If representative government were alive and well in America, President Bush would not have dared to give the speech he made Monday on the fifth anniversary of 9/11. In a blatantly partisan screed, the President ripped off a nation’s mourning for the 9/11 victims in order to justify his totally unrelated and disastrous invasion of Iraq.

The President’s shameless remarks on this solemn occasion were so rife with egregious distortions of fact and logic as to beg ridicule, let alone refutation by a free press, a sturdy political opposition party and an informed public. Sadly, those three essential pillars of a free society have been subverted by five years of willful presidential exploitation of our fears, mocking the Founding Fathers’ historic dream of a government accountable to the public.

The model for this Administration is the opposite of Jeffersonian democracy, and instead increasingly invites comparison with the madness that destroyed Rome, Germany and the Soviet Union: authoritarianism that thrives on stoking paralyzing fear of the barbarians at the gate. “We are in a war that will set the course for this new century and determine the destiny of millions across the world,” Bush said, justifying his Iraq quagmire while sidestepping the fact that Islamic extremism, as well as fifteen of the nineteen hijackers, was most clearly nurtured by Saudi Arabia, the bizarre oil theocracy with intimate ties to the Bush dynasty, but not former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

“Since the horror of 9/11, we’ve learned a great deal about the enemy,” continued the President. “We have learned that they form a global network of extremists who are driven by a perverted vision of Islam.” But if such a network exists, it now extends to Iraq only as a result of the US invasion.

“We have learned that their goal is to build a radical Islamic empire where women are prisoners in their homes, men are beaten for missing prayer meetings and terrorists have a safe haven to plan and launch attacks on America and other civilized nations,” Bush said. Tragically, he is describing quite accurately the situation in most of post-invasion Iraq, where his great “shock-and-awe” attempt at nation-building has turned a stable secular dictatorship into a post-apocalyptic civil war, where only religious extremists and power-mad nihilists thrive.

In urging us to join him at the barricades of what he calls “the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century and the calling of our generation,” Bush cynically conflates Hussein with that deposed dictator’s sworn enemy, the religious fanatics of Al Qaeda, mere days after the Republican-run Senate Select Committee on Intelligence established yet again that the two were fundamentally at odds.

Hussein, the Senate committee announced Friday, “did not trust Al Qaeda or any other radical Islamist group and did not want to cooperate with them.”

In fact, Hussein was exactly the kind of regional strongman the United States supported, trained and propped up throughout the cold war. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, then working for President Ronald Reagan, even infamously embraced Hussein in the ’80s because his Iraq was considered a bulwark against fundamentalist revolutionary Iran.

Now we have all but handed post-Hussein Iraq to Shiite fundamentalists trained by and allied with the Iran of the ayatollahs. On Monday, the prime minister of “liberated” Iraq, who spent years in exile under the tutelage of Iran’s ayatollahs, was back in Tehran concluding agreements on mutual security with the leader of that “rogue regime.” How bizarre that Bush’s invasion of Iraq, a country that did not have a functioning WMD program, has vastly increased the power of Iran, which, according to Bush, does. Sometimes, by accident, Bush gets it close to right. “Our nation is being tested in a way that we have not been since the start of the cold war,” he said. Unfortunately, it is his Administration that is testing us with its relentless incompetence, attacks on our civil liberties and inability to acknowledge the bankruptcy of its policies. The more his deadly failures have become evident, the shriller the rhetoric and the more his Administration digs in its heels.

Peel back the lies and hyperbole from Bush’s speech and you are left with one pressing concern: If this “war on terror” is really so important to the worldwide battle for freedom, why have we allowed this democracy-mocking demagogue to lead us through it?