No Guts, No Glory
   by Gene Lyons

 Following President Bush's carefully-scripted press conference, some
 impertinent questions: First, does anybody on earth believe Bush when he says
 he hasn't made up his mind to attack Iraq? Does he even expect to be believed?
 Second, in stampeding to war, does the president actually intend to offend and
 alienate the entire known world? Or is this White House simply incompetent?
 Third, has it occurred to Bush's handlers that their ceaseless lies and bungling
 risk alienating American voters too?

 Last question first: Bush's somnambulistic performance aside, what gave the
 press conference its dull, formulaic tone was that he was methodically working
 down a list of reporters prepared by White House spokesman Ari Fliescher.
 Needless to say, none of the timorous sad sacks and cable TV courtiers deemed
 tame enough to be chosen was rude enough to  say so, but a reputable poll had
 just appeared showing Bush losing the 2004 election to a generic Democrat.

 According to Reuters, "[t]he Feb. 26-March 3 nationwide survey of U.S. voters
 by...Quinnipiac University found that by a 48 percent to 44 percent margin, voters
 would pick the as yet unknown candidate out of nine Democrats running over the
 Republican incumbent." The survey had a 2.8 percent margin of error.

 An Ipsos-Reid survey released March 10 gave similar evidence of a dramatic
 decline in Bush's political standing. Just 39 percent of voters now say they'd definitely
 re-elect Bush, with 34 percent definitely opposed and 24 percent thinking about it.

           Both the dreadful economy and scary stories hinting that Bush sees himself
 on a divine mission in Iraq appear to have alarmed the sane majority. If we must have
 soothsayers, my preference would be a president who dabbles in astrology to an adept
 of the Book of Revelation. Gemini, after all, is rarely advised to nuke Taurus.

 How long until Washington courtier-pundits drop their ritual references to President
 Junior's fabulous popularity?

 Meanwhile, the harder Team Bush tries to bluff the U.N. Security Council as they
 once so memorably bluffed the U.S. Supreme Court, the more ill will accumulates.
 Ignored or pooh-poohed by the American media, the London Observer's revelation
 that the National Security Agency was conducting a wiretap and spying campaign
 against U.N. diplomats from countries neutral or opposed to the administration's
 Iraq policy provoked a furor in world capitals.

 The Observer got its hands on an internal NSA memo advising spies to seek
"insights as to how membership is reacting to the on-going debate RE: Iraq, plans
 to vote on any related resolutions, what related policies/negotiating positions they
 may be considering, alliances/dependencies, etc."

 Maybe everybody does it, as the usual anonymous former State Department
 sources claimed. If so, it was a particularly bad time for the U.S. to get caught,
 since there seems no legitimate need for such information except to strong-arm
 or suborn reluctant nations in secret.   A U.N. investigation is under way.

 Meanwhile, Turkish parliamentarians told the New York Times that Bush
 administration heavy-handedness—threats and bribes rather than appeals to
 national self-interest—caused the defeat of a resolution permitting U.S. troops
 to be based there. Evidently, the Turks feel no immediate danger from bordering Iraq.

 Paul Krugman wrote a pungent column about the stupidity of Bush's public threat
 to "discipline" Mexico—the one foreign country he supposedly understands—if its
 Security Council vote opposed U.S. wishes. Instead of chastening President
 Vicente Fox, Bush's words stirred nationalistic outrage.

 Add growing indications of chicanery and fraud in the U.S. case against Iraq,
 and it's no wonder the odious Saddam, playing a much weaker hand, appears to
 be diplomatically outmaneuvering the White House.

 First came the plagiarized British "intelligence" report used in Secretary of State
 Powell's Security Council presentation. It was lifted, typos and misspellings intact,
 from a ten year old graduate student's thesis.

 Then came Gilbert Cranberg's careful parsing in the Des Moines Register of that
 intercepted phone conversation Powell cited between two Iraqi military officers.
 It turns out that a supposedly incriminating exchange about hiding evidence never
 happened. It doesn't appear in the official State Department transcript.

 Last Friday, chief U.N. nuclear arms inspector Mohammed El Baradei announced
 that it had been definitively proven that aluminum tubes Bush and Powell insisted
 showed Saddam's plans to make nuclear weapons had innocent uses. He also said
 that letters the U.S. claimed documented Iraq's attempt to buy uranium from an
 African country were a clumsy forgery.

 If Bush were a real leader, he could acknowledge that absent Iraqi nukes, there's no
 need for haste. He could yield to world opinion and give the French, Russians,
 Chinese and Germans what they say they want: time for U.N. inspectors to finish
 disarming Saddam. The world would praise his statesmanship. Pressure would shift
 to the Security Council to prove itself.

 Alas, there's no sign Bush has the guts for peace.

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