It’s taken far too long but Campaign 2004 finally got around to issues in this century.

With little over a month to go, George W. Bush and John F. Kerry still talk about their war records but at least it’s the current war over in Iraq, not what did or did not happen in Vietnam over three decades ago.

The bombings continue in Iraq. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

The bombings continue in Iraq. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

Like most Americans, I no longer give a damn what either of these men did 35 years ago. I’m more concerned about what they will do over the next four years. That’s what matters and the central issue of this campaign should be that damn war in Iraq where more than 1,000 Americans have died, along with countless Iraqi civilians, and where God knows how many more will perish before we find a way out of the quagmire.

Of course, as happens too often when another country decides to impose its will on another, we can’t just pack up the Humvees and leave. Iraq is a mess – politically, economically, socially and otherwise. The sounds of car bombs and mortar attacks fill the air daily. An intel report that managed to find its way public before the Bush spinmeisters could sanitize it says the country is on the verge of all-out civil war.

We promised the Iraqis freedom and gave them chaos. We promised Baghdad peace and turned it into Beirut. A year ago, the President of the United States flew onto an aircraft carrier and proclaimed “Mission Accomplished.” We know now that it was anything but.

Bush’s Secretary of State, the more principled Colin Powell, admits Iraq is a mess. “Yes, it’s getting worse,” Powell said on ABC’s This Morning with George Stephanopoulos this past Sunday. This, of course, sent the spinners at 1600 Penn scrambling but they couldn’t find a way to soften what Powell said. The man who knows a hell of a lot more about war than either of the Presidential contenders summed up the situation in four words: Yes, it’s getting worse.

We’ve been in these quagmires before: Vietnam, Korea, Bosnia, Lebanon: In every case without a decent exit strategy. While our leaders stumbled over each other trying to find a “politically-feasible” way to get out, more Americans died – just as they will in Iraq.

But does either George W. Bush or John F. Kerry offer a way to get out of this mess without leaving Iraq worse off than it was when Bush decided to invade the country last year?

Not really. Bush defends his actions against mounting evidence his rationale for going to war was wrong, his strategy for winning the hearts and minds of Iraqi flawed and his exit strategy non-existent.

Kerry, who as a Senator voted to let Bush wage the war, tries to play both sides of the fence, saying he voted to give the President the authority to go to war but – if he had been President – he would not have gone to war, a vague distinction that only adds to the public perception that he goes with whatever direction a political wind happens to blow.

And while we spend billions in what may be a no-win scenario and more and more Americans come home in coffins, Osama bin Laden’s terror network regroups and grows, secure in the knowledge that a nation pre-occupied with an ill-conceived war in Iraq cannot deploy its limited resources to stopping madmen who flourish elsewhere.

Osama’s attack on this country on September 11, 2001, brought this country together in a united stand against a common enemy. For a while, our resolve made it tougher for another such attack to stun the nation. 

But George W. Bush’s attack on Iraq three years later tore this country apart, left it divided, bitter and angry – and an easier target for those who want to destroy our way of life.  John Kerry, along with too many other lemmings in Congress, voted to let him do it.

We need a strong leader to put this country back together. Unfortunately, the Presidential ballot we consider on November 2 does not offer a strong leader as a choice.