Nov 012004
 

I have been crisscrossing the country for the last three weeks arguing against the reelection of President Bush. I feel strongly that he has led us in the wrong direction. The invasion of Iraq was a colossal blunder and only by rejecting the President at the polls can we hope to escape from the quagmire in which we find ourselves.

I embarked on the tour because I was worried that the dramatic deterioration in Iraq did not produce the decisive lead for John Kerry I had confidently expected. Now that I am at the end of my tour, I am not reassured. Kerry and Bush are neck and neck in the polls, and although I believe that voter turnout is likely to give Kerry the victory, the race is too close for comfort.

The nation is deeply divided and the two camps seem to be talking past each other. John Kerry won all three debates but President Bush invokes his faith and that inspires his followers. In the end, it boils down to a philosophical difference over how to deal with an often confusing and threatening reality.

Let me inflict on you a brief lecture in philosophy.

An open society such as ours is based on the recognition that our understanding of reality is inherently imperfect. Nobody is in possession of the ultimate truth. As the philosopher Karl Popper has shown, the ultimate truth is not attainable even in science. All theories are subject to testing and the process of replacing old theories with better ones never ends.

Faith plays an important role in an open society. Exactly because our understanding is imperfect, we cannot base our decisions on knowledge alone. We need to rely on beliefs, religious or otherwise, to help us make decisions. But we must remain open to the possibility that we may be wrong so that we can correct our mistakes. Otherwise, we are bound to be wrong.?????

End of lecture.

President Bush has shown that he is incapable of recognizing his mistakes. He insists on making reality conform to his beliefs even at the cost of deceiving himself and deliberately deceiving the public. There is something appealing in the strength of his faith, especially in our troubled time. But the cost is too high. By putting our faith in a President who cannot admit his mistakes we commit ourselves to the wrong policies. We are the most powerful nation on earth. No external power, no terrorist organization, can defeat us. But we can defeat ourselves by getting caught in a quagmire.

Open Societies suffer from an innate weakness: uncertainty. Leaders who claim to be in possession of the ultimate truth offer an escape from uncertainty. But that is a snare, because those leaders are bound to be wrong.

Under the influence of globalization we have been exposed to more than a normal dose of uncertainty. That is why the kind of faith that guides President Bush is so appealing. The traumatic events of 9/11 have reinforced that appeal. President Bush rose to the occasion and he carried the nation behind him. But he has led us in the wrong direction. He used the war on terror as an excuse for invading Iraq. If we reelect President Bush we are endorsing his policies and we shall have to live with the consequences. We are facing a vicious circle of escalating violence with no end in sight. If we reject him at the polls we shall have a better chance to regain the respect and support of the world and break the vicious circle. Our future depends on it.

That is why I consider this the most important election of my lifetime and that is why I have taken such an active role in it. I have devoted half my fortune and most of my energies in the last 15 years to promoting the values of democracy and open society all over the world, especially in the former Soviet Empire. After 9/11 I came to feel that those principles need to be defended at home.

For 18 months after 9/11 President Bush suppressed all dissent by calling it unpatriotic. That is how he could lead the nation so far in the wrong direction.

The invasion of Afghanistan was justified: that was where Osama bin Laden lived and al Qaeda had its training camps. The invasion of Iraq was not similarly justified.

The war in Iraq was misconceived from start to finish — if it has a finish. It is a war of choice, not of necessity, as President Bush claims. It goes without saying that Saddam was a tyrant, and it is good to be rid of him. But in invading Iraq as we did, without a second UN resolution, we violated international law. By mistreating and even torturing prisoners, we violated the Geneva conventions. President Bush has boasted that we do not need a permission slip from the international community, but our disregard for international law has endangered our security, particularly the security of our troops.

Those inspections and sanctions were working. In response to American pressure, the United Nations had finally agreed on a strong stand. As long as the inspectors were on the ground, Saddam Hussein could not possibly pose a threat to our security. We could have persisted with the inspections but President Bush insisted on going to war.

By now we know that we went to war on false pretenses. The weapons of mass destruction could not be found, and the connection with al Qaeda could not be established. What has not yet sunk in is that President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Condoleezza Rice knew that Saddam had no nuclear capacity long before we invaded Iraq. The intelligence experts of the Energy Department told them in 2002 that the famous aluminum tubes, which were presented as the most concrete evidence that Saddam had a nuclear program, could not possibly be used for enriching uranium. Yet they used them as evidence. They deliberately deceived the public, the Congress and the United Nations.

The aluminum tubes were not the only instance of deliberate deception. There was the yellowcake contract with Niger mentioned in the President’s State of the Union message. That document was forged and a CBS expose of how it came to be forged was recently suppressed or more exactly postponed until after the elections. Then there were the mobile labs that Colin Powell falsely claimed were for biological warfare. President Bush went much further than Colin Powell. He spoke of incontrovertible evidence and said that the smoking gun may take the shape of a mushroom cloud.

More recently, President Bush claimed that we went to war to liberate the people of Iraq. I find that claim preposterous. If we had cared about the people of Iraq we should have had more troops available to protect them. We should not have used methods that alienated and humiliated them.

All my experience in fostering democracy and open society has taught me that democracy cannot be imposed by military means. And the way we went about it in Iraq will make it more difficult to promote democracy in the future. Through my foundation network devoted to promoting democracy and open society worldwide, I feel this personally. Under President Bush, America has lost its credibility as a champion of open society.

Instead of admitting his mistakes, President Bush now tells us that offense is the best defense and we are safer at home because we are fighting the terrorists abroad. The argument resonates strongly with an electorate fearful of terrorism – but it is a Siren’s song.

Let me explain why.

The war on terror is an abstraction. But the terrorists are real people and they are not all alike. Most of the people attacking our soldiers in Iraq originally had nothing to do with al Qaeda. They have been generated by the policies of the Bush administration. We have been spared a terrorist attack at home but it is quite a stretch to attribute that to the invasion of Iraq. The insurrection in Iraq, however, is a somber reality and it doesn’t make us safer at home. Our security, far from improving as President Bush claims, is deteriorating.

Bush’s war in Iraq has done untold damage to the United States. It has impaired our military power and undermined the morale of our armed forces. Our troo
ps were trained to project overwhelming power. They were not trained for occupation duties. Having to fight an insurgency saps their morale. After Iraq, it has become more difficult to recruit people for the armed forces and we may have to resort to conscription.

Before the invasion of Iraq, we could project overwhelming power in any part of the world. We cannot do so any more because we are bogged down in Iraq. Iran and North Korea are moving ahead with their nuclear programs at full speed and our hand in dealing with them has been greatly weakened.

There are many other policies for which the Bush administration can be criticized but none are as important as Iraq. Iraq is the proof that we cannot put our faith in the President.

It is hard to believe that all the accusations I have leveled against President Bush are actually true. I wish they weren’t because then we wouldn’t be in the predicament in which we find ourselves. There is only one way out. To change leadership and direction. Fortunately we have a credible – and attractive – alternative. I have known John Kerry personally for many years. He will make an excellent president.

I have been crisscrossing the country for the last three weeks arguing against the reelection of President Bush. On my travels I have heard many doubts about John Kerry. Why can’t he project the same certainty as President Bush? Admittedly, he won the debates, but does that qualify him to be our Commander in Chief? Will he be as single- minded in pursuing the war on terror as George W. Bush?

Let me address these concerns. John Kerry has presented a cogent and coherent case but the Bush campaign managed to define him before he could define himself. They made fun of his explanation of the various votes he cast on the $87 billion appropriation for Iraq, although it made perfect sense. He was practically not heard, except in snippets, until the debates.

But the trouble goes deeper. The war on terror as defined by President Bush is a one-dimensional presentation of reality. We cannot fight terrorism by military means alone. We can use military force only when we have a known target; but it is the habit of terrorists to keep their whereabouts hidden. To track them down we need the support of the populations amongst whom they hide. Offense is not necessarily the best defense if it offends those whose allegiance we need.

John Kerry is aware of this other dimension. That is why he cannot be as single-minded as George W. Bush. He is nuanced because reality is complicated. This has been turned into a character flaw by the Bush campaign. Yet, that is exactly the character we need in our commander in chief. John Kerry is prepared to defend the country as he showed in Viet Nam; but he has learned first hand the devastation that war can bring and will use military force only as a last resort.

By contrast George W. Bush revels in being a war president. His campaign is shamelessly exploiting the fears generated by 9/11. Vice President Cheney is conjuring mushroom clouds into our cities. But fear is a bad counselor; we must resist it wherever it comes from. President Roosevelt had the right idea when he said, "We have nothing to fear but Fear itself." If we re-elect President Bush the war on terror will never end. The terrorists are invisible, therefore they can never disappear. It is our civil liberties that may disappear instead.

An open society is always in danger. It must constantly reaffirm its principles in order to survive. We are being sorely tested, first by 9/11 and then by President Bush’s response. To pass the test we must face reality instead of finding solace in false certainties. This election transcends party loyalties. Our future as an open society depends on resisting the Siren’s song.

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