Anniversaries are historical page markers; they denote a time to pause and reflect. On the second anniversary of the September 11 attacks, we mark not only the terrible loss of life on that day but a failure of American leadership. It is also a time to raise the fundamental question that has supposedly focused the national effort for the past two years: Have we become safer, more secure, today?

Wherever we look the answer is no. The Bush Administration has squandered the good will that flowed from the rest of the world after the attacks. The Administration’s go-it-alone, militarist foreign policy divided and weakened the United Nations and alienated longstanding allies. Now an isolated United States faces rising casualty lists and costs in Iraq and turns to the UN it once scorned for help–with an arrogance ill suited to winning friends.

The Iraq war, promoted by a White House disinformation campaign, diverted resources and undercut global antiterrorist strategies. Bungled postwar planning fueled anti-Americanism and unleashed chaos and disorder. These consequences were foreseen by antiwar critics, including this magazine, but the critics’ warnings were swamped by the Administration’s lies.

Poor postwar planning has also vitiated the antiterrorist effort in Afghanistan, where US troops are again battling Taliban forces. Reconstruction has gone slowly because donor nations, particularly the United States, have not come through, while lack of security in the countryside hampers aid efforts. Women are back in burqas; warlords misrule in the provinces.

In the Middle East, the neocon claim that defeating Saddam Hussein would enhance the prospects of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement by eliminating a powerful supporter of Palestinian militancy has proved illusory. The “road map” is in tatters. The Sharon government kills Hamas leaders and builds its divisive wall; Palestinian suicide bombers lash back with more blind carnage.

In the Far East, the threat of a conventional or even nuclear war has not diminished. Multilateral talks with North Korea have started, but influential hard-liners in the Administration continue to press for “regime change.” China now says the United States is the “main obstacle” to a peaceful settlement with Pyongyang.

At home the Administration has failed to take sufficient measures to protect us. As David Corn writes on page 26, “crucial areas of homeland security–ports, chemical plants, emergency response, biodefense–are not getting adequate attention or funding.” Meanwhile, the Administration builds a bigger national security state, suppressing civil liberties and bullying aliens and other politically weak groups. (A hopeful sign is that its policies have sparked growing opposition, even among conservatives.)

With the skyrocketing costs of the war, and his tax cuts for the wealthy, the President has placed the nation’s fiscal security at risk and left the financially strapped states reeling. Since 2001, 2.7 million jobs have been lost, the average length of unemployment is at the highest point in two decades and real average weekly earnings have been steadily declining.

After jet planes guided by blind hatred smashed into the World Trade towers and the Pentagon, killing more than 3,000, most Americans placed their trust in our leaders. This Administration has betrayed that trust. It has misled the people for partisan ends and trampled on our liberties. The central issue in the 2004 presidential election is becoming clear. This Administration has become a great threat to American values. We must oust it and take back our democracy.