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.
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.
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.
The arms 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.