This year's presidential election will be one of the most important in the nation's history. Voters will decide whether to re-elect a man whose policies are destroying much of what the nation stands for, are alienating other nations of the world, and are fueling terrorism.
Many Americans --- perhaps most --- continue to support President Bush. I hope they were paying attention to the news last week. David Kay, who until recently headed the search for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, said he is convinced that Iraq did not have such weapons.
The threat from those weapons was the reason the president gave for going to war with Iraq. He insisted that his administration knew the weapons existed, and that the United States was in grave danger.
He was either misled --- by intelligence reports, by advisors who were shutting out dissension --- or he lied. Some day, we'll know which. (There are plenty of indications that from the day the Supreme Court handed Bush the presidency, this was a war in search of an excuse. And there was dissension, as the New York Times noted on Sunday, from experts in the Air Force and the Energy Department, among others.)
At the moment, though, we know that the president was wrong, and that young military personnel from this country and others are dying because of that terrible mistake. We know that Iraqi citizens continue to suffer and die.
Kay himself has urged that there be an independent investigation into what went wrong with our intelligence. Bush resisted at first, but now says he'll appoint a commission to look into it. But he defines the commission's mission weakly: to "analyze where we stand and what we can do better." And he is convinced that weapons or no weapons, the United States had the right and the duty to remove Saddam Hussein from power.
We must find out what went wrong. Equally important, we must find out whether members of the administration influenced the intelligence or squashed conflicting views. There are eerie similarities between the Iraq War lead-up and what happened in the White House as we became entrapped in Vietnam. ReadingThe Best and the Brightest now makes your hair stand on end.
Some of the Democratic presidential candidates have ducked when asked whether the United States is safer with Saddam Hussein captured. There's no point in ducking; if Saddam did not have the weapons President Bush insisted he had, and if he did not have the capability to attack us, then he posed nothing for us to be safe from. We will see, as the effects of the war unfold in the region, whether we are, in fact, less safe.
Are the Iraqi people better off without a murderous, sadistic dictator? Of course they are. (It remains to be seen whether they will get a government that will be an improvement.)
But concern for the Iraqi people was not the reason we went to war. That is not the reason President Bush gave when he asked Congress to approve the war. That is not the reason he has repeatedly given to the American public.
Removal of brutal dictators is a dicey thing: The world has many of them. Anyone with a conscience grieves for their victims and wants the oppressors gone.
But who should remove them? And how?
The answers to those questions are critically important. President Bush has set us on a terrifying, dangerous path, wiping out decades of efforts --- by Republican as well as Democratic presidents --- to work for world peace through cautious, international efforts.
The Bush administration has declared that the United States, and the United States alone, has the right --- as a result of its wealth and military power --- to decide which governments of which nations will remain in power, and which will not. Even if the reason for that delusion were humanitarian --- even if the Bush administration were convinced that we were using our military power to help the peoples of the world --- that is an expensive, dangerous path. It will divert resources, economic and human, from critical needs at home --- and from critical needs abroad (environmental, medical, developmental). It will fuel resentment, in impoverished countries as well as those who have formerly been our allies.
The Bush path will continue to erode basic rights of --- and instill fear in --- American citizens and honorable, honest non-citizens in this country.
And it will lead to the deaths of our own sons and daughters --- deaths that, heralded by the White House or not, shown coming home in body bags or not, will cause anguish throughout the country.
Friends of mine, nearly frantic over the actions of the Bush administration, worry that no Democrat can win in November. I hold out hope --- and sometimes find hope in unexpected places.
For example: Saturday's syndicated column in the Democrat and Chronicle, by Charley Reese. The very conservative Reese listed his choices for president, in this order: Howard Dean, John Edwards, John Kerry.
There are, he wrote, "no conservatives in the race." And Bush, he said, "is not a conservative" either.
"No conservative," wrote Reece, "would give the middle finger to longtime allies, declare war on the world, run record budget deficits and record trade deficits, fail to secure our borders, offer an incentive for even more illegal immigrants to come in, pour pork into the hands of big corporations, and ravage the environment."
"Declare war on the world." That is exactly what the Bush administration has done. "Be careful, voters," warned Reese. "Be very careful."
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