Friday, April 30, 2004

George Orwell revisited....

Those of us who strongly opposed another member of the Bush family dragging our nation into another war on Saddam cannot help but wonder: WHY are the Bushes allowed to take actions that are clearly NOT in the U.S.'s best interests?

While Poppy first supported Saddam, he later turned against him without proper warning, namely, that an incursion into Kuwait would mean war with the U.S.

Had Saddam been warned, it is very unlikely that he would have "annexed" the Iraqi "province" given that he was NOT intent on waging war against the U.S. In short, Poppy BLEW IT and the result was...WAR!

Enter his kid who, for reasons that totally escape me, was SElected as president of the U.S. Given his total lack of achievements, his only claim to fame was that he bears his father's name. In short, an insult to every intelligent American.

Consequently, it should not come as a surprise that the "Crusader for Jesus" would drag out nation into another war against Saddam at a time when the latter's only objective was self-preservation given that he was obviously NOT involved in 9/11.

And, should Americans not awaken before the Nov. election, there is no doubt that members of the "Bush-Sharon Axis" will drag the world into a war of....civilizations.

"Regime change" in the U.S. and Israel is imperative given that the war against hatred can NOT be won by triggering more hatred.

New York Times - April 30, 2004

In Front of Your Nose by Paul Krugman

"We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield." That's from George Orwell's 1946 essay "In Front of Your Nose." It seems especially relevant right now, as we survey the wreckage of America's Iraq adventure.

Tomorrow a year will have passed since George Bush's "Mission Accomplished" carrier landing. Throughout that year ? right up to the surge in violence this month ? administration officials assured us that things were going well in Iraq. Living standards, they said, were steadily improving. The resistance, they insisted, consisted of a handful of dead-enders aided by a few foreign infiltrators ? and each lull in attacks brought pronouncements that the campaign against the insurgents had turned the corner.

So they lied to us; what else is new? But there's more at stake here than the administration's credibility. The official story line portrayed a virtuous circle of nation-building, one that could eventually lead to a democratic Iraq, allied with the U.S. In fact, we seem to be faced with a vicious circle, in which a deteriorating security situation undermines reconstruction, and the lack of material progress adds to popular discontent. Can this situation be saved?

Even among harsh critics of the administration's Iraq policy, the usual view is that we have to finish the job. You've heard the arguments: We broke it; we bought it. We can't cut and run. We have to stay the course.

I understand the appeal of those arguments. But I'm worried about the arithmetic.

All the information I've been able to get my hands on indicates that the security situation in Iraq is really, really bad. It's not a good sign when, a year into an occupation, the occupying army sends for more tanks. Western civilians have retreated to armed enclaves. U.S. forces are strong enough to defend those enclaves, and probably strong enough to keep essential supplies flowing. But we don't have remotely enough troops to turn the vicious circle around. The Iraqi forces that were supposed to fill the security gap collapsed ? or turned against us ? at the first sign of trouble.

And all of the proposals one hears for resolving this ugly situation seem to be either impractical or far behind the curve.

Some say we should send more troops. But the U.S. military doesn't have more troops to send, unless it resorts to extreme measures, like withdrawing a large part of the forces currently in South Korea. Did I mention that North Korea is building nuclear weapons, and may already have eight?

Others say we should seek more support from other countries. There may once have been a time ? say, last summer ? when the U.S. could have struck a deal: by ceding a lot of authority to the U.N., we might have been able to persuade countries with large armies, like India, to contribute large numbers of peacekeeping troops. But it's hard to imagine that anyone will now send significant forces into the Iraqi cauldron.

Some pin their hopes on a political solution: they believe that violence will subside if the U.N. is allowed to appoint a caretaker government that Iraqis don't view as a U.S. puppet.

Let's hope they're right. But bear in mind that right now the U.S. is still planning to hand over "sovereignty" to a body, yet to be named, that will have hardly any power at all. For practical purposes, the U.S. ambassador will be running the country. Americans may believe that everything will change on June 30, but Iraqis are unlikely to be fooled. And by the way, much of the Arab world believes that we've been committing war crimes in Falluja.

I don't have a plan for Iraq. I strongly suspect, however, that all the plans you hear now are irrelevant. If America's leaders hadn't made so many bad decisions, they might have had a chance to shape Iraq to their liking. But that window closed many months ago.??

Needed: A U.S. politician willing to stand up to...Sharon

While support for Bush has been dropping to its lowest levels since he was SElected by five U.S. Supremes, support for Sen. Kerry has not been growing of late.

The reason for this seeming dichotomy can be found in the following paragraph:

"Greens called the plan backed by President Bush, Prime Minister Sharon, and
Sen. Kerry (Meet the Press, Sunday, April 18) that allows Israel to keep
and continue to settle on land seized in the 1967 war a disastrous setback
to efforts for peace."

Admittedly, I too almost fell off my chair when Tim Russert asked Kerry if he supported Bush's policies vis-a-vis Israel and he responded with an unconditional: YES!

The question then becomes: Is there ANY American politician left who is NOT willing to CAVE to the demands of Sharon and his U.S. "neoconservative" cohorts?

And, given that Sharon's interests are NOT in the best interests of the U.S., the question then becomes: WHY not?


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Leaders of the Green Party of the United States
strongly criticized President Bush and Democratic presidential candidate
Sen. John Kerry (D.-Mass.) for their identical positions in support of
Israel's policy of assassination, maintenance of illegal settlements on the West Bank
(a reversal of earlier policy), and denial of the right of return for

"The Green Party and its candidates have called for Israel to adhere to
international law and U.N. directives and to dismantle the settlements in
the Palestinian territories, and for the right of Palestinian refuges to
return home," said Ben Manski, co-chair of the Green Party of the United
States.  An American Jew who grew up in Israel, Manski received and
rejected an IDF draft notice when he turned 18.  "We support efforts toward
nonviolent resolution of the crisis by Israelis and Palestinians who are
dedicated to peace and universal human rights, without which we'll never
see security for either Israelis or Palestinians.  These efforts have been
eclipsed by the unrelenting state violence committed by the Israeli
military on orders from the Sharon government, and by a small minority of
desperate Palestinians -- and now by explicit support from the Bush
Administration, under policies apparently dictated by Sharon."

Greens called the plan backed by President Bush, Prime Minister Sharon, and
Sen. Kerry (Meet the Press, Sunday, April 18) that allows Israel to keep
and continue to settle on land seized in the 1967 war a disastrous setback
to efforts for peace.

"We were especially aghast that Sen. Kerry supported the assassination of
Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi, which Greens called a summary and
extra-judicial execution," said Julia Willebrand, co-chair of the Green
Party's International Committee.

The rejection of the Palestinian right of return by Bush, Sharon, and now
Kerry comes on the heels of a landmark 'Right of Return and Just Peace
Conference' held in Haifa, Israel at the end of March, at which over 300
Jewish and Palestinian Israeli citizens gathered for the first time to
refute the claim that unconditional support among Israelis for the right of
Palestinian refugees to return does not exist.  Israeli historian Ilan
Pappe, in the final declaration of the 'Haifa Initiative', stated that,
"What the hundreds of people attending the conference showed was that a
growing number of Jews and Palestinians in Israel regard the implementation
of the Palestinian right of return as the only road to a lasting peace and

"The Green Party continues to support the right of Palestinians to return
to their homes, and regards it as at the heart of the conflict," says
Charles Shaw, media coordinator for the Illinois Green Party.  "Similarly,
Israel must return to its pre-1967 borders as the opener to any peace
negotiations. These are significant differences between our position and
that of the Democrats and Republicans.  John Kerry's views are becoming
indistinguishable from those of George W. Bush."

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

GOPers use FEAR and SMEARS to achieve their objectives

Predictably, right-wing SMEARS are flying fast and furious as nervous GOPers use tactics that can be found in Goebbels' Propaganda Machine manual in an attempt to finish the job they have started: dragging our nation into a war of civilizations.

By using FEAR as their favored instrument, they successfully convinced Americans to support an UNprovoked war that has led to more rather than less terrorism.

By using SMEARS they are presently attempting to transform a decent, intelligent, thoughtful man, John Kerry, into a caricature of himself.

Hopefully, the majority of Americans will NOT fall into their TRAP this time around given that the battle against HATRED will never be won by triggering more hatred.

"Republicans have tried to use this event to question his patriotism and his truthfulness, claiming he has been inconsistent in saying whether he threw away his medals or ribbons. This is no more than a political smear. After risking his life in Vietnam to save others, John Kerry earned the right to speak out against a war he believed was wrong. Make no mistake: it is that bravery these Republicans are now attacking."

New York Times - April 28, 2004

A Sterling Record by Wesley K. Clark

Little Rock, Ark

When John Kerry released his military records to the public last week, Americans learned a lot about Mr. Kerry's exceptional service in Vietnam. They also learned a lot about the Republican attack machine.

The evaluations were uniformly glowing. One commander wrote that Mr. Kerry ranked among "the top few" in three categories: initiative, cooperation and personal behavior. Another commander wrote, "In a combat environment often requiring independent, decisive action, Lt. j.g. Kerry was unsurpassed." The citation for Mr. Kerry's Bronze Star praises his "calmness, professionalism and great personal courage under fire."

In the United States military, there's no ideology — there are no labels, Republican or Democrat — when superiors evaluate a man or woman's service to country. Mr. Kerry's commander for a brief time, Grant Hibbard, now a Republican, gave Mr. Kerry top marks 36 years ago.

Now the standards are those of politics, not the military. Despite his positive evaluations, Mr. Hibbard recently questioned whether Mr. Kerry deserved one of his three Purple Hearts.

In the heat of a political campaign, attacks come from all directions. That's why John Kerry's military records are so compelling; they measure the man before his critics or his supporters saw him through a political lens. These military records show that John Kerry served his country with valor, and that those who served with him and above him held him in high regard. That's honor enough for any veteran.

Yet the Republican attack machine follows a pattern we've seen before, whether the target is Senator John McCain in South Carolina in 2000 or Senator Max Cleland in Georgia in 2002. The latest manifestation of these tactics is the controversy over Mr. Kerry's medals.

John Kerry was awarded three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and a Silver Star for his service in Vietnam. In April 1971, as part of a protest against the war, he threw some ribbons over the fence of the United States Capitol.

Republicans have tried to use this event to question his patriotism and his truthfulness, claiming he has been inconsistent in saying whether he threw away his medals or ribbons. This is no more than a political smear. After risking his life in Vietnam to save others, John Kerry earned the right to speak out against a war he believed was wrong. Make no mistake: it is that bravery these Republicans are now attacking.

Although President Bush has not engaged personally in such accusations, he has done nothing to stop others from making them. I believe those who didn't serve, or didn't show up for service, should have the decency to respect those who did serve — often under the most dangerous conditions, with bravery and, yes, with undeniable patriotism.

Wesley K. Clark, a former Democratic presidential candidate, was commander of NATO forces from 1997 to 2000.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004 trouble again

Ever since he decided to lick Bush's boots and pledge allegiance to "neoconservative" Americans, Tony has become persona non-grata in most of Europe but, in the U.K. as well.

The following rebuke to the Prime Minister points to the fact that, increasingly, the Bush-Tony-Sharon trio is viewed as a roadblock in the fight against hatred:

New York Times - April 27, 2004

British Ex-Diplomats Assail Blair on Mideast by Patrick E. Tyler

LONDON, April 26 — In a rebuke of British and American policy in the Middle East, 52 former ambassadors and senior government officials signed a letter on Monday criticizing Prime Minister Tony Blair for his unflinching support for the Bush administration's approach to occupied Iraq and to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The letter, delivered to Mr. Blair's office and released to the news media, asserted that those policies were "doomed to failure."

Among those signing the letter were former ambassadors to Israel, Iraq and other Middle Eastern capitals, as well as senior British envoys to the United Nations.

They accused both governments of abandoning important principles of impartiality in the Holy Land, while engaging in poor planning and military overkill against Iraqi resistance forces in the Sunni Muslim areas west of Baghdad and in Shiite Muslim strongholds around Najaf.

"It is not good enough to say that the use of force is a matter for local commanders," the letter said, adding, "Heavy weapons unsuited to the task in hand, inflammatory language, the current confrontations in Najaf and Falluja, all these have built up rather than isolated the opposition."

In the Holy Land, the diplomats said, the decision by the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations to publish a "road map" to peace between Israelis and Palestinians had "raised hopes that the major powers would at last make a determined and collective effort to resolve a problem which, more than any other, has for decades poisoned relations between the West and the Islamic and Arab worlds."

But instead of pressing ahead, the diplomats said, "Nothing effective has been done either to move the negotiations forward or to curb the violence." They added, "Britain and the other sponsors of the road map merely waited on American leadership, but waited in vain."

A spokesman for Mr. Blair defended the government's policies as energetic in the pursuit of peace and stability. He said the letter would be studied and a reply drafted. The pointed criticism from career diplomats, all Middle East specialists, who served both Labor and Conservative prime ministers, put Mr. Blair's government immediately on the defensive at a crucial moment of Iraqi crisis and diplomacy. In recent weeks, Mr. Blair's influence in Washington has been questioned as intensely as his influence in Europe, where Britain seeks to play a bridging role.

With political sovereignty in Iraq scheduled to be turned over to an interim government in nine weeks, Britain and the United States are being forced to bolster their occupation forces to take account of the withdrawal of 2,000 soldiers from Spain, Honduras and the Dominican Republic.

A spokeswoman for the British Ministry of Defense appeared to confirm reports that as many as 2,000 more British troops might be dispatched to supplement the troops in Iraq now.

The spokeswoman said that "in light of recent events," discussions were under way "with coalition partners" on troop levels required to cope with a wave of instability that is expected to peak with the transfer of power on June 30.

The letter on Monday came as a surprise, and Mr. Blair's aides were seeking to reiterate his arguments that he believed that the Israeli-Palestinian peace plan might be enhanced by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's decision to pull forces and Israeli settlers out of the Gaza Strip.

One long-serving Middle East envoy who did not sign the letter was Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who has just returned from a six-month tour in Iraq as Mr. Blair's representative in the occupation authority. He complained that his colleagues had failed to "prescribe any alternatives" to the current policies.

"Let's have a bit of persistence in finishing this job," he said in an interview. Nonetheless, Sir Jeremy added that he, too, expressed criticism in Baghdad of some policies because he believed that the "coalition had been careless about killing civilians" and that the initial phase of the military assault on Falluja "was not handled the way it should have been."

Still, he said, there is now a "clear political process" in Iraq, based on negotiation and a more precise use of force. The former diplomats, he said, "should be more balanced" in their assessment.

The diplomats said they shared Mr. Blair's view that Britain has an interest in working closely with the United States in order to exert "real influence as a loyal ally."

But now is the time, they said, to use such influence, and if it is unwelcome in the Bush administration, then "there is no case for supporting policies which are doomed to failure."

"The Passion" vs. "The Da Vinci Code"

Ooooopppsssss....there we go again.

It's "The Passion" vs. "The Da Vinci Code"

And the winner is.....:-)

New York Times - April 27, 2004

Defenders of Christianity Rebut 'The Da Vinci Code' by Laurie Goodstein

Fearing that the best-selling novel "The Da Vinci Code" may be sowing doubt about basic Christian beliefs, a host of Christian churches, clergy members and Bible scholars are rushing to rebut it.

In 13 months, readers have bought more than six million copies of the book, a historical thriller that claims Christianity was founded on a cover-up — that the church has conspired for centuries to hide evidence that Jesus was a mere mortal, married Mary Magdalene and had children whose descendants live in France.

Word that the director Ron Howard is making a movie based on the book has intensified the critics' urgency. More than 10 books are being released, most in April and May, with titles that promise to break, crack, unlock or decode "The Da Vinci Code." Churches are offering pamphlets and study guides for readers who may have been prompted by the novel to question their faith. Large audiences are showing up for Da Vinci Code lectures and sermons.

"Because this book is such a direct attack against the foundation of the Christian faith, it's important that we speak out," said the Rev. Erwin W. Lutzer, author of "The Da Vinci Deception" and senior pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, an influential evangelical pulpit.

The Rev. James L. Garlow, co-author with Prof. Peter Jones of "Cracking Da Vinci's Code" and pastor of Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, said: "I don't think it's just an innocent novel with a fascinating plot. I think it's out there to win people over to an incorrect and historically inaccurate view, and it's succeeding. People are buying into the notion that Jesus is not divine, he is not the son of God."

Among "The Da Vinci Code" critics are evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics who regard the novel, which is laced with passages celebrating feminism, anticlericalism and pagan forms of worship, as another infiltration by liberal cultural warriors. They also say it exploits public distrust of the Roman Catholic Church in the aftermath of the scandal involving sexual abuse by members of the clergy.

The debunking books range from scholarly hardcovers to slim study guides. Among the publishers are well-known Christian houses like Tyndale and Thomas Nelson and less-familiar outfits. Since most of the books have either appeared in stores very recently or have not yet been published, it is too early to say how they are selling.

The critics and their publishers are also hoping to surf the wave of success of "The Da Vinci Code," which has been on The New York Times hardcover fiction best seller list for 56 weeks. There are 7.2 million copies of the book, published by Doubleday, now in print. Of the 10 new Da Vinci-related books, eight are by Christian publishers. One evangelical Christian publisher, Tyndale House, which hit gold with the "Left Behind" books, is about to issue not one but two titles rebutting "The Da Vinci Code."

Dan Brown, the former teacher who wrote "The Da Vinci Code," is declining all interview requests, his publisher says, because he is at work on his next book. But Mr. Brown says on his Web site that he welcomes the scholarly debates over his book. He says that while it is a work of fiction, "it is my own personal belief that the theories discussed by these characters have merit."

"The Da Vinci Code" taps into growing public fascination with the origins of Christianity. More scholars have been writing popular books about the relatively recent, tantalizing archaeological discoveries of Gnostic gospels and texts that offer insights into early Christians whose beliefs departed from the Gospels in the New Testament.

The plot of "The Da Vinci Code" is a twist on the ancient search for the Holy Grail. Robert Langdon, portrayed as a brilliant Harvard professor of "symbology," and Sophie Neveu, a gorgeous Parisian police cryptographer, team up to decipher a trail of clues left behind by the murdered curator at the Louvre Museum, who turns out to be Ms. Neveu's grandfather.

The pair discover that the grandfather had inherited Leonardo da Vinci's mantle as the head of a secret society. The society guards the Holy Grail, which is not a chalice, but is instead the proof of Jesus and Mary Magdalene's conjugal relationship; Langdon and Neveu must race the killer to find it. Along the way they learn that the church has suppressed 80 early gospels that denied the divinity of Jesus, elevated Mary Magdalene to a leader among the apostles and celebrated the worship of female wisdom and sexuality.

The novel, in which even chapters only two pages long end with a cliffhanger, might seem like little more than a potboiler. But it opens with a page titled "Fact." That page concludes: "All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate."

The book portrays Opus Dei, a conservative network of Catholic priests and laity, as a sinister and sadistic sect. In it, an albino Opus Dei monk assassinates four people who guard the secret about the union of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

The real Opus Dei has posted a lengthy response to "The Da Vinci Code" on its Web site, warning, "It would be irresponsible to form any opinion of Opus Dei based on reading `The Da Vinci Code.' "

Our Sunday Visitor, the Catholic publishing company, has published a book and a pamphlet offering a Catholic response to the book. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has also issued its own guide.

One reader, Rob Bellinger, 22, who was raised Catholic and attended Jesuit schools in New York City, read "The Da Vinci Code" and said, "I don't believe it's 100 percent factual, but it did get me thinking about a lot of things."

For example, Mr. Bellinger said, "if you just look at the contemporary church, it's really hard not to raise questions," like why no women are priests.

Though for many readers the notions about Christian history in "The Da Vinci Code" seem new and startling, the novel introduces to a popular audience some of the debates that have gripped scholars of early Christian history for decades.

The academic chatter grew louder after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1950's and of ancient texts in Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945. Among the findings were early Christian scriptures and fragments not included in the New Testament, including writings that scholars have come to call the "Gospels" of Mary, Peter, Philip, Thomas and Q.

"The Da Vinci Code" floats the notion that the fourth-century Roman emperor Constantine suppressed the earlier gospels for political reasons and imposed the doctrine of the divinity of Christ at the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325. A character in "The Da Vinci Code" points out that it is history's winners who get to write history, a refrain echoed by Mr. Brown on his Web site.

A wide spectrum of Christian scholars agree the depiction of the Council of Nicaea is one of the book's most blatant distortions. While there was a diversity of early expressions of Christianity, they agree, Jesus' divinity was part of the church's established canons well before 325, and predates most of the newly found Gnostic and other gospels.

"People were thinking Jesus was divine in some sense or another from the first century on," said Harold W. Attridge, dean of Yale Divinity School and a translator and authority of the Nag Hammadi trove. Professor Attridge, who recently gave a lecture on the novel in California, said that while he welcomed the book as a "teaching opportunity," it "takes facts and gives them a spin that distorts them seriously."

Much of "The Da Vinci Code" scaffolding of conspiracies was constructed in an earlier best seller, "Holy Blood, Holy Grail," published in the 1980's. It relies on a file of documents found in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France that has since been exposed as one man's hoax.

Darrell L. Bock, a professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, sees "The Da Vinci Code" not merely as an effort to undermine traditional Christian belief but also to "redefine Christianity and the history of Christianity."

"That's why you see so many Christian people react to a novel," said Dr. Bock, author of "Breaking the Da Vinci Code."

There is evidence that Mr. Brown's novel may be shaping the beliefs of a generation that is famously biblically illiterate. Michael S. Martin, a high school French teacher in Burlington, Vt., said he decided to read the novel when he noticed that his students were reading it in Harry Potter proportions.

"We like conspiracy theories, so whether it's J.F.K. or Jesus, people want to think there's something more than what they are telling us — the they in this case being the church," Mr. Martin said. "The church has a long and documented history of really trying to crush the whole feminine side, the pagan side. I think that's really hard to debate." <<

Friday, April 23, 2004

Bush and Kerry CAVE to...Sharon

Both, Bush and Kerry, CAVE to Sharon.

The question then becomes: Is there anyone left who is willing to stand up to the Israeli bully?

Answer: Obviously NOT!

As a result, the "Israelization" of the U.S. continues unabated with predictably results, namely, more threats to our nation.

If the objective of our "fearless leaders" is to LOSE the war against hatred, they are indeed accomplishing their objectives.

While I seldom agree with Pat Buchanan, on this issue he is right-on-the-mark:

"As he surely intended, Sharon left the Arab world with the clear impression that the Americans had given a green light to his "extrajudicial" killings. Sharon seeks to make his war on the Palestinians America's war. If Bush lets him succeed, we are finished in the Middle East."

"Can anyone in the White House believe that Bush's capitulation is anything but a formula for endless war and enduring hatred of an America that cannot say no to Ariel Sharon?"

Find this article at:  - April 21, 2004

Bush Outsources Mideast Policy by Patrick J. Buchanan

"Speaking of the Palestinians, they were dealt a lethal blow," exulted a jubilant Ariel Sharon, "It will bring their dreams to an end."

Sharon was bragging about his trip to Washington where he bullied Bush into selling out the Palestinians as thoroughly as Neville Chamberlain sold out the Czechs at Munich.

"Sharon Got It All" blared a banner headline in Israel. Indeed, he did.

And Raging Bull celebrated his diplomatic victory by ordering up a Saturday night hit on Abdel Rantisi, the Hamas leader who replaced Sheik Yassin, whom Sharon had assassinated by Apache gunship in March as the crippled sheik was being wheeled out of a mosque after dawn prayers.

As he surely intended, Sharon left the Arab world with the clear impression that the Americans had given a green light to his "extrajudicial" killings. Sharon seeks to make his war on the Palestinians America's war. If Bush lets him succeed, we are finished in the Middle East.

But how did Sharon, under a cloud of scandal and corruption, at the end of his tether, badger Bush into abdicating our role as "honest broker" of Mideast peace, and into signing on to a "Sharon Plan" even a Palestinian quisling would reject?

According to the New York Times, Sharon threatened not to come to Washington unless Bush, in advance and in writing, agreed to capitulate. "In a moment of diplomatic brinkmanship," writes James Bennet, Sharon threatened to cancel his trip if Bush refused to give him "the guarantees he wanted in exchange for his plan to withdraw settlers from the Gaza Strip."

Still, one must marvel at Sharon's savvy in sizing up Bush, and at the man's chutzpah. Look at what he got for giving up less than nothing.

Gaza was captured from Egypt in 1967. Though almost all Israelis wish to be rid of it, 7,500 Jewish squatters have moved into the enclave that is home to 1.2 million Palestinians. Israelis now occupy 20 percent of Gaza, though they are but one-half of 1 percent of the population.

However, under the occupation, Hamas has flourished in Gaza and Israeli troops have been tied down there. About to be forced out of Gaza by Hamas, as Israel was forced out of Lebanon by Hezbollah, Sharon decided to get Bush to reward him for doing what he had to do.

Sharon's ultimatum: In return for giving up Gaza, Bush must give him title to more desirable Palestinian lands on the West Bank.

Bush, who once traded Sammy Sosa away, agreed. Only this time he traded America's reputation for honest dealing for a few words of fatuous praise from Sharon about what a great battler against terrorism he is. All to help Bush and Rove carry the south Florida condos.

But John Kerry is not a man easily out-pandered.

"That Bush's move was good politics," writes Dana Milbank of the Washington Post, "was evidenced by Democratic rival John F. Kerry's quick move not to let Bush outflank him among pro-Israel voters."

"I think that could be a positive step," said Kerry of the Bush sell-out of the Palestinians. Our first presidents were George Washington and John Adams. Now we have on offer George Bush and John Kerry. Does that not tell you something about what has become of the old republic?

What did Bush give up? None of the Palestinians driven out of their homes by the Irgun massacre at Deir Yassin and during the 1948 war will ever be allowed to return. Palestinian rights in that 78 percent of Palestine that is already Israel, and in the sectors of the remaining 22 percent Sharon plans to annex, are forfeit forever. At Camp David, Ehud Barak offered Arafat a more generous peace than Bush, under Sharon's direction, is willing to give the Palestinians.

Second, major Israeli settlements on the occupied West Bank, planted by Sharon in violation of international law, which every U.S. president has called "obstacles to peace," are now deeded to Israel. Like Lord Balfour, Bush is surrendering title to Arab lands he does not own and surrendering Palestinian rights that are not his to give up.

As for the Sharon Wall that snakes in and out of the West Bank, incorporating Palestinian fields, olive groves, homes and villages, Bush no longer insists it be confined to Israeli territory.

What does the mini-Munich mean? The great Zionist land thief has gotten America's blessing to keep his stolen goods. George Bush has out-sourced his Mideast policy to Tel Aviv. The custodian of our reputation for decency and honor in an Arab world of 22 nations is now Sharon. As for Palestinians who put their faith and trust in the United States, they have been exposed as fools.

Can anyone in the White House believe that Bush's capitulation is anything but a formula for endless war and enduring hatred of an America that cannot say no to Ariel Sharon?

Any Arab leader who signed on to this Sharon-Bush plan, which cedes huge swatches of the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem to Israel and leaves Palestinians in bantustans walled in with Israeli concrete, would be regarded as a traitor to his people, and deservedly so.

Find this article at:  

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Failed policies of members of the "Bush-Sharon Axis"

I suspect that as long as Bush and his right-wing cohorts are in power, the U.N. will be most reluctant to accept a major role in a nation where: a) we were dragged under false pretenses and b) we are NOT wanted.
It is clear to every objective observer that policies adopted by members of the "Bush-Sharon Axis" transformed what was a relatively small number of extremists at the time of 9/11 into a major upheaval throughout the Arab/Muslim world.
As you may have noticed, the King of Jordan refused to show up for his date with Bush while president Mubarak lashed out at the Administration.  Several nations are pulling out their troops from Iraq and, I suspect, there will be more to follow.
What Bush and his right-wing cohorts have achieved is to DEStabilize the world and given that it is indeed literally impossible to prevent attacks of determined individuals, the ONLY way to win the war against hatred is to address the root causes that lead to hatred.
Alas...Bushites charged into precisely the opposite direction and thousands of innocent individuals are paying a very high price for their incredible callousness and stupidity.
If the Deceptive Gang is reelected, there is no doubt that we will be dragged into a war of civilizations given that those who use religion as a political tool have convinced themselves that they are acting in the "name of the Lord" to allay their conscience.
Once these self-delusion take root, they continue charging stubbornly ahead while the kids of OTHERS do the dying:

Washington Post Staff Writers - Wednesday, April 21, 2004

U.S. Goals for Middle East Falter - Peace Plan, Arab Reforms Prove Elusive By Robin Wright and Glenn Kessler

A year ago, the Bush administration had a grand strategy for the Middle East, betting real progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and removal of Iraq's Saddam Hussein would allow the United States to launch a bold initiative for democratic reform across the region.

Today, Washington faces growing Arab backlash for endorsing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's unilateral plan for Gaza and the West Bank, symbolized by the abrupt cancellation by Jordan's King Abdullah of a meeting with President Bush today. The U.S.-led coalition in Iraq is still searching for a formula to create a government to assume sovereignty on June 30, with other countries also reviewing their troop commitments. And prospects for the democracy initiative to get support from an Arab League summit are rapidly dimming, with fears that Arab resolutions may instead criticize Washington, U.S. officials say.

In all three areas, Washington is looking for direction, bailouts or leadership from others -- the United Nations, Iraqis, Israelis, Arabs and Europeans -- to generate movement that U.S. officials have been unable to achieve since the hopes were unleashed last spring.

"Our interests in the Middle East are more vital, more complex and larger than ever before, but our political capital has never been lower," said Walter Russell Mead, a Council on Foreign Relations fellow just back from the region.

Bitterness in the 22-nation Arab bloc has deepened particularly over the past month, Arab leaders warn, with Iraq deteriorating and Sharon's visit followed by Israel's "targeted killing" of Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi.

"After what has happened in Iraq, there is unprecedented hatred and the Americans know it," said President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, a stalwart U.S. ally, in an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde published yesterday. "There exists today a hatred never equaled in the region."

"What's more -- they see Sharon act as he wants, without the Americans saying anything," Mubarak added.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell insisted yesterday that U.S. commitments on Iraq, a Palestinian state and democracy in the Middle East are unwavering -- and will eventually produce results.

"People will see over time that the United States is committed to the welfare, benefit and the hopes and dreams and aspirations of the Arab nations, and especially the hopes and dreams and aspirations of the Palestinian people," Powell told reporters in an appearance with Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher.

"I hope, as people understand that and see progress in all of these areas, the difficulties we're having with Arab opinion toward the United States will change," Powell added.

In a bid to shore up allied support on Iraq, Powell said yesterday that he had talked to the foreign ministers or leaders of almost every country in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq within the previous 24 hours. "I'm getting solid support for our efforts, commitments to remain and finish the job that they came to do," he told reporters after a meeting with European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

At the same time, the Bush administration is relying on the United Nations to complete a new plan to create a provisional Iraqi government next month, after two of its own proposals were rejected by Iraqis. Washington hopes U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi will return to Baghdad around May 1 to begin a final round of negotiations that will result in the appointment of a new president, prime minister and two vice presidents by mid-May, U.S. officials say.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage is today wrapping up a tour of Gulf states to win support for the U.N. plan and seek Arab help to win over Iraq's Sunni Muslims, the main political holdouts and security challenge.

On the Israeli-Palestinian front, U.S. officials appeared to be rolling back from Bush's agreement last week that Israel could keep some West Bank settlements and that Palestinian refugees from 1948 should not expect to return to Israel.

Powell told reporters yesterday that Bush's position on the Middle East peace process "is unchanged," and that he "is committed to the proposition that all final settlement issues have to be resolved between the two parties."

But the reality, foreign policy experts and diplomats say, is that the administration has largely subcontracted its Arab-Palestinian policy to Sharon to break the deadlock on the "road map" for peace launched at two major summits attended by Bush in June.

"A year ago, you had the Sharm el-Sheik and Aqaba summits and a new Palestinian prime minister, and frankly a lot of hope existed at the time," said Nabil Fahmi, Egypt's ambassador to the United States. "But in terms of the peace process, we've moved backwards."

On the Greater Middle East Democracy Initiative, the Bush administration still plans on rolling out an ambitious plan for political and economic liberalization at three summits with European and NATO allies in June -- and making the Arab world part of the dialogue, U.S. officials say. "We are anxious to work with the Arab nations on their ideas for reform within the region," Powell told reporters after his meeting with Muasher.

But the United States is counting on approval from European allies to get that initiative off the ground because suspicion of U.S. motives is so deep among Arabs. They recently postponed the annual Arab League summit in part because of a split over two resolutions -- one endorsing regional reform and the other renewing a peace overture to Israel.

The summit is tentatively rescheduled for late May, which U.S. officials admit may be too late -- and dangerous in light of recent events.

"The big question is what will come out of it. We are hoping they will focus on issues important to us in a positive way, but there are also a lot of negatives that could come out of it," said a State Department official involved in Middle East policy.

On all three key planks of U.S. policy, momentum that was sparked by bold U.S. initiatives is now running against the United States, said Geoffrey Kemp, a Reagan administration National Security Council staffer and now a Nixon Center fellow.

"Whether you're talking about the situation in Iraq or the unilateral agreement with Sharon or the wildly mishandled democracy initiative, it's very hard to pick up a head of steam once you lose credibility in your overall stated goals," he said.

To regroup, Kemp added, the administration will need to "go back to the drawing board" on the tactics of stabilizing Iraq, promoting the logic of democracy in the region and promoting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.<<

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Molly Ivins does it again....

Molly Ivins is among the most perceptive individuals around. Obviously, she is NOT easily fooled:

Thursday, April 16, 2004

What A Full Plate by Molly Ivins

AUSTIN, Texas -- My, what a full plate we have here as a result of President Bush's primetime press conference. Most importantly, the president believes in freedom. Also, we are trying to change the world (did we sign up for that? did the rest of the world? I thought we were trying to catch terrorists). And glorious news: We may yet find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Someone unearthed 50 pounds of mustard gas on a turkey farm. Oh, and another thing, some of the president's critics say "brown-skinned people" can't create democracies.

Who are those dreadful critics? They're in the famous category of "some." Just like the Republican National Committee ad that says, "Some are attacking the president for attacking the terrorists." Oh, those awful "some."

There are always moments of cognitive dissonance in listening to President Bush, when you realize that what he is saying simply does not accord with any known version of reality. By way of good news, he proudly bragged that "we" created the Department of Homeland Security -- that would be the department whose creation he opposed all those months. Also, he is looking forward to the report of the 9-11 Commission -- that would be the same commission he so vigorously opposed for all those months.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the administration has announced its intention to make John Negroponte our first ambassador to postwar Iraq, to take up residence in what will be the world's largest embassy after June 30. Negroponte was one of the key figures in the Iran-Contra scandal, the cockeyed plot that sold American arms to Iran and used the money to finance an illegal war in Nicaragua. So, our first ambassador will be a man who armed Iraq's enemy during that war.

Negroponte speaks no Arabic, he is a specialist in covert operations in Latin America, and he has no Middle East experience aside from the Iran-Contra insanity. He is, however, a bona fide, certified, chicken-fried neo-con. Is anyone else appalled?

I find this appointment terrifying, and it leaves me afraid the administration is contemplating something I have heretofore dismissed as a loony-left conspiracy theory. Could it possibly consider handing over Iraqi sovereignty on June 30 to any combination of Iraqis that includes Ahmad Chalabi? Chalabi is the convicted crook, demonstrated liar, purveyor of false intelligence and con man who so charmed Dick Cheney and the other neo-con hawks that they still half-believe him. He is now on the Iraqi Governing Council, earning an enviable reputation for corruption.

On the matter of Bush's chronic inability to admit mistakes (we have a crude expression for this in Texas that was used about Bush years before he became president), I think he and Rove are making a mistake-mistake. I've never thought apologizing for errors was a mistake (I make them with some regularity myself). Former New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia's most famous line is probably, "When I make a mistake, it's a beaut." Janet Reno didn't sound weak when she said, "I take responsibility" for the longstanding communications failures with the FBI. The FBI sounds like Dysfunction City, by the way.

Meanwhile, over at the 9-11 Commission, you may recall there was a difference of opinion between former Clinton honchos and the CIA as to whether Clinton had issued an order to kill Osama bin Laden or merely capture him. Lo and behold, what should turn up in the Clinton documents that were being withheld by the Bush White House but the very order to assassinate bin Laden. Perhaps the most impressive witness this week was the former director of the CIA's counterterrorism section, Cofer Black, clearly a spook's spook. You could tell he was furious when he said quietly, "We didn't have enough people to do the job, and we didn't have enough money, by magnitudes."

I think this is where the disconnect between Bush's strategy and reality is the most critical. He has been led astray by his own rhetoric about the war on terrorism: War is conducted by the military -- ergo, send in the Marines. Actually, fighting terrorism is closer to a cross between a criminal investigation and traditional spook work. What we need most is good intelligence married to good detective work married to undercover penetration and then precise military strikes. We also need, most critically, international cooperation, which is precisely what has been damaged by Bush's contemptuous treatment of our allies.

One trouble with Bush's "stay the course" rhetoric -- he never changes his mind, he never backs down, what a macho guy he is, etc. -- is that he does change his mind, often, (why do you think Condi Rice testified?), but you can't tell if he realizes it.

Maybe he thinks rigidity is reassuring, but anyone who doesn't change strategy when the facts change on the ground is going to wind up toast. Flexibility is not a pejorative word, whereas the neo-con ideological fixations are a real handicap.

As long as we're playing the blame game, the Republican Congress might want to step up to the responsibility plate. It spent more time in the '90s trying to bring down Bill Clinton than trying to bring down Osama bin Laden. Cofer Black sure could have used the $64 million Ken Starr spent investigating Whitewater.


Saturday, April 17, 2004

"Ahmed Chalabi and the Twenty Thieves"

Bush and his right-wing cohorts have, finally, turned to the "irrelevant" U.N. for HELP given the growing MESS they've triggered when they launched an UNprovoked war on a nation that had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11.

"The most charitable characterization of the Iraqi Governing Council (widely known as "Ahmed Chalabi and the Twenty Thieves") is that they are opportunists. Most observers believe that, once cut loose from direct association with the U.S., such men will find the temptation to engage in demagoguery against the U.S. occupation irresistible. The forecast in the region is an escalating guerrilla war against U.S. forces, coupled with the progressive collapse of the successor regime to the CPA [Coalition Provisional Authority], and conjoined with jockeying for position in the civil war to follow U.S. military withdrawal."

Wash Post - Sunday, April 18, 2004

Verbatim: Chas W. Freeman Jr.

The Cost of 'Arrogant Daydreams'

Chas W. Freeman Jr., U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, assistant secretary of Defense (1993-94) and current president of the Middle East Policy Council, sent this message about the Iraq war to an e-mail discussion group of foreign affairs experts earlier this month after visiting Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The following excerpts appear with his permission.

The view in the region, from which I have just returned, is that by destroying the Iraqi state the U.S. made it almost impossible to accomplish regime change, as opposed to regime removal, in Baghdad. No one regrets the end of Saddam's tyranny, but Iraq over the past year is viewed as an Arab zone of anarchy under foreign occupation. No one believes that what will be transferred to the Iraqi Governing Council on July 1 is "sovereignty."

Thus the mid-summer situation will be one in which an Iraqi native civilian authority with little or no legitimacy is asked to coexist with an intensely unpopular foreign occupation force over which it has no control. Few believe this dysfunctional arrangement will be up to managing an increasingly dangerous situation.

Many believe that the only thing now saving Iraq from civil war is the increasing unity of ordinary Iraqis against the occupation. This unity increasingly transcends religious schisms. It is drawing religious fanatics into alliance with secular nationalists. ("My brother and I against my cousin; my cousin and I against a stranger.") A new crop of home-grown Iraqi jihadis is, many fear, forging anti-American alliances with trans-regional and possibly global reach. (Shia with Hezbollah; Sunnis with Hamas; both, somewhat warily, with al Qaeda and its affiliates.)

The most charitable characterization of the Iraqi Governing Council (widely known as "Ahmed Chalabi and the Twenty Thieves") is that they are opportunists. Most observers believe that, once cut loose from direct association with the U.S., such men will find the temptation to engage in demagoguery against the U.S. occupation irresistible. The forecast in the region is an escalating guerrilla war against U.S. forces, coupled with the progressive collapse of the successor regime to the CPA [Coalition Provisional Authority], and conjoined with jockeying for position in the civil war to follow U.S. military withdrawal.

The way in which the emerging domestic U.S. debate about Iraq is cast and the language we (especially the president and members of his administration) use to describe it are disturbing to many in the region despite their unusually high tolerance of hypocrisy. They see it as truly Orwellian to describe a large U.S. force accompanied by a small number of foreign auxiliaries as "the coalition," foreign occupation as "freedom," desecularization as "democratization," the establishment of a hand-picked government of exiles as a "transfer of sovereignty," and the presence of a plague of federally funded U.S. carpetbaggers and mercenaries as "reconstruction" and "development." People in the region were mightily impressed by our army's prowess as it took Baghdad. So far, however, neither our image nor our credibility in the region have been enhanced by our post-assault performance. This accounts in part for the almost universally derisive reaction to President Bush's "greater Middle East" initiative.

In the broader context, one might ponder a few possible lessons: Military triumph does not necessarily equate to political victory. Wars end only when the defeated accept defeat, not when the victor declares victory. A victory that does not produce peace can be much more costly than protracted confrontation that accomplishes deterrence. Arrogant daydreams that inspire military actions can become humiliating nightmares that produce political debacles.<<

Some individuals go through life with their eyes wide open and others do not. Adlai E. Stevenson clearly falls into the former category in that his analyis of the Bush administration is right-on-the-mark: "The failures of the Bush administration are not those of foreign intelligence but of a cerebral sort of intelligence."

New York Times - April 17, 2004

A Different Kind of Intelligence Failure by Adlai E. Stevenson III

CHICAGO — Intelligence failures are to blame, so we are told, for the tragedy of 9/11 and the unfolding catastrophe in Iraq. If the Bush administration had heeded its intelligence agencies, say its opponents, it might have prevented the 9/11 attacks and avoided its mishaps in Iraq. Administration officials, meanwhile, say that their intelligence was either not accurate or not "actionable." This finger-pointing reflects misconceptions about the nature of intelligence — and suggests an intelligence failure of a different sort.

If one looks closely enough, there is generally a chance to see what lies ahead. For instance, shortly after the Six Day War in 1967, I trailed Israel's troops into the West Bank and Golan Heights and visited a Palestinian refugee camp. Ten years later I returned. By then — especially after Israel announced its plans to build settlements in the West Bank — anyone with experience in the region could foresee the dangers to come.

When I was in the Senate, I conducted a study of terrorism, which concluded in 1979 with predictions of "spectacular acts of disruption and destruction" in the United States and proposals for preventing them. These recommendations required no use of foreign intelligence. Similarly, the chaos in Iraq should come as no surprise to anyone with knowledge of Iraq, a quasi-state of tribes, religions, sects, ethnicities and foreign interests carved from the carcass of the Ottoman Empire.

Foreign intelligence supports foreign policy. Its priorities are determined by policy makers. Sometimes the products of foreign intelligence are tailored to fit the preconceptions of policy makers. Intelligence is often flawed. The intelligence agencies have conflicting and overlapping missions, lack central responsibility and are overwhelmed with information, much of it technical. It requires "production" — often without the necessary regional specialists and linguists.

Investigating the Iran intelligence failure in the late 1970's, I learned that the C.I.A. had no analyst who spoke Farsi. The agencies rely on foreign intelligence services, which support the policies of their own governments.

Foreign policy in the Bush administration reflects a lack of experience in the real world away from a Washington overrun with armchair polemicists and think-tank ideologues. Too many inhabitants of this world have no experience in the military, where one learns to expect the unexpected, or in international finance, where America's vulnerability also resides. This White House is well known for its hostility to curiosity and intellectual debate.

After all, terrorism is not a phenomenon of recent origin. Gavrilo Princip, the Serb nationalist who assassinated Archduke Ferdinand in 1914, did not expect his gunshot to bring about the demise of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He expected only a reaction — and the empire's reaction led to World War I and its own downfall. The United States government's reaction to the attacks of 9/11 could end up inflicting great damage on America.

The Bush administration demonstrates the point. One pre-emptive war against the dictator of a desert quasi-state crippled by international sanctions has stretched the American military thin. The United States is widely perceived to be waging war against Islam in the Middle East, a perception reinforced by the president's decision this week to support Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel and his settlement plan.

Meanwhile, the dollar — a barometer of confidence in the American economy and polity — has sunk against other currencies. In Spain, Argentina, Germany, South Korea and Pakistan, candidates win public office by denouncing or distancing themselves from the Bush administration. This record owes nothing to failures of intelligence.

Studies have recommended reforms of the intelligence community. But reform does not change the limited nature and function of intelligence. There is no substitute for the pragmatic intelligence of policy makers acquired from history and experience in the real world — and the courage to act on it.

Before 9/11, neoconservatives like Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, and Vice President Dick Cheney inhabited a world of contending great powers in which force and technology were transcendent. Terrorists armed with box cutters — and now Iraqis resisting the occupation — have exploded their fantasy. The failures of the Bush administration are not those of foreign intelligence but of a cerebral sort of intelligence.

Adlai E. Stevenson III is a former United States senator from Illinois.<<

Friday, April 16, 2004

The newly created Republican-Likud party is, seemingly, devoted to continue antagonizing friend and foe alike.

It is clear to every objective observer that the policies being implemented by members of the "Bush-Sharon Axis" are highly counterproductive in that they hurt the best interests of Israelis, Palestinians, the global Jewish community and...the U.S.

IF Sharon were truly interested in helping the U.S. win the war against hatred, he would have used his press conference with Bush to make the following announcement:

Israel has decided to declare Jerusalem an OPEN CITY and INVITE Christians and Muslims to participate in its governance given that it is the city where ALL great religions converge.

This announcement, in and by itself, would have gone a long way toward winning the "hearts and minds," not only of the Arab/Muslim world, but...the whole world.

Instead, Bush and Sharon took unilateral actions that will, inevitably, trigger more hatred and play right into the hands of extremists, once again:

"Bush's disdain for decades of diplomacy is costly for the United States. At a time when America needs allies in a real war in Iraq and against Islamic terrorists, Bush's polarizing style fends them off. Saddest of all, in his eagerness to help Israel, Bush may be undermining America's greatest gift to its friend and ally: the ability to help broker a deal with the Palestinians."

Wash Post - Friday, April 16, 2004

A Handshake That Doesn't Help Israel By David Ignatius

President Bush is on a roll in the Middle East . . . backward. His embrace of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's positions on settlements and Palestinian refugees has needlessly squandered U.S. leverage in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

Bush supporters would argue that he has done no more than state the obvious: Some Israeli settlements will remain in the West Bank after any "final status" agreement, and Israel will never absorb within its own borders the Palestinian refugees who fled after 1948.

But Bush ignores the fact that there can be powerful reasons not to say the obvious -- and that studied ambiguity is an important part of successful diplomacy. That's why six previous administrations had resisted taking the step Bush did Wednesday and endorsing one side's positions in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. They wanted to preserve America's ability to act as a mediator, in part because they believed that role best served the interests of America's ally, Israel.

Bush is not a man for diplomatic ambiguity. He famously prefers to see things in simpler, black-or-white terms. In particular, he tends to view the world through the narrow and sometimes distorting prism of the war on terrorism. Asked Wednesday whether Israeli settlements are an impediment to the peace process (which is the position taken by his predecessors for the past 20 years) Bush answered: "The problem is, is that there's terrorists who will kill people in order to stop the process."

This distaste for subtleties is probably part of what many Americans like about Bush -- he's not some fancy-pants diplomat talking all the time about "nuances." But the public should understand that however satisfying Bush's plain talk may be, it can be harmful to the nation's security.

The recent turmoil in Iraq offers two examples of how the Bush administration's rhetoric can put the United States out on an awkward limb. U.S. officials decided to demonize the troublesome Iraqi Shiite cleric, Moqtada Sadr, despite warnings from Iraqis and some U.S. officials that such "capture or kill" tactics would only enhance Sadr's standing.

Climbing out on that limb was defensible if the administration was certain it would never have to make its way back and negotiate a deal with Sadr. But it seems increasingly likely that the U.S.-led coalition may have to settle for some negotiated arrangement that allows Sadr and members of his militia to survive as the price of restoring stability within the Shiite community.

The dangers of demonization are also clear in the United States' relationship with Iran. Bush set the ultra-moral tone when he designated Iran as part of the "axis of evil" in 2002. That sort of language is fine if you think you're never going to need to strike a bargain with the evil one. But who should show up this week in Baghdad to explore a negotiated settlement of the Shiite crisis than an Iranian mediating team. Iran paid a severe price yesterday when one of its diplomats was assassinated in Baghdad.

Sources tell me the administration was prodded into accepting Iranian help by the British, who have centuries of experience in supping with devils of one sort or another.

Great powers need flexibility. They should avoid taking public steps that unnecessarily limit their ability to maneuver in private. They should be cautious about marching up hills without being sure how they will get back down. They should never (or almost never) say "never." They should be especially wary of using military force, because once the battle is joined, it can't be abandoned. To the Bush administration, these may seem like sissies' rules, but they've served successful U.S. presidents well for more than two centuries.

What makes Bush's abandonment of long-standing U.S. positions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so unfortunate is that it was unnecessary. The Israelis have powerful security reasons for withdrawing unilaterally from Gaza and dismantling their settlements there. It's not a concession that the United States should have to buy by sacrificing its own negotiating leverage; it's something most Israelis want because it's in their country's interest. Sharon's problem is the settlers, and the faction within his own party that supports them. They're likely to oppose his withdrawal plan despite whatever goodies he brings home from Washington.

Bush's disdain for decades of diplomacy is costly for the United States. At a time when America needs allies in a real war in Iraq and against Islamic terrorists, Bush's polarizing style fends them off. Saddest of all, in his eagerness to help Israel, Bush may be undermining America's greatest gift to its friend and ally: the ability to help broker a deal with the Palestinians.<<

Thursday, April 15, 2004

"Why don't they just admit they blew it?" Good question Mr. Scheer

April 15, 2004  | 

President Bush failed to focus on terrorism prior to 9/11. Instead, his
administration pursued the war on drugs -- and even coddled the Taliban by Robert Scheer .

Why won't they just admit they blew it? It is long past
time for the president and his national security team to concede that before
the Sept. 11 attacks, they failed to grasp the seriousness of the al-Qaida
threat, were negligent in how they handled the terrorist group's key
benefactors, and did not take the simple steps that might well have
prevented the tragedy. While they are at it, they might also explain why,
for more than two years, they have been trying so hard to convince us that
none of the above is true.

Most recently, we learned that President Bush decided to stay on vacation
for three more weeks despite receiving a briefing that told him about
"patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with
preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks" by Osama bin Laden's
thugs, who were described as determined and capable enough to pull off
devastating attacks on U.S. soil. We also now know that the Bush
administration coddled fundamentalist Saudi Arabia and
nuclear-weapons-dealing Pakistan, the only nations that recognized the
Taliban, both before and after the Sept. 11 murders.

But what is perhaps even more astonishing is that, because the Bush
administration's attention was focused on the "war on drugs," it praised
Afghanistan's Taliban regime even though it was harboring bin Laden and his
terror camps. The Taliban refused to extradite the avowed terrorist even
after he admitted responsibility for a series of deadly assaults against
American diplomatic and military sites in Africa and the Middle East.

On May 15, 2001, I blasted the Bush administration for rewarding the Taliban
for "controlling" the opium crop with $43 million in U.S. aid to
Afghanistan, to be distributed by an arm of the United Nations. Secretary of
State Colin L. Powell announced the gift, specifically mentioning the opium
suppression as the rationale and assuring that the U.S. would "continue to
look for ways to provide more assistance to the Afghans."

Five months before 9/11, I publicly challenged the wisdom of supporting a
regime that backed al-Qaida: "Never mind that Osama bin Laden still operates
the leading anti-American terror operation from his base in Afghanistan,
from which, among other crimes, he launched two bloody attacks on American
embassies in Africa in 1998." I'm not clairvoyant, but I didn't need my own
CIA to know that it's self-destructive to reward a regime that harbors the
world's most dangerous terrorists.

After 9/11, the column was dug up by bloggers and widely distributed and
debated on the Internet. Defenders of the administration attacked it as a
distortion, arguing that because the money was targeted as humanitarian aid,
the United States was not actually helping the Taliban. Yet this specious
distinction ignored the context of Powell's glowing remarks, and it failed
to explain a similarly toned follow-up meeting Aug. 2, 2001, in Islamabad,
Pakistan, which gave the Taliban similar kid-glove treatment. That meeting,
held between Christina B. Rocca, assistant secretary of state for South
Asia, and Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, took place
four days before Bush received his now-infamous briefing on the imminent
threat from al-Qaida agents who were already in sleeper cells in this
country, armed with explosives.

Yet Rocca said nothing to the Taliban's ambassador about al-Qaida's
continuing threat to kill Americans, ignoring the fact that the Taliban and
al-Qaida leaders were at that point inseparable, financially, militarily and

In her defense, Rocca did ask the Taliban representative to extradite bin
Laden, for which she received nothing but bland disclaimers. "We gave Rocca
our complete assurance," Zaeef told the local media, "that our soil will not
be used against America, and that Afghan soil will not be used for any
terrorist activity."

Zaeef was also pleased that Rocca again congratulated the Taliban for its
success in eradicating the opium crop, calling the meeting "very successful"
and "very cordial." And why should he not have been? As in May, the United
States again was bringing not just words of encouragement but also a big
cash prize.

"In recognition of the Taliban's elimination of opium, the raw material used
to make heroin, the Bush administration is giving $1.5 million to the United
Nations Drug Control Program to finance crop substitution," reported the
Associated Press.

Today, opium production in a tattered Afghanistan is at an all-time high,
benefiting various warlords and a resurgent Taliban, while our money, troops
and attention are focused on a quagmire in Iraq, a nation that had nothing
to do with 9/11 and is not known for its opium.

Go figure that out.

About the writer
Robert Scheer is a syndicated columnist.

An honest Israeli Zionist speaks the truth and nothing but the truth....

He clearly does not approve of the land-grab by Sharon presently in progress nor does he agree with Israel's "racist" policies..."there cannot be a democracy without equal rights."

"Here is what the prime minister should say to the people: the time for illusions is over. The time for decisions has arrived. We love the entire land of our forefathers and in some other time we would have wanted to live here alone. But that will not happen. The Arabs, too, have dreams and needs."

"Between the Jordan and the Mediterranean there is no longer a clear Jewish majority. And so, fellow citizens, it is not possible to keep the whole thing without paying a price. We cannot keep a Palestinian majority under an Israeli boot and at the same time think ourselves the only democracy in the Middle East. There cannot be democracy without equal rights for all who live here, Arab as well as Jew. We cannot keep the territories and preserve a Jewish majority in the world's only Jewish state - not by means that are humane and moral and Jewish."

(Filed: 28/03/2004)

I fear that the Zionist dream is doomed By Avraham Burg, Yediot Ahranot

The Zionist revolution has always rested on two pillars: a just path and an ethical leadership. Neither of these is operative any longer. The Israeli nation today rests on a scaffolding of corruption, and on foundations of oppression and injustice. As such, the end of the Zionist enterprise is already on our doorstep. There is a real chance that ours will be the last Zionist generation. There may yet be a Jewish state here, but it will be a different sort, strange and ugly.

There is time to change course, but not much. What is needed is a new vision of a just society and the political will to implement it. Diaspora Jews for whom Israel is a central pillar of their identity must pay heed and speak out.

The opposition does not exist, and the coalition, with Ariel Sharon at its head, claims the right to remain silent. In a nation of chatterboxes, everyone has suddenly fallen dumb, because there is nothing left to say.

Yes, we have revived the Hebrew language, created a marvellous theatre and a strong currency. Our Jewish minds are as sharp as ever. We are traded on the Nasdaq. But is this why we created a state? The Jewish people did not survive for two millennia in order to pioneer new weaponry, computer security programs or anti-missile missiles. We were supposed to be a light unto the nations.

It turns out that the 2,000-year struggle for Jewish survival comes down to a state of settlements, run by an amoral clique of corrupt lawbreakers who are deaf both to their citizens and to their enemies. A state lacking justice cannot survive. More and more Israelis are coming to understand this as they ask their children where they expect to live in 25 years. Children who are honest admit, to their parents' shock, that they do not know. The countdown to the end of Israeli society has begun.

It is very comfortable to be a Zionist in West Bank settlements such as Beit El and Ofra. The biblical landscape is charming. You can gaze through the geraniums and bougainvilleas and not see the occupation. Travelling on the fast highway that skirts barely a half-mile west of the Palestinian roadblocks, it is hard to comprehend the humiliating experience of the despised Arab who must creep for hours along the pocked, blockaded roads assigned to him. One road for the occupier, one road for the occupied.

This cannot work. Even if the Arabs lower their heads and swallow their shame and anger for ever, it won't work. A structure built on human callousness will inevitably collapse. Israel, having ceased to care about the children of the Palestinians, should not be surprised when they come washed in hatred and blow themselves up in the centres of Israeli escapism.

They consign themselves to Allah in our places of recreation, because their own lives are torture. They spill their own blood in our restaurants, because they have children and parents at home who are hungry and humiliated. We could kill 1,000 ringleaders a day and nothing will be solved, because the leaders come from below - from the wells of hatred and anger, from the "infrastructures" of injustice and moral corruption.

If all this were inevitable, divinely ordained, I would be silent. But things could be different, and so crying out is a moral imperative.

Here is what the prime minister should say to the people: the time for illusions is over. The time for decisions has arrived. We love the entire land of our forefathers and in some other time we would have wanted to live here alone. But that will not happen. The Arabs, too, have dreams and needs.

Between the Jordan and the Mediterranean there is no longer a clear Jewish majority. And so, fellow citizens, it is not possible to keep the whole thing without paying a price. We cannot keep a Palestinian majority under an Israeli boot and at the same time think ourselves the only democracy in the Middle East. There cannot be democracy without equal rights for all who live here, Arab as well as Jew. We cannot keep the territories and preserve a Jewish majority in the world's only Jewish state - not by means that are humane and moral and Jewish.

Do you want the greater land of Israel? No problem. Abandon democracy. Let's institute an efficient system of racial separation here, with prison camps and detention villages. Do you want a Jewish majority? No problem.

Either put the Arabs on railway cars, buses, camels and donkeys and expel them en masse - or separate ourselves from them absolutely, without tricks and gimmicks. There is no middle path. We must remove all the settlements - all of them - and draw an internationally recognised border between the Jewish national home and the Palestinian national home. The Jewish law of return will apply only within our national home, and their right of return will apply only within the borders of the Palestinian state.

Do you want democracy? No problem. Either abandon the greater land of Israel, to the last settlement and outpost, or give full citizenship and voting rights to everyone, including Arabs. The result, of course, will be that those who did not want a Palestinian state alongside us will have one in our midst, via the ballot box.

The prime minister should present the choices forthrightly: Jewish racism or democracy. Settlements, or hope for both peoples. False visions of barbed wire and suicide bombers, or a recognised international border between two states and a shared capital in Jerusalem.

Why, then, is the opposition so quiet? Perhaps because some would like to join the government at any price, even the price of participating in the sickness. But while they dither, the forces of good lose hope.

Anyone who declines to present a clear-cut position - black or white - is collaborating in the decline. It is not a matter of Labour versus Likud or Right versus Left, but of right versus wrong, acceptable versus unacceptable. The law-abiding versus the lawbreakers. What is needed is not a political replacement for the Sharon government but a vision of hope, an alternative to the destruction of Zionism and its values by the deaf, dumb and callous.

Israel's friends abroad - Jewish and non-Jewish alike, presidents and prime ministers, rabbis and lay people - should choose as well. They must reach out and help Israel to navigate toward our national destiny as a light unto the nations and a society of peace, justice and equality.

Avraham Burg, a Labour-Meimad party member, was Speaker from 1999 to 2003. Translation published in Forward, from an article in Yediot Aharonot

And let it direct your passion with reason, that your passion may live through its own daily resurrection, and like the phoenix rise above its own ashes. ~Khalil Gibran


Wednesday, April 14, 2004

We were told that Iraqis are well-educated individuals...ready for democracy.

The question then becomes: WHY aren't they given the jobs that presently go to Americans at outrageous wages since they could clearly do it at a fraction of the cost?

We hear about foreign drivers being captured and killed by insurgents.

Again, the question becomes: Are Iraqis incapable of driving a car or truck?

IF the intent was to "liberate" and help Iraqis...WHY are Americans pocketing all the reconstruction $$$?

Given the high rate of Iraqi unemployment, is it any wonder that they want to get rid of foreigners who are given the jobs Iraqis are perfectly capable of performing?

"Aerotek Inc., a recruiting company based in Baltimore, said there had been a spike in people seeking jobs in Iraq. Todd Gardner, the director of marketing, said it was seeking to fill hundreds of positions, including 350 mechanics and 150 warehouse workers, some of which pay as much as $100,000 a year. Engineers can make upward of $350,000, he said. People have obviously weighed the danger and they still want to go, he said."

New York Times - April 14, 2004

U.S. Workers, Lured by Money and Idealism, Face Iraqi Reality by Andrew Jacobs and Simon Romero

They were driven by the promise of six-figure salaries or a powerful sense of patriotism. For others, the decision to sign up for a job in the cauldron of Iraq was motivated by desire to help ordinary Iraqis improve their lives. Among the tens of thousands of American citizens working in Iraq, few could have imagined how dangerous their jobs would become.

But in the last two weeks, many of the simplest tasks have carried extraordinary danger, as civilian workers have become targets of kidnappings and murder. Yesterday, there were reports that bodies were found mutilated in a shallow grave but the findings could not be confirmed. The news came just days after seven civilians working for the Halliburton Company of Houston and two soldiers disappeared in an ambush near that site last Friday.

Wendy Hall, a spokeswoman for Halliburton, said the company had been notified of the bodies' discovery, but she said she could not confirm that they were those of missing employees. "Our workers in Iraq are courageous volunteers in service to their country and their loved ones," Ms. Hall said in a statement last night.

There are no concrete figures on the number of civilians who have been killed or wounded in Iraq, but Halliburton has acknowledged that 30 of its employees and contractors have died since the war began last year. Several workers from the United States and other countries were still missing last night — like Thomas Hamill, a former dairy farmer who worked for Halliburton as a fuel truck driver and was captured last week on a highway outside Baghdad.

In interviews yesterday, several civilian workers who have spent time in Iraq said the experiences they routinely faced had grown more harrowing. Whether employed as truck drivers, ferrying food and supplies, or as engineers, repairing roads and bridges, they are aware that the risks may in some ways now outweigh the lucrative salaries or jobs they accepted to help send children to college or to build a first home for their families.

"We get attacked day and night," said Lee Medina, a technician from North Carolina who repairs warfare equipment for the military. "All you can do is find a safe place to sit out the attack."

The increasing chaos has surprised those accustomed to overseas reconstruction and development projects. "We've worked in some difficult environments but this has been extreme," said Robert Band, the president of Perini Corporation, whose employees have been helping to restore Iraq's electric grid.

For the companies back home, the costs of doing business in Iraq are climbing, too, potentially driving up the expense of reconstruction there. For instance, policies for accidental death and dismemberment coverage have risen more than 30 percent in recent days, according to insurance executives specializing in providing coverage to companies that have employees in Iraq.

"It's the reality of the situation," said Peter Schulteis, executive vice president of Global Underwriters in Cincinnati, a company that advises insurers on providing coverage for operations in Iraq. "There's the perception that the risks have just gone up."

Employers are required by law to provide insurance to all employees in war zones, under the Defense Base Act, but such coverage is usually limited to $4,000 a month in the event of death or disability. Policies for additional coverage often needed to attract workers to Iraq, with potential payments ranging from $250,000 to more than $1 million, have been rising in price.

Still, some companies have not slowed their efforts to send additional people to Iraq. Halliburton said it was continuing to dispatch hundreds of employees to Iraq and Kuwait this week.

Aerotek Inc., a recruiting company based in Baltimore, said there had been a spike in people seeking jobs in Iraq. Todd Gardner, the director of marketing, said it was seeking to fill hundreds of positions, including 350 mechanics and 150 warehouse workers, some of which pay as much as $100,000 a year. Engineers can make upward of $350,000, he said. People have obviously weighed the danger and they still want to go, he said.

Other companies, like the Titan Corporation of San Diego, which provides translation services for the Army and has lost 13 staff employees and contractors in Iraq in the last year, are not commenting on their plans, citing concerns that their employees could be singled out for violent attacks as a result.

Stan Soloway, president of Professional Services Council, a trade group that represents dozens of companies doing business in Iraq, told the story of one company forced to move 30 employees out of rented houses after threatening notes were placed under their doors. "They had 30 one-year leases and now all of a sudden they have to have 60 one-year leases," he said.

Many workers have begun adopting protective measures and defensive maneuvers to try to get their jobs done. Larry Plummer eats military rations and often wraps himself in full-body armor to rest in the back of his G.M.C. Yukon. An engineer from suburban St. Louis and the father of eight, he has grown accustomed to dodging mortar fire, roadside explosives and stone-throwing children.

A contractor from Texas, Alton Braudaway, dashes madly between the refineries and oil fields of southern Iraq trying to restore oil production alongside the daily threat of sabotage. And although Mr. Medina sleeps and works on a heavily guarded military base north of Baghdad, his slumber is often broken by the sound of incoming ordnance.

Mr. Medina said that despite the constant shelling and the long absences from his family, he was devoted to helping the military carry out its mission. "I'm happy to do my part," he said, speaking from the top of a concrete bunker at the Balad Air Force Base northwest of Baghdad.

For Mr. Braudaway, 53, whose team has already helped restore Iraqi oil production to 1.8 million barrels a day, altruism is largely what keeps him going. "It's a wonderful feeling to say you helped a country rebuild itself," he said. Most of the Iraqis he meets in and around Basra still welcome his presence, he said, but if things change, he said he would not hesitate to leave. "When that warm and fuzzy feeling is gone, you pack it up and go home," he said.

Mr. Plummer is home in St. Louis for a two-week leave, but knows he has to go back to keep earning the solid money he has collected for the last year as a field engineer for for Systems Electronics Inc. He said he hoped his $40,000 base pay and a 30 percent bonus would help put his eight children through college.

Despite the rising violence directed at civilian workers in the last few weeks, there seems to be no shortage of people seeking employment.

Glen Trehern is one of those eager to head overseas. A supervisor at a seafood processing plant in Mississippi, Mr. Trehern, 52, said a Halliburton recruiter had offered him a truck-driving position, although he is still waiting for a firm commitment. "I look at it from a business perspective," he said. "When you're talking a possible $1,000 a day tax free, it's real attractive."

Although he has a steady job with a $70,000 salary, Mr. Trehern said he had no retirement savings and viewed this stint as a way to acquire a handsome nest egg. He added that two of his sons, a mechanic and an electrician, were hoping to find jobs in Iraq as well.

Even more evidence of the allure of new jobs could be found at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport on Tuesday. Hector Avila, a naturalized American citizen from Honduras, stood in the ticket line with his family at the KLM counter to board a flight to Amsterdam, from which he would continue to Kuwait and then Iraq to work building Army camps for Halliburton's subsidiary, Kellogg Brown & Root.

"I feel a little bit full of nerves," Mr. Avila, 43, said in Spanish. "I don't want to leave my family but it's something I have to do to make money."

His wife, Mirian, the mother of their five children, said her husband hoped to save enough money to buy a house in Houston with the money he made in Iraq. He had already worked for a year in Iraq and was returning there after a short break. "I told him not to go," she said. "He's getting on the plane anyway he has to go. That's the way it is now."

Monday, April 12, 2004

Bill Moyers is, as usual, right-on-the-mark:

>>Bill Moyers on Patriotism and the Flag

I wore my flag tonight. First time. Until now I haven't thought it necessary
to display a little metallic icon of patriotism for everyone to see. It was
enough to vote, pay my taxes, perform my civic duties, speak my mind, and do my
best to raise our kids to be good Americans.  

Sometimes I would offer a small prayer of gratitude that I had been born in a country whose institutions sustained me, whose armed forces protected me, and whose ideals inspired me; I offered my heart's affections in return. It no more occurred to me to flaunt the flag on my chest than it did to pin my mother's picture on my lapel to prove her son's love. Mother knew where I stood; so does my country. I even tuck a valentine in my tax returns on April 15.

So what's this doing here? Well, I put it on to take it back. The flag's been
hijacked and turned into a logo — the trademark of a monopoly on patriotism.
On those Sunday morning talk shows, official chests appear adorned with the
flag as if it is the good housekeeping seal of approval. During the State of the
Union, did you notice Bush and Cheney wearing the flag? How come? No
administration's patriotism is ever in doubt, only its policies. And the flag bestows no immunity from error. When I see flags sprouting on official lapels, I think of the time in China when I saw Mao's little red book on every official's
desk, omnipresent and unread.

But more galling than anything are all those moralistic ideologues in
Washington sporting the flag in their lapels while writing books and running Web sites and publishing magazines attacking dissenters as un-American. They are people whose ardor for war grows disproportionately to their distance from the fighting. They're in the same league as those swarms of corporate lobbyists
wearing flags and prowling Capitol Hill for tax breaks even as they call for more
spending on war.

So I put this on as a modest riposte to men with flags in their lapels who
shoot missiles from the safety of Washington think tanks, or argue that
sacrifice is good as long as they don't have to make it, or approve of bribing
governments to join the coalition of the willing (after they first stash the cash.)

I put it on to remind myself that not every patriot thinks we should do to the
people of Baghdad what Bin Laden did to us. The flag belongs to the country,
not to the government. And it reminds me that it's not un-American to think
that war — except in self-defense — is a failure of moral imagination, political
nerve, and diplomacy. Come to think of it, standing up to your government can
mean standing up for your country.<<

Thanks for NOTHING Mr. Sharon

Sharon's latest proposal...doomed to failure

When he arrives in Washington this week to seek the "blessing" from the Administration for his latest unilateral proposal, Sharon will, once again, have managed to antagonize not only Palestinians but...the whole Arab/Muslim world.

Thanks for nothing Mr. Sharon.

Given that we are fighting a "war" against hatred, has it ever occurred to Sharon that he could contribute to winning the war by declaring Jerusalem an OPEN CITY and inviting Christians and Muslims to participate in its governance?

Such an invitation would be applauded all across the globe and, coupled with the establishment of a VIABLE Palestinian state, would go a long way toward winning the war against hatred.

Instead, Sharon and his "neoconservative" cohorts in the U.S. have not only worked tirelessly to drag our nation into war on Iraq, but...are presently compounding their misguided policies by proposing steps that will further antagonize the world.

And so, the vicious cycle will continue unabated:

Wash Post - Monday, April 12, 2004

Betting On the Sharon Plan By Jackson Diehl

Critics who still chastise the Bush administration for failure to "engage" with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seem not to have noticed that over the past several months the White House has been more deeply involved in trying to broker a breakthrough than at any time since President Bill Clinton's Camp David summit in the summer of 2000. The outcome of these mostly secret and underreported parleys will begin to emerge this week, with the latest visit to Washington of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon -- and the result could be President Bush's commitment to another Middle Eastern gambit that is as risky as it is bold.

The audacity flows from Sharon, who aims to abandon a decade of efforts to arrange a negotiated settlement between Israel and a new Palestinian state. Instead, with the consent of the United States, Israel would unilaterally draw a de facto border of its own choosing, evacuating most of the Gaza Strip while effectively annexing large chunks of the West Bank, and retreat behind the controversial security barrier it is constructing. As the 76-year-old prime minister sees it, a peace settlement, and a Palestinian state, would be put off indefinitely. "This situation," he told an interviewer recently, "could continue for many years."

Sharon's aims are simple: to make it possible for Israel to defend itself against Palestinian terrorism while holding on to far more territory and West Bank Jewish settlements than it could hope to keep in any negotiated peace.

For the Bush administration, the attraction is the prospect of an Israeli evacuation of at least several thousand settlers, the tamping down of violence that crimps U.S. initiatives across the region, and the limitation of Sharon's territorial ambitionss to a line that still might allow for the eventual creation of a second state in the West Bank and Gaza.

That's why a team of three senior U.S. officials has made three visits to Jerusalem since the middle of February, following up on more numerous trips to Washington by Israeli envoys. The White House has been negotiating in secret with Sharon and his planners over the exact route of the fence as well as the number of settlements to be evacuated in Gaza and the West Bank. Sharon has agreed to a few modest -- and in his mind temporary -- modifications of the fence, as well as the evacuation of four of the 128 West Bank settlements.

In exchange he is seeking far-reaching assurances from Bush, codified in a memorandum or letter, that would put the United States on record as endorsing the route of the fence and agreeing that Israel will never return to its 1967 borders. With Washington's assurances in hand, Sharon plans to seek approval for his plan in a referendum of his Likud party at the end of this month, and then fashion a new governing coalition to implement it.

That's where the risk for the Bush administration begins. By striking a deal with Sharon, Bush would put himself in the position of shielding the Israeli leader from international backlash while he proceeds to overturn the apple cart of the Middle East peace process and effectively confiscate 15 percent of the West Bank. He could have the United States appear to prejudge in Israel's favor key terms of a final settlement. He would open the way for upheaval in the Palestinian territories and leadership, with unpredictable results. And he would do so with a man whose previous attempts at bold geopolitical enterprise -- notably the 1982 Lebanon war -- led to disasters for Israel and the United States.

American officials who have dealt with Sharon through his many military and political incarnations over four decades can only be unsettled by the way his new project resembles Lebanon and other failed ventures from his past. There is the secrecy with which a small team around him is assembling the plan, a plan so far only partially disclosed even to the Israeli cabinet; the reckless tactical improvisation, seen in the recent assassination of the spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin; and the dependence on a U.S. president's passivity and reluctance to confront an Israeli ally.

"A situation has been created in which it is possible to do the things I want and to get an American commitment," Sharon told the newspaper Haaretz 10 days ago with characteristic candor.

White House officials seem to believe they can fill the holes in Sharon's plan and steer it back to the more conventional path of the peace process. They have been quietly soliciting European and Arab support for the Gaza evacuation and for a parallel attempt to prevent Palestinian extremists from seizing power -- a danger to which Sharon appears indifferent. Bush will meet today with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and next week with Jordan's King Abdullah; the Palestinian foreign minister is due that week in Washington.

The bet is that an Israeli withdrawal can be used to trigger a move toward the two-state settlement Bush has called for, rather than the long-term freeze Sharon envisions. Like the Israeli's own gamble that he can overcome the resistance of his settlers, keep his government in office and evade a looming criminal indictment, it is, at best, a long shot.<<