Dear President Bush: I kissed my son goodbye today.
He is a 21-year-old Marine.
You have ordered him to Saudi Arabia.
The letter telling us he was going arrived at our vacation cottage in northern Wisconsin by Express Mail on Aug. 13. We left immediately for North Carolina to be with him. Our vacation was over.
Some commentators say you are continuing your own vacation to avoid appearing trapped in the White House, as President Carter was during the Iran hostage crisis. Perhaps that is your reason.
However, as I sat in my motel room watching you on television, looking through my son's hastily written last will and testament and listening to military equipment rumble past, you seemed to me to be both callous and ridiculous chasing golf balls and zipping around in your boat in Kennebunkport.
While visiting my son, I had a chance to see him pack his chemical-weapons suit and try on his body armor. I don't know if you've ever had this experience, Mr. President. I hope you never will.
I also met many of my son's fellow soldiers. They are fine young men.
A number told me that they were from poor families.
They joined the Marines as a way of earning enough money to go to college.
None of the young men I met are likely to be invited to serve on the board of directors of a savings and loan association, as your son Neil was.
And none of them have parents well enough connected to call or write a general to ensure that their child stays out of harm's way, as Vice President Dan Quayle's parents did for him during the Vietnam War.
I read in the Raleigh News and Observer that, like you, Quayle and Secretary of State James Baker were on vacation. Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney was in the Persian Gulf.
I think this symbolizes a government that no longer has a non-military foreign-policy vision, one that uses the military to conceal the fraud that American diplomacy has become.
Yes, you have proved a relatively adept tactician in the last three weeks. But if American diplomacy hadn't been on vacation for the better part of a decade, we wouldn't be in the spot we are today.
Where were you, Mr. President, when Iraq was killing its own people with poison gas? Why, until the recent crisis, was it business as usual with Saddam Hussein, the man you now call a Hitler?
You were elected vice president in 1980 on the strength of the promise of a better life for Americans, in a world where the United States would once again ''stand tall."
The Reagan-Bush administration rolled into Washington talking about the magic of a "free market" in oil. You diluted gas-mileage requirements for cars and dismantled federal energy policy.
And now you have ordered my son to the Middle East.
Is the American "way of life" that you say my son is risking his life for the continued "right" of Americans to consume 25 percent to 30 percent of the world's oil?
The "free market" to which you are so fervently devoted has a very high price tag, at least for parents like me and young men and women like my son.
Now that we face the prospect of war, I intend to support my son and his fellow soldiers by doing everything I can to oppose any offensive American military action in the Persian Gulf. The troops I met deserve far better than the politicians and policies that hold them hostage.
As my wife and I sat in a little cafe outside our son's base last week, trying to eat, fighting back tears, a young Marine struck up a conversation with us. As we parted he wished us well and said, "May God forgive us for what we are about to do."
President Bush, the policies you have advocated for the last decade have set the stage for military conflict in the Middle East. Your response to the Iraqi conquest of Kuwait has set in motion events that increasingly will pressure you to use our troops not to defend Saudi Arabia but to attack Iraq.
And I'm afraid that, as that pressure mounts, you will wager my son's life in a gamble to save your political future.
In the past, you have demonstrated no enduring commitment to any principle other than the advancement of your political career.
This makes me doubt that you have either the courage or the character to meet the challenge of finding a diplomatic solution to this crisis.
If, as I expect, you eventually order American soldiers to attack Iraq, then it is God who will have to forgive you. I will not.