July 16, 2004
515 NE Graham Street
Portland, OR 97212-3103
President George Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20050-0001
Dear Mr. President:
I wanted to write you to let you know my fears and concerns about where our country is going. I need to tell you that although I love you and would vote for you I just don’t believe that we are headed in the right direction. I don’t feel any safer for our having invaded Iraq and deposed Saddam Hussein. I don’t feel any safer for the U.S.A. Patriot Act or any of the anti-terrorism measures you have imposed. I believe that the only way to combat terrorism is according to the words of Pope Paul VI: “If you want peace, work for justice.” This doesn’t mean condoning terrorist acts. It does mean understanding our enemies, treating them as human beings, and seeking reconciliation.
Why didn’t you go and meet with President Hussein before the war? If you had sat him down and spoken to him, you and he could have come to some understanding. There was room for dialogue. Of course gassing the Kurds and invading Kuwait were evil. But neither were our own responses pure. For one thing, we threw him out of Kuwait not so much because of his own unjust invasion but rather because we felt our own interests were threatened—our oil supply, for one thing. And we did so with overwhelming force that destroyed his army and killed tens of thousands of people, including innocents. Then we backed sanctions which punished the women and children of Iraq more than they hurt him. And then we accused him of harboring weapons of mass destruction, when, as we see now, he manifestly did not, at least not recently. They evidently had all been destroyed. We called him a liar when he was telling the truth.
Now Mr. Hussein is on trial before his own people. I suppose that is just. But have we done the right thing? There is more terrorism over there now than there ever was. And nobody feels safe at home. Let me tell you a story. Recently I had occasion to stay with a friend of mine in a nearby city. He told me that the apartment complex where he lived was running background checks on anyone who stayed, even as a guest, for longer than two weeks, because of fears of terrorism. I left after one week. Mr. President, this is not the America I grew up in (I was born in 1969). This is not the America I want to live in. Things are different now, I agree. But we cannot secure ourselves by promoting a climate of fear where a young man can’t stay with his friend for two weeks without being investigated. We simply cannot stay on this path.
Our late President Reagan was a hero of mine, as I’m sure he was of yours. He was strong leader. He set the tone for this nation and strived, to a large extent, to let us govern ourselves. He believed in the integrity and strength of the individual. You can be a president like President Reagan, and be remembered for your strength. Admit that we made a mistake invading Iraq. We aren’t safer. Whether Iraq will now become a better place is up to God, and not to the Iraqi governing council. If peace comes to Iraq, it will be because peace has come from God, and not from our war machine. Admit that Pope John Paul II was right when he adamantly denounced the war, declaring that you yourself will be “judged by God and by history.” Honestly Mr. President, if the Pope had said that to me, I would be running to the confessional. I know you’re not Catholic. But you can learn a lot from our two great popes, Paul VI and John Paul II, when they teach about the way of peace. Set the agenda for peace. Use the bully pulpit. Preach to this country about the way of reconciliation, which is not the way of overlooking another’s crimes, but is the way of forgiveness. First, admit that Saddam Hussein was right about certain things. We said he was lying about WMD’s, and he wasn’t. We used excessive force in both wars against him. We shouldn’t have backed sanctions that punished women and children. And we have ourselves now killed thousands and thousands of his own countrymen.
Then, teach the American people that we need to forgive (and this is hard) the individuals who brought about September 11. We need to seek mercy for them from God. And, we need to seek the forgiveness of the people of Iraq for the crimes that we ourselves have visited upon them. I know you are Christian, Mr. President. So I know that you know that this is way that Jesus himself taught. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Our country, and each one of us, needs the mercy of God, for we are each one of us sinners. If we hope for His mercy, we must extend it to others, even to our own worst enemies.
This is the only way this country will ever be safe again, if we entrust ourselves to God and do what is right before him. We know what is right: to follow the commands of the Lord. Mr. Bush, President Reagan believed that we are a noble people. I think he was right—we have it in us. Now this is the way of true nobility: to forgive others as God has forgiven us. It is the only way worth living.
Brent Anthony Schefter