered voters).


Voters are much more aware of the threats posed by radical Islam than anticipated. Indeed, a plurality of Americans believes the threat from Islamic fundamentalism is greater than either Soviet Communism in the 1960s or Nazism in the 1930s. However, the public is less aware of the strategic partnerships being developed between radical Islamic regimes and other countries, especially Venezuela.

Two-thirds of Americans agree that this is the most dangerous time for the country they have ever lived through. Nearly 60% believe the next generation will be less safe from foreign threats than we are now. Furthermore, the concern over radical Islam seems to cut across ideological and partisan lines, and is not related to dislike for the President or the war in Iraq.

Americans believe that Al Qaeda (51%), Islamic fundamentalism (44%), and Iran (37%) pose the greatest threats to the security of the United States over the next twenty years. Americans are less inclined to believe that North Korea (20%), China (18%), Russia (8%), Cuba (2%), and Venezuela (2%) pose significant threats.

When informed of recent events in the news, voters were most aware that Iran has helped fund the terrorist groups Hezbollah and Hamas (73%) and were equally aware that North Korea has tested long-range missiles capable of hitting U.S. bases in the Pacific Ocean (72%). Three recent news reports related to Iran and Iranian groups are perceived as a substantial threat: the statement by an Iranian group that it had recruited more than 40,000 people to be suicide bombers against the U.S. and Europe (63%); the promise of Iran to share its nuclear technology with other Islamic countries (60%); and Iranian funding of Hezbollah and Hamas (58%).

The public is significantly less aware of the threats posed by North Korea, China, Russia, Cuba, and Venezuela. When informed of recent news involving these countries, voters were still less inclined to view these countries as a threat. For example, only 30% of voters were aware that Iran and Venezuela have established very close relations, beginning a direct flight between Tehran and Caracas, setting up a joint-company, and beginning bi-lateral economic ties. Just 32% of voters knew that radical Islamic groups have made inroads into Latin America and the Caribbean islands. An even smaller number (20%) were aware that Cuba and China entered a deal to drill for oil 60 miles off the coast of Florida. It is worth noting that despite such a general lack of awareness, 53% of voters did know that Hugo Chavez has threatened to cut Venezuela's oil supply to the U.S. should it interfere with his socialist agenda.

Voters are evenly divided on the issue of whether the U.S. will be safer in the long run should it confront countries that promote terrorism (48%) or stay out of other countries' affairs (44%). The divide also comes down on party lines, with Republicans opting for a confrontational approach and Democrats for staying out of other countries' affairs. Among those who said they were already aware of the claim that an Iranian group has recruited more than 40,000 suicide bombers and has promised to share its nuclear technology with other countries, there was significant support for confronting terrorism (56%). This was the only instance where awareness was directly tied to the need for action.

On the issue of Iraq, it is noteworthy that nearly 60% of voters (and exactly half of Democrats) agree "that Iraq is a key part of the global war on terrorism." Interestingly, voters disagree that the threat of Islamic fundamentalism will be significantly reduced after President Bush leaves office (58% disagree, 42% strongly) or after U.S. troops leave Iraq (58% disagree, 40% strongly).


The good news is that despite the political environment -- abysmal approval ratings of both the President and the Congress, deeply divided opinions on Iraq, distrust of the President's broader war policy -- there is general agreement that the U.S. faces a more significant threat that goes beyond the battlefield in Iraq or the presidency of George W. Bush. That the Iraq campaign is increasingly seen as part of the broader war against Islamic fundamentalism -- including Iran, Al Qaeda, and other groups funded by radical Islamists -- is encouraging. There seems to be recognition that radical Islam is a long-term threat, and therefore, America's fight against it will constitute a long-term war.

Less positive news is that there is low awareness of the threat posed by the growing alliance between Iran and Venezuela. While it may be general knowledge that President Chavez has made harsh and over-the top anti-U.S. assertions (e.g., calling President Bush the "devil" at the United Nations), there is little awareness of the strategic and anti-American partnership he is building with Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The American public must be made aware of the emerging alliance between Iran and Venezuela, and other anti-American regimes in Latin America.

Recommendations for Increasing Public Awareness of the Gathering Storm

Recommendation 1: The American People: Continue to Stay Informed, and Expect More from Political Leaders

This poll shows that the American public has a good sense about who the enemy really is. In fact, they seem to have a deeper appreciation of the threat from radical Islam than the politicians and other elites. If politicians fail to accept the challenge of leadership American citizens must become actively engaged. The more aware we are of the threats we face as a nation, the better prepared we will be to defeat those threats whether at home or abroad. We need to encourage our citizens to continue taking the time to become informed. A few good resources include the following:

The War of Ideas
Documentary: Obsession -- Radical Islam's War Against the West (view the trailer at

What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East by Bernard Lewis (Oxford University Press, 2002).

The War of Ideas: Jihadism against Democracy by Walid Phares (Palgrave MacMillan, 2007).

Warrant for Terror: The Fatwas of Radical Islam and The Duty to Jihad by Shmuel Bar (Rowman and Littlefield in cooperation with the Hoover Institution, 2006).

The Iranian Threat
The Iranian Time Bomb: The Mullah Zealots' Quest for Destruction by Michael A. Ledeen (St. Martin's Press, 2007).

The Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis by Alireza Jafarzadeh (Palgrave MacMillan, 2007).

The Iran-Venezuela Alliance
"Oiling the Axis: Ties between Iran and Venezuela," by Andy Webb-Vidal in Jane's Intelligence Review (August 2007) p. 32-35.

Recommendation 2: Emphasize the Growing Strategic Partnership between Iran and Venezuela

Our leaders must be more effective in raising awareness of the strengthening bonds between certain Latin American countries and Iran, especially Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Many Americans are still skeptical of the genuine security threat coming from Chavez, Evo Morales, and others -- discounting them as irrational dictators. Since Chavez has been president, the U.S. government has not sufficiently highlighted Chavez's plans to establish a strategic partnership with Tehran.

The presidential campaign is the perfect opportunity to begin educating the American people on the Iran-Venezuelan alliance. The 2004 presidential campaign barely engaged the issue of the emerging socialist governments in Latin America. And now, despite growing antagonism emanating from Chavez and other regional leaders, the presidential debates on Latin America have not been promising, with only vague promises to "pay more attention to Latin America" and general agreement that Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez are "bad guys." Few have offered new or constructive policy proposals or have adequately explained the threat. Among the Republicans, Mitt Romney pledged to "rebuild relationships of trust," while John McCain said Latin American nations are "natural partners of the United States." Democrat Bill Richardson wants to resurrect the Kennedy-era Alliance for Progress, while Barack Obama promised a listening tour, starting with a visit to Bolivian President Evo Morales, who has been critical of President Bush. If national security does trump all other issues in the upcoming election, Latin America and its strengthening ties with Iran should be a central topic of discussion.

Recommendation 3: Define the Enemy Appropriately

We must stop referring to this war as a "war on terror." This is no more a "war on terror" than the early days of World War II was a war against "blitzkrieg" or a war against a "dive bomber." Whether we call it a war against Islamic extremism, or Islamo-fascism or radical Islam, we must clearly communicate and understand that we are engaged in a war of ideas against an enemy with firmly held religious convictions. We recognize that this war of ideas also rages in the Islamic world in a debate over whether the Islamism of Osama bin Laden or the radical mullahs in Iran is a part of "authentic Islam." Americans are also divided on this question. Regardless, it is clear that our enemies themselves believe that they are embracing authentic Islam, and we have to take their own ideas and words seriously. For good reasons (a desire not to associate all Muslims with those of the terrorists) and bad (a failure to take what Islamic terrorists actually say about their religious motivations seriously), our political leadership has not adequately acknowledged this and has thus not communicated effectively the nature or extent of the threat to the American people.