Retired Army Col. Ann Wright joined the Foreign Service of the U.S. Department of State in 1987, serving as deputy chief of mission in such trouble spots as Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. She left in protest the day before the invasion of Iraq, telling Secretary of State Colin Powell in a letter of resignation that she could not in good conscience support the Bush administration’s foreign policies and curtailment of civil liberties at home.

Since then, Wright has been a leading antiwar activist who’s been arrested numerous times at White House protests and, most recently, for disrupting a Senate Armed Services committee hearing at which Gen. David Petraeus was testifying. She is co-author, with Susan Dixon, of Dissent, Voices of Conscience: Government Insiders Speak Out Against the War in Iraq.

Wright will speak at N.C. Peace Action’s awards dinner Tuesday, May 20, in Raleigh (info: 469-0831). You can also hear her May 21 at 7 p.m. at The Regulator Bookshop in Durham, and May 22 at 7 p.m. at McIntyre’s Fine Books in Pittsboro.

Most Americans realize that the war in Iraq was a mistake, but we aren’t as clear about what to do next. Is there any role for our military in Iraq? Or should we simply get out?

Most Americans … don’t want the withdrawal of American forces to result in even more bloodshed. After a five-year presence of the most powerful military in the world, Iraq is a very violent place in great measure because of our presence. The only way to give the Iraqis the space to make their political, economic and security deals on how they intend to operate their country is by removing the source of contention for over 80 percent of Iraqisthe presence of U.S. forces.

Meanwhile, there’s talk of putting more troops into Afghanistan before that government falls apart. What should the U.S. be doing in Afghanistan?

I was on the team that reopened the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, in December 2001. We knew the window of opportunity to assist the Afghan people would be short. [But the] resources, military and economic, needed in Afghanistan … were diverted to what became the war on Iraq. Seven years later, with 40,000 NATO forces and 20,000 U.S. forces, the Taliban is returning with new recruits, better trained and better equipped by their supporters in Pakistan. Poppy and heroin cultivation in each of the seven years has outproduced the previous year. After 25 years of wars with the Soviets and their own warlords, the poor Afghan people have had another seven years of war. Rebuilding that devastated country should be our priority. Allowing the Afghan government to have programs of reconciliation, to hopefully bring moderate elements of the Taliban into the community and undercut the ultraconservative Taliban, would be the only hope for a semi-peaceful future.

You’ve written a book about dissenters in the government, and you’re a shining example. But dissent seemed in short supply when we needed it most, to the point that you must wonder whether the U.S. can be trusted to be military cop to the world?

Dissenters are alive and welljust a month ago, a four-star admiral, William Fallon, the head of the U.S. military’s Central Command, spoke out publicly in disagreement with the Bush policy of aggression toward Iran. Of course, he was fired, but he did alert the public to be very suspicious of the Bush evidence of dangers coming from Iran. Diplomacy, not bullets, is what Fallon was calling for.

After a distinguished career in the military and Foreign Service establishment, is it any fun being a dissident member of the anti-establishment?

I take very seriously my role as an opponent of virtually every policy of the Bush-Cheney administration. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and thousands of Americans have died because of their war of choice on Iraq. I value very much the friends I have made among fellow Americans who also are working every day to end war, torture, false imprisonment, eavesdroppingand the list goes on.

What advice would you give a newly inaugurated President Obama, Clinton or McCain?

I would advise the next president, no matter who it is, to end the war on Iraq; use diplomacy with Iran; stop torture; approve a law saying torture is not the national policy of the United States; close Guantanamo and put [anyone] they intend to charge with crimes into the federal court system; repeal the Military Commissions Act; stop illegal eavesdropping; repeal the PATRIOT Act; hold government officials accountable if they commit criminal acts; and regain the respect of other countries by ending aggressive, illegal actions by our country. Peace!