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In the history of the republic, no president has undertaken a more serious endeavor than taking this country to war. And any wartime president is rightly judged on the wisdom he showed in going to war, the efficiency in which his administration fought the conflict and how it won the peace.

It is now clear that President Bush's leadership in two of these areas has come up tragically short. But Bush is guilty of far more than bad judgment. He is guilty of misleading the American people. There is overwhelming evidence that he ignored information that contradicted the casus belli of this conflict: that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

Even worse, he failed to share that information fully with the American people or key congressional leaders. Simply put, we are now in a war that has claimed more than 1,100 American lives because the president and his senior advisers were so determined to depose Saddam that they relied only on evidence that bolstered their case. It is not a performance that merits re-election. For this and a number of other reasons, we endorse the Democratic nominee, Sen. John Kerry, for president.

Refusal to accept reality

Incredibly, the president continues to defend the decision to go to war because Saddam was an evil butcher who murdered his own people, was a threat to seek weapons of mass destruction once sanctions were lifted and had significant links to al-Qaida. That Saddam fit the definition of evil is a fact. The latter two assertions, however, are mere speculation or demonstrably untrue. More to the point, however, is that those three circumstances did not constitute the case for war that the president presented to America and the world.

Does anyone seriously believe that the American people would have supported an invasion of Iraq based on what Saddam, armed only with conventional weapons, might have done? The president now says that he acted in good faith on bad intelligence regarding Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction. That is simply untrue. Here is just a fraction of the evidence that destroys that disingenuous defense:

The administration said aluminum tubes purchased in 2001 could only be used to build nuclear weapons. But the Energy Department refuted that conclusion at least three times in 2001. The International Atomic Energy Agency also said the administration's conclusion was wrong.

In February 2003, the CIA told the White House there was no direct evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or had reconstituted its program to produce them.

The man the president himself named to lead the CIA, Porter Goss, told a Senate committee that National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Cheney went beyond available intelligence when they said Iraq had links to al-Qaida and possessed an active nuclear weapons program.

It is a president's job to weigh contradictory views in his administration, not turn a blind eye to credible information.

The unprincipled methods the president used to take us to war would be reason enough to deny him a second term. But having decided to invade Iraq, the president and his advisers compounded their poor judgment by failing to provide the resources necessary to prevent the breakdown of civil authority.

Losing the peace

This administration didn't understand the culture of Iraq, and worse, let itself be influenced by the discredited head of the Iraqi National Congress, exile Ahmed Chalabi, whose information on weapons of mass destruction was not only wrong, but self-serving. Chalabi saw himself as the leader of a new Iraq, and stood to benefit by the invasion. Moreover, Chalabi sold administration officials on the fairy tale that the Iraqi people would welcome the coalition forces with open arms. America is now paying the price for that shortsightedness with a bloody insurgency.

After months of failing to find his footing, Kerry has effectively framed the debate over Iraq. It was, he said, the wrong war at the wrong time fought for the wrong reasons. And while the Bush campaign has used that to question Kerry's commitment to the war on terror, the senator could not be more clear about his desire to continue the war on Islamic terrorists and stabilize Iraq. The Bush campaign has tried to paint Kerry as weak on defense. It's a phony charge. Although the senator voted against the first Gulf War, he has supported U.S. military force continuously over the years, including armed incursions in Panama, Grenada, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. It is not the record of a man who is reticent to act in the interests of this country, even when killing is required. Keep in mind, this is a man of wealth and privilege who could have done what thousands of other affluent and middle-class young men did during the Vietnam War -- get a safe spot in the National Guard or Reserves. Instead, Kerry volunteered for duty in Vietnam. Once there, he commanded a small boat in a combat zone, where he was wounded while fighting with honor.

A thoughtful domestic policy

Kerry may not be the ideal candidate for president, but he has demonstrated a thoughtful approach to domestic matters. His commitment to rolling back some tax cuts that disproportionately benefited the most affluent Americans is a fair policy, especially in light of a spiraling deficit that was primarily caused by the ill-conceived cuts, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. What's more, giving well-off Americans large tax breaks while presiding over an economy that has lost millions of jobs is, at best, insensitive. At worst, it's an unprecedented redistribution of wealth from the poor and middle class to the most affluent.

The environment is another area that clearly differentiates Kerry and Bush. It is impossible to understand why the president, through his refusal to actively pursue oil conservation, continues to make this country a slave to Persian Gulf oil. Moreover, this policy forces the United States to support tyrannical governments in that region, which betrays the principles of our country and further inflames the hatred of the Muslim masses toward America.

Kerry wants to raise fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks to 36 miles a gallon. Over the next several years, that could free us from the need to import oil from the Persian Gulf. Bush believes that we can drill our way to oil independence, a position that neutral observers have dismissed as wildly unrealistic.

As for clean air, the administration's newest regulations -- the Clean Air Rules of 2004 -- actually set slightly weaker clean-air goals than Bush's earlier Clear Skies Initiative, which in turn set standards that were weaker than the Clean Air Act passed years ago.

A Kerry presidency also would ensure that the erosion of Americans' rights would be halted. The next president will almost certainly appoint at least one Supreme Court justice, perhaps more, and justices appointed by Kerry could be expected to protect a woman's right to choose by upholding pro-choice laws. What's more, Kerry has rightly called for a scaling back of the Patriot Act, passed in the heat of the attacks of Sept. 11.

This page has acknowledged that some privacy rights need to be surrendered in the name of security. But Attorney General John Ashcroft has used that necessity to trample basic tenets of the Constitution. Before a federal judge struck it down, one part of the act gave the government unchecked authority to get customer records from Internet service providers and other businesses without court supervision. Some suspects, later proved to have had no link to terrorism, were held for inordinately long periods of time without being able to talk to a lawyer. A Kerry presidency would end those abuses.

An administration of ideologues

If there is one overarching theme to the Bush administration, it is the triumph of ideology over judgment. Mitigating facts and educated opinions simply are dismissed if they conflict with conservative dogma.

When the National Cancer Institute wanted to say that abortion does not increase the rate of breast cancer, the administration refused to let it. When a report from the Environmental Protection Agency included a warning about global warming, the administration took it out of the document. When a Web page from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said education about condom use does not lead to increased sexual activity, it vanished from the Internet. The quality that many admire in the president -- his strong-willed conviction -- too often turns into a liability when he refuses to reconsider his positions even in light of conflicting evidence.

The president deserves much credit for his actions in the months following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Using CIA assets on the ground in Afghanistan and skillfully employing forces of the Northern Alliance, he unleashed this country's military might on the Taliban government that gave refuge to Osama bin Laden and provided a base for al-Qaida. In short, he attacked those who attacked us. But then he diverted the country's attention to a dictator who posed no immediate threat to this country, and who could have been contained without resorting to war.

Kerry promises to focus our efforts on terrorists who threaten us, protect civil liberties, return fairness to our tax policy and implement a plan to free us from dependence on Persian Gulf oil. That platform merits his election.

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