The Secretary of Defense sent a memo round the Pentagon asking: are we winning or losing the war on terror?

No one was sure – so the Joint Staff sought metrics.  After we briefed them a study on Muslim anti-Americanism  done for the Council on Foreign Relations, they asked Charney Research to help devise measures – and apply them in the field.

Charney’s Solution:

Working under Prof. Lincoln Mitchell of Columbia University, we scoured the literature for indicators of extremism, governance, and security. Then we developed a formula to combine them into a single number per country for each of those themes.

Next came the hard part:  gathering data in nine countries across the Muslim world.  In the pilot round, we polled in Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. In the next, we went back to Pakistan, and on to Afghanistan, Yemen, Egypt, Mali, Saudi Arabia, and Algeria.

There were many obstacles. In Mali, for instance, some local languages were rarely written, so we had to ensure the questionnaire was transcribed word for word. In Egypt, most pollsters were too scared to tackle the questions – but we found the one who wasn’t. In Saudi Arabia, when the authorities barred some questions, we had to call them in from a phone bank outside the country. (The King needn’t have worried about his job performance rating!)


We found the least stable countries were Pakistan, Egypt, Yemen, and Mali – back in 2009! We were on the money in every case: all have had governments fall amid conflict since then.

The results were much sought-after.  The first round was used by the Joint Staff to help draft the National Military Strategy for the War on Terror.  As soon as the second was completed, we did an urgent briefing at the White House for President Obama’s Af-Pak Policy Review.  It was also briefed to leaders at the Pentagon, NATO and ISAF HQs, the highest levels of the State Department, and the UK Foreign Office. The consistent reaction: “the best polling presentation I’ve ever seen,” as an Assistant Secretary of Defense put it. One of the most impactful, too.

Read the full letter from Gary Cheek of the Joint Staff
See our other resources on Security and Conflict Resolution
Learn more about our work in conflict countries and crisis zones

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