Emboldened by the success of inciting nationwide fear to justify it, George W. Bush is squandering
American blood and treasure in a fraudulent war. His willful and overt betrayal of the public trust
is unprecedented, and it should become the transcendent issue of the presidential campaign.
Never before has a President consciously deceived the American people with fright, in order to
justify the invasion of a sovereign nation. What greater high crime and misdemeanor can there be?
If the Congress lacks the will even to speak of impeaching George W. Bush, then you, Presidential
candidates, must assure his removal. The man is morally unfit to be President.
In varying degrees you all oppose the war. Several of you indict the President for having misled
you, prior to voting on the war resolution. Others saw Saddam Hussein's threat as insufficient to
justify the invasion. You have condemned the bait-and-switch tactics. These efforts are laudable,
but the President's fear mongering to deceive the American people needs to be a central and explicit
focus of this campaign.
Many Americans don't sense the President's betrayal. It was not accomplished with a single
bald-faced lie or some other conspicuous event, but by an incremental and cumulative process of
exaggeration, distortion, and reliance on militant symbolism and metaphor. It began with the
trigger event of 9/11, continued with the Axis of Evil speech, grew with the "war on terrorism"
rhetoric, and then it catapulted us by design into combat. The betrayal was not episodic and
visible, but programmatic and alluring, and that is why so many Americans supported the war.
But the war is a symptom. George W. Bush is the disease, and his betrayal of the public trust is
The attack on the Trade Towers and the Pentagon was the ingenious achievement of a depraved fanatic.
Within hours President Bush knew that. He knew it was not the first step into to cataclysmic
violence-a poisoned continent or a nuclear Armageddon.
No one will dispute the horror of September 11th, but it was not as severe or as threatening as the
attack on Pearl Harbor six decades ago, to which the Bush people immediately compared it. More
people were killed on 9/11, they shrilled, but that is typical of their misleading hyperbole. In
jeopardizing national security, four jetliners flown by lunatics are hardly equivalent to wave after
wave of Japanese bombers and a naval armada at sea.
But President Bush undertook deliberately, immediately and for the next two years, to strike fear
and anxiety-yes, even terror-into the American psyche. Painting images of an Axis of Evil, of "mass
destruction" from horrific weapons in the hands of shadowy and demonized "terrorists," George W.
Bush himself became the greatest terrorist of all.
There are books and DVD movies on the streets today describing this deception, this brilliant
campaign of propaganda.
Today the situation in Iraq is epic tragedy, a colossus of failed policy. With exquisite justice, it
is becoming a political liability for the Bush Administration.
And the American economy is teetering, utterly unsustainable. It survives only by
exporting millions of high paying jobs and by importing a billion dollars of foreign capital each
day-to finance not investment, but consumption. This, too, is a huge political liability.
His foreign and domestic policy in shambles, the President presses his only
tawdry success, the campaign of fear and deception. His Administration
continues to trumpet the "war on terrorism." Condoleezza Rice pictures mushroom clouds over
America. Vice President Cheney warns of an "ultimate nightmare," of losing "hundreds of thousands
of lives in a single day of war."
No, international terrorism is not to be treated with indifference or minimized, but magnifying the
threat into a terrifying delusion is yet more irresponsible. Still, we hear on the Sunday morning
talk shows, "The American people know it is better to fight the terrorists on the streets of Baghdad
than on the streets of New York."
We accept that inane comparison because we have been propagandized, persuaded to do so. We are a
trusting people, wanting to believe in the good will and integrity of our leaders. And we do.
Never have we been so betrayed.
This is the overarching issue in the campaign today, and you, Presidential candidates, need to
address it head on. You need to call the willful deception for what it is, and you need to show how
it was accomplished. Yes, it will demand much political courage to counter and correct the
exaggerations and distortions of the last two years, in order to help America understand its
betrayal. Nothing will call for greater statesmanship, compassion, and skill. But no one in
America today has a better opportunity-or more responsibility-to do this than the nine of you.
A recent newspaper story about a speech in Birmingham, Alabama, displays your challenge: "President
Bush...brought a crowd to its feet Monday when he declared: 'The enemy in Iraq believes America will
run...America will never run!'" Now, his betrayal completed and beyond notice, the President
invokes the determination and courage of the American character, and his audience cheers.
It is despicable to exploit the patriotism of trusting people, but the case against President Bush
must be made with grace, not invective. The people in Birmingham and elsewhere, who believe George
Bush is telling the truth, will not and should not accept blindly a simple, impassioned accusation
to the contrary. You need instead to show them the evidence, carefully and truthfully, and then ask
them to judge if it justifies the conclusion of betrayal. The answer is self-evident to many
Americans: your challenge is to make it so for the rest.
You have the statesmanship, the compassion, and the skill to raise this issue and to pose these
questions. The defeat of George W. Bush will be more assured when you do.
Richard W. Behan's latest book is 'Plundered Promise: Capitalism, Politics, and the Fate of the Federal Lands' (Island Press, 2001).
Behan is currently working on a more broadly rendered critique, 'America's Derelict Democracy: The Corporate Seizure of Our Nation's Agenda'. He can be reached by email at email@example.com. This essay is deliberately not copyrighted, so permission to reproduce it is unnecessary.