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An Open Letter to the President

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In the aftermath of the 9.11 attack on America, I wrote a September 25 editorial for The Wall Street Journal, titled "I Was Wrong About Bush." There, I broke the unwritten rule that journalists should only be neutral political observers by announcing that I had voted twice for Bill Clinton, and had not only voted for Al Gore in 2000, but had been passionately active in arguing after the election that the Republicans had stolen it. As I then said, you were "not only untested nationally," but you seemed "to me bereft of the character or intellect to become a real leader, and I feared that four years, and possibly eight, under [you] would set the country back."

However, I went on to admit, "how wrong I was." Since the 9.11 attacks, you had "a focus and clarity," that you were "infused with passion and outrage." I then concluded that you had "proved [yourself] to be the leader America needs."

That editorial, not surprisingly, was widely cited and distributed by your Republican and conservative proponents.

Five years later, it turns out I was right in the first place. Not only do you lack the character or intellect to be a real leader, but your presidency has turned out to be a far worse tenure than I could ever have originally imagined. You have almost single-handedly set the country decades back in its relations with its allies, increased the dislike and hatred of America worldwide, squandered hundreds of billions of dollars that will shackle future American generations to a sea of debt, wasted the lives of thousands of young American boy and girls in a dead-end war, and made, by your actions, the world a much less safe place than it was before 9.11.

We know now that all American intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq were wrong. There were simply no ties between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. But neither you, nor any top official of your administration, is honest enough with the American people to admit that the reasons for the war are, at their most innocent, just wrong, and at there most serious, deliberate lies? Your strident unilateralism and rejection of all our Allies' efforts to move in a measured pace against Iraq created ill will throughout Europe, except for Britain, a decision there that is the primary reason that Prime Minister Tony Blair has had to announce a date for relinquishing power in 2007.

You have squandered, Mr. President, the good will and sympathy for America that had been engendered after the 9.11 attack. Instead, after the Afghanistan campaign, you embarked on an aggressive military strategy developed by a cartel of neo-conservatives inside your administration. While the U.S. diverted resources to an inevitable - at least in your view - war with Iraq, you abandoned Afghanistan as a priority. There was not even a feeble attempt at nation building. The result five years later is a resurgence of the Taliban, a still-free Osama bin Laden, crippling corruption throughout the Afghan government, and the largest opium crop in the nation's history. A shameful legacy from your administration.

And as for Iraq, anyone following the daily headlines knows that the country has degenerated into civil war, and that our troops are caught in between the crossfire. Both Sunni and Shia militants are intent on killing each other in the most barbaric ways, and if they happen to kill some Americans on the way, so much the better.

But you still stubbornly refuse to acknowledge that the country that you wanted to 'liberate,' is at the point of tearing itself apart. Iraq is better without Saddam Hussein, was a refrain your administration has repeated for the past few years. That is no longer so clear if you happen to be an Iraqi whose infrastructure - from electrical power to the closing of schools and hospitals - is worse off than before the war, and you must now worry about the personal safety of your family even when you go to weekly religious services. A just declassified bleak report from your own intelligence agencies concludes that the war in Iraq has become a "cause celebre" for Islamic radicals, breeding deep resentment of the United States that is likely to get worse before it gets better, and that the war has fueled an upsurge in Islamic extremism and violence

And the cost for America? Over 2,700 lives of some of the best young Americans, more than the number killed in the 9.11 attack. And more than 20,000 wounded, with many horrific and life-changing injuries, including multiple amputations, because of the types of IEDS (improvised explosive devices) deployed by the insurgents. You sent too few troops there, against the advice of many of your top advisors and those in the field. You did not provide the correct armored vehicles or even the helmets to keep them safe. And what are they dying for today? Surely you cannot believe any longer it is to protect America. You won't even allow news organizations to show pictures of the returning coffins, lest Americans realize this is a real war, with real blood and deaths, as opposed to a sanitized video game that will result shortly in a clear winner and loser.

And $549 billion spent, thus far, on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Enough to fund full coverage for the 46 million people who don't have health insurance in this rich country of ours. Or enough money to build more schools, hire better teachers, and give everyone a real education at an affordable price. How about cutting a little of the national debt that will suffocate future generations? Do you even care about these other issues which affect average Americans much more than whether a Shia or Sunni majority prevails in a disintegrating country 6,000 miles away?

Meanwhile, you continue to repeat your canard that we are bringing democracy to the Middle East and if we are able to do that it will revolutionize the region. But, the few "allies" you cozy up to are dictatorships - with brutal human rights records - like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Egypt. Pakistan is particularly galling since it had been a nation with a fledging democracy before strongman, General Pervez Musharraf, seized power in 1999. Despite his assurances to hold new elections, he has instead turned his government into a repressive military rule. So I guess, Mr. President, there are exceptions to your desire to see democracy spread in the Middle East, so long as the dictators are friendly to you, or if not friendly, at least willing to give you some window dressing in the war on terror. This allows you to ignore Pakistan's continuing support for the radical Islamic schools, the maddrasses, that are training the future generations of radicals, and also ignore the actions of the country's intelligence agency, the ISI, which might even know where bin Laden is hiding, but will never turn him over to you. You worry about Iran becoming a nuclear state, but Pakistan is already one. But your support of Musharraf further increases the chance that radicals may one day mount a popular movement to seize power. What will we do then, when a Taliban-like administration has its finger on the nuclear button?

Or what about your friends in Riyadh, the current King who you held hands with at your Crawford ranch during his last visit to America? Saudi Arabia continues to be a major source of terror financing - according to your own stymied Treasury Department investigators. Why have you consistently failed to follow up on information -I first reported in my book, Why America Slept - that a senior Saudi prince, as well as the chief of Pakistan's Air Force, might have had advance knowledge of 9.11, all from the confessions of Abu Zubayday, a leading al Qaeda operative captured by U.S. intelligence? And Egypt continues - in light of your overt Israel support - to refuse to give you any assistance in calming the Israeli-Palestinian tensions, despite your repeated back-scene requests to Cairo.

But you still say, disingenuously, that spreading democracy is our goal. Yet a popular vote brought Hamas to power in the Palestinian Authority. When that happened, you rejected the results and cut off aid to the fledging government. In Iran, a limited democracy has resulted in a move to stability-rocking extremism with the elevation to power of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the chief of state who wants to wipe Israel off the map and continues to advance his nation's nuclear bomb making capacity in defiance of your efforts to reign him in. In Lebanon, where you again blundered with your unambiguous support of Israel - further alienating most of the Arab world and many European allies -Hezbollah, would likely swamp the opposition parties if an election were held tomorrow, and the terror group's chief, Hassan Nasrallah, might well be the next Lebanese prime minister.

If an election were held in Afghanistan, with no restrictions on political parties, the Taliban might well prevail, especially since many Afghans view the government of Hamid Karzai as little more than one of your puppet regimes. In many parts of Pakistan, a public opinion survey asking villagers to choose between Osama bin Laden or you, would result in an al Qaeda landslide.

Be careful of what you ask for with democracy in the Middle East, Mr. President, you're getting it and you don't like the results.

Are you listening in the White House? Do you see the polls that show more and more Americans are lining up against the war in Iraq? Did you, or your Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, read the just released Iraqi public opinion poll that showed that 60% of Iraqis approve of attacks on US forces, and almost 75% want US troops out? What are you waiting for? They don't want us there, Mr. President, and if we stay, a majority would like to kill us. Am I missing something here or not? Do you have no shame? Aren't you embarrassed to keep flogging the thoroughly discredited notion that the average Iraqi is happy we are there as liberators? Turns out, according to the latest polling in Iraq, they would prefer a bloody civil war than to having U.S. troops marching around their country.

Mr. President, you still have the time to finish your term with some semblance of dignity and respect for both the office of the Presidency, and for the American people you were elected to represent. Admit that Iraq was a terrible mistake, in human and financial costs, and that it is dividing our country and making the world a much more dangerous place by adding more fuel to the volatile fundamentalist Islamic radical movement worldwide. As a former supporter of the war and your invasion, I have seen the light. Hopefully you can as well. Let's get out now.

Gerald Posner, Miami, October 2006