George Soros has one mission right now: to defeat President George W. Bush on Nov. 2. Success in his mission, Soros said, would be the "greatest good deed [he] could do for the world."
"I am afraid that we have entered a vicious circle of escalating violence, where our fears and their rage feed off each other," said the billionaire philanthropist, as he began a nationwide speaking tour at Pitt yesterday.
Soros spoke to an enthusiastic audience Tuesday afternoon at Teplitz Memorial Courtroom in the Barco Law Building.
"Bush's war in Iraq has done untold damage to the United States," he said. "If we re-elect him now, we endorse the Bush doctrine of preemptive action and the invasion of Iraq, and we will have to live with the consequences."
Soros reminded the audience that, while Americans count the body bags of American soldiers, "the rest of the world also looks at the Iraqis killed daily."
"There have been 15 times more [Iraqis killed than Americans], he said, adding that "far too many were totally innocent, including many women and children."
"Every innocent death helps the terrorists' cause by stirring anger against America and bringing them potential recruits," he said.
Iraq, he repeated more than once, "was President Bush's unintended gift to bin Laden."
Soros was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1930. He survived the Nazi occupation and fled the Communist rule of Hungary in 1947. In the United States, Soros accumulated billions of dollars through an international investment fund that he started with $5000.
In his speech, Soros repeated what he learned from his experience with totalitarian regimes, and from studying under the influential philosopher Karl Popper at the London School of Economics.
"Fascism and communism are similar in that they proclaim to hold an ultimate truth. But it is better to live in an open, imperfect society in which change is possible," Soros said.
Soros leveled strong criticism of the Bush administration's domestic actions following Sept. 11, 2001.
"For 18 months, [Bush] managed to suppress all dissent by calling it unpatriotic," Soros said."That is how he could lead the nation so far in the wrong direction."
Soros became an active philanthropist in 1979, promoting democracy and open societies. His foundation network spends about $450 million every year in 50 countries throughout the world.
Pittsburgh was the first stop on a one-month tour of the country. He is expected to spend as much as $3 million delivering his anti-Bush message in 12 major cities.
Soros has given himself over to a high level of media exposure for the cause of unseating Bush.
"I don't normally do this, but these are not normal times," he said yesterday.
The 74-year-old has been called a "sleazoid" by Fox commentator Bill O'Reilly, who also said Soros sits "as far left as you can get without moving to Havana."
Soros said he has been "demonized by the Bush campaign." In his opening words yesterday, he said he hopes his views will be heard despite this, for it is his belief that the president is "endangering our safety, hurting our vital interests and undermining American values."
Last week, Soros ran a two-page ad in the Wall Street Journal detailing his critique of the Bush administration -- something he did in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Monday, and will do in 35 other newspapers during the course of his month-long campaign.
To the question of whether his campaign has been well-received within the financial community in which he made his fortune, Soros said he had received many supportive calls from friends after the Journal ad ran. He nevertheless told the press briefing after the speech, with a smile, that it may appear he is "biting the hand that feeds [him]."
Soros said he was not in contact with the Kerry campaign, and that he did not speak for Kerry.
"I am not a surrogate," he said, and throughout the speech and in his literature, there is no overriding pro-Kerry message.
For Soros, the defeat of Bush is imperative. Indeed, this election, he said, "is the most important of [his] lifetime."
Speaking to the National Press Club last week, Soros said he realizes that what he says is bound to be unpopular.
"We are in the grip of misperceptions fostered by the Bush administration," he said. "No politician could say it and hope to be elected. That is why I feel obliged to speak out."
The "vicious circle" that he is afraid of, Soros said yesterday, is "not likely to end soon".
"If we re-elect President Bush, we are telling the world that we approve of his policies, and we shall be at war for a long time to come."