The Bush Administration and its cheerleaders in the media are claiming that the "remarkable success" of the US war in Iraq proves its opponents were "spectacularly wrong"--even, some charge, unpatriotic. Intimidated by these allegations and the demonstration of overwhelming American military power, many critics of the war are falling silent. Indeed, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, no doubt speaking for several of the party's presidential candidates, has rushed to urge that "the war...not be on the ballot in 2004."
But critics of the war have no reason to regret their views. No sensible opponent doubted that the world's most powerful military could easily crush such a lesser foe. The real issue was and remains very different: Will the Iraq war increase America's national security, as the Bush Administration has always promised and now insists is already the case, or will it undermine and diminish our national security, as thoughtful critics believed?
In the weeks, months and years ahead, we will learn the answer to that fateful question by judging developments by seven essential criteria:
(1) Will the war discourage or encourage other regional "preemptive" military strikes, particularly by nuclear-armed states such as, but not only, Pakistan and India?
(2) Indeed, will the Iraq war stop the proliferation of states that possess nuclear weapons or instead incite more governments to acquire them as a deterrent against another US "regime change"?
(3) Will the war, and the long US occupation that seems likely to ensue, reduce the recruitment of young Arabs by terrorist movements or will it inspire many new recruits?
(4) With or without more recruits, will the war decrease or increase the number of terrorist plots against the United States, whether at home or abroad?
(5) Will the war help safeguard the vast quantities of nuclear and other materials of mass destruction that exist in the world today, and the expertise needed to operationalize them, or make them more accessible to "evil-doers"?
(6) In that connection, will Russia--which has more ill-secured devices of mass destruction than any other country and which strongly opposed and still resents the US war--now be more, or less, inclined to collaborate with Washington in safeguarding and reducing those weapons and materials?
(7) Finally, considering the rampant anti-Americanism it has provoked, will the war result in more or fewer governments willing to cooperate with--individually or in multinational organizations like the United Nations--George W. Bush's stated top priority, the war against global terrorism?
It is by these crucial (and measurable) criteria that the American people, and any politician who wants to lead them, must judge the Administration's war in Iraq and President Bush's own leadership. Those of us who were against the war and continue to oppose the assumptions on which it was based fear that future events will answer these questions to the grave detriment of American and international security. As patriots, we can only hope we are wrong.