United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan says the world is not a safer place than it was before 9-11. President Bush and even the 9-11 Commission say it is -- at least they say the United States is. I think we're asking the wrong question.
The question is not whether at this moment the world (or the United States) is safer than it was on Sept. 10, 2001.
In the middle of World War II could we reasonably have said that the world (or the United States) was safer than it was before the war? The world was on its way to being, but wasn't yet, a safer place.
Even if President Bush has been pursuing the most prudent anti-terrorism policies since 9-11, the world may still not be a safer place today. It's going to take some time.
And safety is not the only consideration. We might have been "safer" had we capitulated to Nazi Germany and Japan. We could have averted a 50-year-long Cold War had we surrendered to the Communists.
We could have avoided all casualties in Iraq had we followed Kofi Annan's counsel and that of the United Nations, France and Germany, and allowed Saddam Hussein to continue to snub his nose at the world, violating his treaties and U.N. resolutions, and pursuing WMD.
You can almost always avoid a fight with a bully if you cave in to his every demand. But once you do, what do you have left? If the Neville Chamberlains, J. William Fulbrights, George McGoverns, Teddy Kennedys and John Kerrys had their way, we could certainly have avoided more military conflict. But at what cost?
In order to preserve "the blessings of liberty (for) ourselves and our posterity" it is sometimes necessary to make hard choices, and those choices may sometimes lead to a less peaceful "present." But the alternative -- to surrender our liberty -- is unacceptable.
That's why we must discount the criticism that we were wrong to invade Iraq because it just spawned more terrorists in the Arab world. That's why we must consider the whole picture, including the potential consequences of our failure to act against Saddam Hussein, when we hear President Bush's critics say that Iraq has become a haven for terrorists now that we have attacked.
It may be true that our aggressive, pro-active approach against terrorism and its sponsoring states is being used by terrorists as a recruiting tool. But realistically, our enemies don't need any other tools.
They will continue to hate us whether or not we take the war to them on their own turf. But if we don't, they'll not only hate us, but also disrespect us. (Bin Laden has said as much.) And we'll be much more effective if we take the offensive against them while simultaneously augmenting our defenses.