There is a lot of disagreement over Iraq. Taking the war to Iraq was a decisive move, in that it brought the war on terror to the terrorist homeland (the Persian Gulf in particular, and the Middle East in general.) Al Qaeda was forced to declare Iraq a major battleground, and eager terrorists have flocked to Iraq. There, the terrorists have made themselves thoroughly unpopular with most Iraqis, and an increasing number of Moslems outside Iraq. But much of world opinion has decided (for a cluster of ideological, commercial and cultural reasons) that the war in Iraq is illegal and wrong. The United States is pretty much ignoring world opinion, and a lot of Americans who share that opinion (largely liberals and Democrats). Because the left in the United States has decided that the American government has no plan and is without a clue, you cannot even discuss war on terror strategy without getting put down straight away. But there is a strategy, and it is working.
Taking the war to the Islamic heartland wasnt easy. Most of the world was unwilling to offend Saudi Arabia, the worlds largest oil producer, with accusations that Arabia was the source of most of the increasingly lethal Islamic terrorism. But Iraq provided a better target, because the Baath Party in Iraq had made itself a pariah state because of unprovoked attacks on neighbors Iran and Kuwait. Everyone believed that Iraq had biological and chemical weapons, and was trying to get nukes. While many now deny this was the case, anyone can check the news stories before 2003 to see the near unanimous agreement that Iraq was not in compliance with UN demands to come clean about its weapons of mass destruction.
Iraq brought Islamic terrorism to the Islamic heartland, and the locals dont like it. Before 2003, Islamic terrorism was popular in this part of the world. Expatriates in Saudi Arabia were unnerved by how many Saudis seemed happy and pleased about the September 11, 2001 attacks. Many Moslems had convinced themselves that their problems with local tyrants and poor economic performance were caused by external forces. This, its not my fault attitude has been a problem for centuries. A serious problem as can be seen by the lack of economic progress, despite trillions of dollars in oil sales and decades of development efforts. Even the Turks, who ruled the Middle East for centuries, despaired of ever curing the Arabs of their delusions, and self-destructive habits.
That attitude was slowly changing before the September 11, 2001, Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq. But once Islamic terrorists began killing Iraqis and Saudis on a large scale, the maybe its our problem and we should fix it school of thought became a lot more popular. Unfortunately, because most mass media have a vested interest in disaster and defeat, this aspect of the war on terror is little discussed. Good news is not welcome.
No matter, the war goes on, and increasingly its being fought, and run, by SOCOM (the U.S. Special Operations Command.) This organization has more experts in the language and cultures of Islamic countries than the rest of the United States government combined. This irritates the State Department, and a lot of other organizations both foreign and domestic. But thats not considered a major problem by SOCOM.
SOCOM has learned a lot about what works, and to what degree, in Iraq, Afghanistan and dozens of other countries where it is operating. One major finding is that it will be easier to stop, or greatly diminish, Islamic terrorism, than it will be to fix the social and economic problems in Moslem nations. The biggest weakness of Islamic terrorists is their intolerance. Islamic terrorists will freely kill fellow Moslems, and not just those who are, or appear to be, collaborating with the enemy. Islamic terrorists had tried to avoid this sort of thing, as they realize their source of money and new recruits comes mainly from Moslem nations. But the Islamic radical movement is on a Mission from God, and there is a competition to see who is the more terrible terrorist. Killing Moslems is not considered a problem to many of the Islamic terrorists. Thus, as Islamic nations get a dose of Islamic terrorism, attitudes shift. The result is a larger proportion of the terrorist recruits and money support are now coming from Islamic communities in Europe, where local laws and customs make it easy for transplanted Moslem communities to survive, safe from the effects of Islamic terrorism. Its easier for a Moslem to support Islamic terrorism as a spectator, rather than as a victim.
Nearly all Islamic nations are willing to fight Islamic terrorists, although most are less eager to work on the underlying problems (mostly political and economic) that created Islamic radicalism in the first place. But the United States has managed to get everyone, especially the worldwide mass media, to agree that democracy and clean government in Moslem countries is a good thing. This in itself is a major victory. But reversing thousands of years of bad habits (especially tolerance for despotism and corruption) wont happen quickly. However, because of the growing availability of international media, most Moslems are at least aware that there are better ways to run a country, and an economy. This provides an opening for reform.
SOCOM, and other elements of the Department of Defense, have developed some detailed methods for measuring progress in the war on terror. Unfortunately, these metrics are too complex for snappy headlines, and too dependent on sensitive sources for wide distribution. But even without access to all that, you can see the strategy, and the progress. As was said, early and often after September 11, 2001, its going to be a long war.
Keeping track of who is winning in the war on terror is complicated by the other wars that have become entangled with the conflict against Islamic terrorism. Party politics in the United States, and ideological, commercial and cultural differences with Europe and other parts of the world have made difficult to agree on what is victory, and what is defeat.