I asked George Soros two questions at the news conference that followed his recent speech at the University of Pittsburgh.
First, I asked if he considered the threat from militant Islam to be as dangerous as the threat we previously faced from Nazism and Communism. And second, since he had just finished presenting his case that the Bush administration' s doctrine of preemptive action and the invasion of Iraq were only making matters worse, I asked Soros to prioritize what he'd do to fight terrorism.
On the first question, he replied that Islam isn't monolithic, isn't uniform. "It is a threat, but there are Shiite Muslims in jail right now in Iran for advocating an open society," he said. Paradoxically, according to Soros, the Bush administration, while asserting that it's fighting for democracy, is in point of fact moving the world away from the concept of a free and open society, both here at home and in the Middle East, away from the concept that values civil liberties and a full and free discussion of the issues -- away, in other words, from the nuts and bolts of democracy.
The war in Iraq, inadvertently, has become "President Bush's unintended gift to bin Laden," Soros charged, a gift of an "unnecessary war" that's producing more anger against the United States, more recruits for al Qaeda, and more credibility for those in the Arab world who oppose the creation of open societies. "The invasion of Iraq bred more people willing to risk their lives against Americans than we were able to kill -- generating a vicious circle of escalating violence with no end in sight," Soros contended, producing a quagmire that's decreasing our security, expanding our debt, killing our troops, impairing our military power, driving away allies, and eroding our values.
"All my experience in fostering democracy and open society has taught me that democracy cannot be imposed by military means," Soros stated in his lecture prior to the news conference. "And Iraq would be the last place I would choose for an experiment in introducing democracy -- as the current chaos demonstrates."
Here at home, Soros argued that the Bush administration is also undermining the values of an open society, the precise ideals and civil liberties that he said drew him to America after being born in Hungary and living through fascism, the Holocaust and Communism. What came crashing down on September 11, he maintained, was not just the World Trade Center but also the critical process of a full and honest debate of the issues -- a vital precondition for democracy.
President Bush's declaration that "either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists" set off the alarm bells, said Soros. "The fact that the terrorists are evil does not make whatever counter-actions we take automatically good," he contended. "What we do to combat terrorism may also be wrong, and recognizing that we may be wrong is the foundation of an open society."
In reply to my second question, about how he would fight terrorism, Mr. Soros stated that we should start by correcting our own behavior, by looking at what we've done wrong. One thing he sees as wrong is that George W. Bush is Commander-in-Chief. Another wrong, he explained, is that the United States isn't yet signed up with the Kyoto treaty or the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
It's at that point that my own alarm bells began to ring. To implement the U.N.'s Framework Convention for Climate Change, the Kyoto rules require industrialized nations to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, starting with a 5.2 percent cut over 10 years. But the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changes is already saying that's not enough and that the reduction should be around 60 percent to really make a difference. The problem, on top of the job losses, is that we don't even know if the greenhouse effect is actually increasing, or even if human activity has anything to do with it.
And with the International Criminal Court, designed to try people for war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity, who can say that American troops won't be pulled up for trial, or anyone caught in a Cadillac Escalade, once driving a big ol' thang is judged to be a transgression against humanity?
Bottom line? The more I listened, the more I didn't like the idea of a "global test."