Today may be the 13th anniversary of the deadliest attack on United States’ soil, but Americans are focused on a new terror threat from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria that has risen the fear of terror attacks to 9/11 levels.
According to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 47 percent of Americans believe the country is less safe now than before the 9/11 attacks — the largest percentage since the 2001 attacks. Only 26 percent of Americans say the nation is safer.
This marks a significant increase from 2002, only a year after the towers fell, when only 20 percent of the nation said the country was less safe. Even last year, the number was a comparatively low 28 percent.
These numbers, sparked by ISIS’s brutal beheadings of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, were released the day before President Obama announced his plan to combat the terrorist group. Ninety-four percent of the poll’s respondents reported they had heard about the news of the beheaded journalists — a number NBC/WSJ reports is the highest number the poll has measured over the past five years, including reports on the debt ceiling debate (77 percent) and Syria’s use of chemical weapons in 2013 (79 percent).
“The beheadings are so chilling to the American public,” says Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the poll with Democratic pollster Peter Hart. “The only things I think of equal impact are the self-immolations back in Vietnam.”
Hart said that “a very war-weary country” may have finally “woken up to the real threat that ISIS may present.” A statement in keeping with the findings of the poll, which found that more than six in 10 respondents believe it is in the nation’s best interest to take military action against ISIS. Only 13 percent of respondents reported that they felt the opposite.
On Wednesday, President Obama staked his agreement with the 61 percent of respondents in favor of military intervention and authorized a major increase in the military campaign against the violent Sunni militants in Syria and Iraq. He announced American airstrikes in Syria, and the deployment of 475 additional military advisors to Iraq.
“We will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are,” Obama said in the 14-minute address (video below). “That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq…This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”
The address came exactly one year after Obama’s 2013 announcement that chemical weapons had been traced back to the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria.
While he was confident about this approach, he was careful to distinguish between this effort and the two wars started by President George W. Bush. He compared the current approach to the isolated airstrikes carried out for years against terror targets in Yemen and, most recently, Somalia.
The plan will put the United States in the middle of Syria’s civil war, which Congress and the American public have long been opposed to though recent events have clearly resulted in a shift in mindset for all involved.