Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Terror takes back seat; Americans safer now

WASHINGTON — As Americans debate whether they are better off now than they were four years ago, there is a similar question with a somewhat easier answer: Are you safer now than you were when President Barack Obama took office?

By most measures, the answer is yes.

More than a decade after terrorists slammed planes into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania countryside, Americans have stopped fretting daily about a possible attack or stockpiling duct tape and water.

While the threat of a terrorist attack has not disappeared, the combined military, intelligence, diplomatic and financial efforts to hobble al-Qaida and its affiliates have escalated over the past four years and paid off. Terrorist leaders, including Osama bin Laden, are dead and their networks in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia disrupted.

In some cases, the Obama White House simply continued or intensified programs and policies begun by the Republican administration of President George W. Bush. But Obama pursued a more aggressive drone campaign to target terrorist leaders, broadening efforts to help at-risk nations bolster their own defenses, and put in place plans to end the war in Iraq and bring troops out of Afghanistan.

Unlike previous elections, national security is not a big campaign issue this year.

Mitt Romney made no mention of terrorism or war during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention two weeks ago. Although public opposition to the war in Afghanistan has grown, it's not a top dinner table topic for most Americans.

"I would have said four years ago that the al-Qaida movement was emerging as a bigger problem, especially with the emergence of affiliates in places like Yemen and with the spike in homegrown attacks," said Phil Mudd, a senior counterterrorism official at the CIA and FBI during the Bush and Obama administrations. "But I would say today that al-Qaidaism is on the decline."

Mudd, now a senior research fellow at the nonpartisan New America Foundation, said that while militants in other countries may still be causing problems in their own areas, they are less likely to "be sitting there saying how do we get to Los Angeles, and that's a big change."

Still, other international dangers remain.

Republicans say Obama has failed to slow Iran's nuclear program, saying it poses the greatest threat to the United States and its allies.

Others say that the Obama administration has calmed tensions overseas with Russia, China and other countries that viewed the American invasion of Iraq with suspicion.

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