On Nov. 2, Americans will go to the polls in a presidential election offering a clear, if uninspired choice regarding the direction the nation will take in the next four years.
President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney showed admirable leadership following the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001. In the wake of the attack by terrorist murderers, the administration moved swiftly not only to make the nation more secure, but to counter-attack an enemy that operates without borders and without rules of engagement.
Regrettably, the Bush administration also led the U.S. into an ill-considered and unnecessary war in Iraq.
In disregard of Secretary of State Colin Powell's reported counsel on Iraq -- "You break it, you own it" -- the administration plunged headlong into a war that had the benefit of ridding the world of a menace, Saddam Hussein. But Saddam's genocidal megalomania has been replaced by chaos. More than 1,000 American lives already have been lost, as the administration searches for an exit strategy that might be a decade away.
Regardless of the outcome of the election, U.S. forces are certain to remain in Iraq for years to come, at further untold cost in lives, and at a cost of unknown billions of dollars. It is as if the Bush administration learned none of the lessons of the quagmire that was the Vietnam War. The president committed the U.S. to war on a false pretext -- that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction. It appears that for President Bush, being president means never having to admit error.
Despite the elimination of Saddam, the world is a more dangerous place now than it was four years ago. North Korea and Iran are developing nuclear capabilities. The U.S. military is so stretched by service in Iraq that it is questionable whether there are sufficient forces remaining to respond to some future crisis elsewhere.
The preoccupation with terrorism and the war in Iraq inevitably have affected domestic policy. The economic recession is over, but millions of Americans remain out of work, and the Bush administration does not have a comprehensive plan to support economic expansion.
That said, the candidacy of Sen. John Kerry is far from ideal. But unlike the president and vice president, both of whom avoided wartime service, Sen. Kerry served the nation with great distinction in war, and he has a clear understanding of the gravity of the decision to go to war -- and of the needs of the soldiers who have been placed in harm's way.
Sen. Kerry, far more than President Bush, is positioned to rebuild the international alliances that ultimately are essential to sharing intelligence and information in the war against terrorism.
Sen. Kerry has proposed some interesting and important ideas domestically, including a health care plan that would reach the millions of Americans who are uninsured.
The president's decision to commit U.S. forces to war in Iraq was, as Sen. Kerry has said, the wrong decision at the wrong time. Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden remains at large, and al-Qaeda and its murderous affiliates remain a threat to international security. Meanwhile, Iran and North Korea are developing the weapons of mass destruction that President Bush was certain would be found in Iraq.
The Bush administration's arrogance and refusal to admit error is deeply troubling -- as is the suggestion that those who question the administration's ineffectual prosecution of the war are somehow unpatriotic.
It is worth noting that the two best candidates in public life -- candidates who would provide strong but reasoned leadership -- are not on the ballot. A ticket comprised of Sen. John McCain of Arizona for president and Sen. Dick Lugar of Indiana for vice president would be clearly superior to the choice Americans face on Nov. 2.
Unfortunately, that is not an option.
The sad fact is that the Bush administration should be replaced because it has been incompetent in prosecuting the war and in handling a domestic economy increasingly threatened by a runaway federal deficit.
Sen. Kerry is the better choice for leadership in the next four years.