The pursuit of "dominance" in foreign policy led the Bush administration to ignore the UN, to do serious damage to our most important alliances, to violate international law, and to cultivate the hatred and contempt of many in the rest of the world. The seductive appeal of exercising unconstrained unilateral power led this president to interpret his powers under the constitution in a way that brought to life the worst nightmare of the founders. Any policy based on domination of the rest of the world not only creates enemies for the US and recruits for al-Qaida, but also undermines the international cooperation that is essential to defeating terrorists who wish to harm and intimidate America. Instead of "dominance", we should be seeking pre-eminence in a world where nations respect us and seek to follow our leadership and adopt our values.
With the blatant failure by the government to respect the rule of law, we face a great challenge in restoring America's moral authority in the world. Our moral authority is our greatest source of strength. It is our moral authority that has been recklessly put at risk by the cheap calculations of this wilful president.
The Bush administration's objective of attempting to establish US domination over any potential adversary was what led to the hubristic, tragic miscalculation of the Iraq war - a painful misadventure marked by one disaster after another, based on one mistaken assumption after another. But the people who paid the price have been the American men and women in uniform trapped over there, and the Iraqis themselves. At the level of our relations with the rest of the world, the administration has willingly traded respect for the US in favour of fear. That was the real meaning of "shock and awe". This administration has coupled its theory of US dominance with a doctrine of pre-emptive strikes, regardless of whether the threat to be pre-empted is imminent or not.
The doctrine is presented in open-ended terms, which means that Iraq is not necessarily the last application. In fact, the very logic of the concept suggests a string of military engagements against a succession of sovereign states - Syria, Libya, North Korea, Iran - but the implication is that wherever the combination exists of an interest in weapons of mass destruction together with an ongoing role as host to, or participant in, terrorist operations, the doctrine will apply. It also means that the Iraq resolution created the precedent for pre-emptive action anywhere, whenever this or any future president decides that it is time. The risks of this doctrine stretch far beyond the disaster in Iraq. The policy affects the basic relationship between the US and the rest of the world. Article 51 of the UN charter recognises the right of any nation to defend itself, including the right to take pre-emptive action in order to deal with imminent threats.
By now, the administration may have begun to realise that national and international cohesion are indeed strategic assets. But it is a lesson long delayed and clearly not uniformly and consistently accepted by senior members of the cabinet. From the outset, the administration has operated in a manner calculated to please the portion of its base that occupies the far right, at the expense of solidarity among all Americans and between our country and our allies. The gross violations of human rights authorised by Bush at Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay and dozens of other locations around the world, have seriously damaged US moral authority and delegitimised US efforts to continue promoting human rights.
President Bush offered a brief and halfhearted apology to the Arab world, but he should make amends to the American people for abandoning the Geneva conventions, and to the US forces for sending troops into harm's way while ignoring the best advice of their commanders. Perhaps most importantly, he owes an explanation to all those men and women throughout our world who have held high the ideal of the US as a shining goal to inspire their own efforts to bring about justice and the rule of law.
Most Americans have tended to give the Bush-Cheney administration the benefit of the doubt when it comes to its failure to take action in advance of 9/11 to guard against an attack. Hindsight casts a harsh light on mistakes that should have been visible at the time they were made. But now, years later, with the benefit of investigations that have been made public, it is no longer clear that the administration deserves this act of political grace from the American people. It is useful and important to examine the warnings the administration ignored - not to point the finger of blame, but to better determine how our country can avoid such mistakes in the future. When leaders are not held accountable for serious mistakes, they and their successors are more likely to repeat those mistakes.
Part of the explanation for the increased difficulty in gaining cooperation in fighting terrorism is Bush's attitude of contempt for any person, institution or nation that disagrees with him. He has exposed Americans abroad and in the US to a greater danger of attack because of his arrogance and wilfulness, in particular his insistence upon stirring up a hornet's nest in Iraq. Compounding the problem, he has regularly insulted the religion, the culture and the tradition of people in countries throughout the Muslim world.
The unpleasant truth is that Bush's failed policies in both Iraq and Afghanistan have made the world a far more dangerous place. Our friends in the Middle East, including most prominently Israel, have been placed in greater danger because of the policy blunders and sheer incompetence with which the civilian Pentagon officials have conducted this war.
We as Americans should have "known then what we know now"- not only about the invasion of Iraq but also about the climate crisis; what would happen if the levees failed to protect New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina; and about many other fateful choices that have been made on the basis of flawed, and even outright false, information. We could and should have known, because the information was readily available. We should have known years ago about the potential for a global HIV/Aids pandemic. But the larger explanation for this crisis in American decision-making is that reason itself is playing a diminished, less respected, role in our national conversation.
Al Gore is a former US vice-president; this is an edited extract from his new book, The Assault on Reason, published this week by Bloomsbury.
© 2007 Al Gore