I have never been heavily involved in partisan politics, but these are not normal times. President George W. Bush is endangering the United States and the world's safety while undermining American values. For opposing him, I have been demonized by the Bush campaign.
President Bush ran in 2000 on a platform promising a "humble" foreign policy. If re-elected, the Bush doctrine of preemptive action - and the invasion of Iraq - will be endorsed, and the world will have to live with the consequences. By repudiating Bush's policies at the polls, America will have a chance to regain the respect and support of the world.
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, required a strong response. But they also led to suspension of the critical process so essential to a democracy - a full and fair discussion of the issues. Bush silenced criticism by calling it unpatriotic. For 18 months after 9/11, he managed to suppress all dissent. That is how he led America in the wrong direction.
In fact, Bush played right into the hands of Osama bin Laden. Afghanistan's invasion was justified: that was where bin Laden lived and al Qaeda had its training camps. Invading Iraq was not. It was Bush's unintended gift to bin Laden.
Immediately after 9/11, there was a spontaneous outpouring of sympathy for America worldwide. It has given way to widespread resentment. There are many more people willing to risk their lives to kill Americans than there were on September 11.
Bush likes to insist that terrorists hate Americans for what they are - a freedom loving people - not what they do. But war and occupation create innocent victims. We count the body bags of American soldiers - over 1,000 in Iraq. The wider world also counts the Iraqis who get killed daily, perhaps 20 times more.
Nor was the torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison the work of a few bad apples. It was part of a system of dealing with prisoners put in place by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Public opinion condemns America worldwide, and our troops in Iraq are paying the price.
Bush convinced people that he is good for American security by playing on the fears generated by the 9/11 attacks. At a time of peril, people rally around the flag, and Bush exploited this by fostering a sense of danger. His campaign assumes that people do not really care about the truth and will believe almost anything if it is repeated often enough. There must be something wrong with Americans if we fall for it.
For instance, some 40% of Americans still believe that Saddam Hussein was connected with 9/11, although the 9/11 Commission - set up by Bush and chaired by a Republican - definitively established that no such connection existed. I want to shout: "Wake up America. Don't you realize we are being misled?"
The war in Iraq was misconceived from start to finish - if it has a finish. It is a war of choice, not necessity. Moreover, America went to war on false pretenses. Weapons of mass destruction could not be found, and the connection with al Qaeda could not be established. Bush then claimed that America went to war to liberate Iraq. But democracy cannot be imposed by force.
Saddam Hussein was a tyrant, and Iraqis - and the world - can rejoice in being rid of him. But America had an obligation to maintain law and order; instead, we stood idly by while Baghdad and other cities were ransacked. If we had cared about the Iraqi people, we should have had more troops available for the occupation. We should have provided protection not only for the oil ministry, but also other ministries, museums, and hospitals.
Worse still, when American soldiers encountered resistance, they employed methods - invading homes and mistreating prisoners - that alienated and humiliated the population, generating resentment and rage.
The Bush administration's flip-flops and missteps are legion. First the Iraqi army was dissolved, then America tried to reconstitute it. First the US tried to eliminate the Baathists, then America turned to them for help. When the insurgency became intractable, America installed an Iraqi government. The man chosen to lead it was a protégé of the CIA with a reputation for being a strongman - a far cry from democracy.
Despite the Bush campaign's efforts at spin control, the situation in Iraq is dire. Much of the western part of the country has been ceded to insurgents, the prospect of holding free and fair elections in January is fast receding, civil war looms.
Bush's war in Iraq has done untold damage to America as well, impairing its military power and undermining the morale of the armed forces. Before the war, America could project overwhelming force. Not anymore. Afghanistan is slipping from control. North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, and other countries pursue nuclear programs with renewed vigor.
The Bush administration can be criticized for many other policies, but none are as important as Iraq. The war has cost nearly $200 billion, and costs will continue to mount, because getting into Iraq was much easier than getting out will be. Bush has been taunting John Kerry to explain how he would do things differently. Kerry has responded that he would have done everything differently, and that he would be in a better position to extricate us. But it won't be easy for him, either, because America is caught in a quagmire.
Top military and diplomatic experts desperately warned Bush not to invade Iraq. He ignored them. He suppressed the critical process, arguing that any criticism of the Commander-in-Chief puts US troops at risk. But this is Bush's war, and he ought to be held responsible for it. Americans should step back for a moment and ask: who got them into this mess?
A moment's reflection should raise another question: does Bush's Texas swagger qualify him to remain America's Commander-in-Chief?