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By Bill Gallagher

As Lebanon bleeds and unthinkable carnage rules the streets of Baghdad, our president is preoccupied and troubled. I can hear him now. "Hey, Laura! What day we goin' down to the ranch?" George W. Bush's annual five-week vacation in Crawford, Texas, is beckoning. For him, nothing is more important.

While the Middle East further disintegrates -- much the result of his sins of commission and omission -- our leader is focusing on clearing brush, working out, riding his bike, playing video games and watching hours of ESPN. In a real sense, though, the world is safer when he's not doing anything.

Bush chooses to insulate himself and our government from the troubling tasks and responsibilities the U.S. role in the world requires. If it's not violent military action, Bush's attention span lasts about seven seconds.

"Bush's code is that you act tough whether there is a good reason, bad reason or no reason," writes Ron Suskind in "The One Percent Doctrine," an analysis of the administration's pursuit of real or perceived enemies since the Sept. 11 attacks.

The "tough" approach serves Bush's addiction-flawed personality. This is not a man who thinks about matters with careful deliberation. He has shown time and time again he does not want to hear contrary opinions. Bush relies on his "gut" and never allows facts, history and reality to interfere with the instincts he considers infallible.

Never mind that overwhelming evidence shows that his instincts -- especially relating to the Middle East -- are consistently wrong. Bush refuses to adjust. This is a man truly incapable of expanding his views. If you can't admit your mistakes, how can you possibly learn from them?

When Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert asked for Bush's blessings to go after Hezbollah in Lebanon, I'm sure Bush didn't spend 10 seconds reflecting on the consequences -- the suffering that was sure to result for the Lebanese people and the 25,000 American citizens there at the time.

"Sure, Ehud," you can imagine Bush saying with cocky assurance, "do what ya gotta do. Blast the hell out of those terrorists and get the hell out." It's as simple as that in Bush's black-and-white, deluded vision. Protecting Israel from rocket attacks and terror is critical, but cannot be achieved simply with violence and without a broader strategy.

Pope Benedict XVI presents a far more reasoned grasp of the conflict than Bush. In the Italian religious journal "Chiesa," the pope made the case that "at the origin of these devastating confrontations there are, unfortunately, objective situations of the violation of law and justice. But neither terrorist acts nor retaliation can be justified, especially when these come with tragic consequences for the civilian population."

Once you label someone a terrorist, anything goes -- or so Bush thinks. Hezbollah's attacks on Israel with Iranian- and Syrian-supplied rockets required some response, but not the disproportionate violence and destruction of Lebanon that Bush gave his imprimatur to.

The high level of civilian casualties, 500,000 refugees and destruction of non-military infrastructure will only create more terrorists, ruin the Lebanese government, make Israel less secure and the United States even more despised in the region.

Israel's invasion and occupation of southern Lebanon is a doomed exercise that could do what it is intended to eliminate. In a letter to The New York Times, Max Paul Friedman, a professor of history at Florida State University, argued that "the high number of civilians killed by Israeli forces is disproportionate, not to the number of Israeli victims of Hezbollah's rockets, but to the goals Israel claims it is trying to achieve in Lebanon."

Just as the U.S. invasion of Iraq was the best recruitment tool Osama bin Laden could ever wish for, Hezbollah too is getting an undeserved gift. Professor Friedman notes, "If anything, the devastation and the high body count are making Hezbollah's anti-Israel arguments more plausible to many Lebanese affected by Israel's wide ranging attacks."

The United States is rushing to supply Israel with a fresh supply of precision-guided bombs to drop on Israel. How can we call for a cease-fire when our nation provides the firepower?

Far too many Americans fail to see the irony in that and how people in the Middle East view Israel as the U.S. proxy against Iran with a limitless American-supplied arsenal. We howl about Iran supplying Hezbollah and insurgents in Iraq, but it's OK for us to provide Israel with whatever sophisticated weapons it wants.

Well, that's different, many will say. The United States and Israel stand for democracy and freedom, and the people on the other side are despots and terrorists. Tell that to some poor Lebanese woman standing in the rubble of what was once her home and that is now the tomb of her crushed children.

She will only remember that the satellite- and laser-guided bombs that destroyed her home were made in the United States and dropped from an American F-16 flown by an Israeli pilot.

"They are destroying and punishing a nation," said Abed Hammoud, from Dearborn, Mich., describing the Israeli air assaults. Hammoud, who is an assistant Wayne County prosecutor, spent an anguishing week worrying about his two sons caught in the violence while visiting their grandmother in Beirut. They eventually fled to Cyprus and made it home. More than 7,000 Lebanese-Americans from Michigan were trapped in Lebanon when the violence erupted.

The Bush administration's preparations to help our own citizens get to safety makes us recall that these are the same people who prepared the response to Hurricane Katrina.

Dr. Mohammad Hakim's daughters and 16 other relatives were trapped in southern Lebanon when the bombing began. He paid people to get his family members to Beirut, then to Damascus and finally back home.

Dr. Hakim had the resources to get his family to safety. Many others are less fortunate.

"It's very, very disappointing," Hakim told me last week. "I mean, these are American citizens who are trapped in the middle of war, and the government did nothing to help."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will try this week to salvage something from the mess she helped create. The Bush bullying and unilateralism in the Middle East is a manifest disaster. The neocon crazies, the clones of Dr. Strangelove with their delusional madness, have the fiasco in Iraq on their hands, and that arrogant failure to transform the region reverberates throughout the Middle East.

A United Nations report shows the United States has been undercounting civilian casualties in Iraq that now average about 100 per day. Sectarian murder is the "rule of law" in the Iraq the Busheviks created.

Iraq is in such a shambles that its disintegration now seems inevitable and will result in even more destabilization in the region.

What will the Bush administration say to Turkish government leaders who want to see their army plunge into northern Iraq to subdue Kurdish insurgents? Kurdish separatists are using Iraq as a base to send terrorists into eastern Turkey. Can we say it's OK for Israel to go into Lebanon to protect its security, but Turkey can't go into Iraq to protect its borders?

The specter of Iraq poisons the U.S. ability to get cooperation from even moderate governments in Muslim nations. Dr. Rice has a nearly impossible task, but she must try.

Rice should deal with Syria directly, go to Damascus and sit down with President Bashar Al-Assad. His government is essential in helping Lebanon stand on its own and deal with disbanding Hezbollah's military wing. There must be a commitment to rebuild Lebanon physically and politically.

Rice must pressure Israel to withdraw from the occupation of Arab lands and agree to a timetable for the creation of a viable Palestinian state -- not an isolated, walled enclave, but a nation with hope, freed from the shackles of economic despair. International peacekeeping forces are required in southern Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank. The broader issues and political solutions must be the ultimate focus beyond the recent events.

But stopping the violence is imperative. At an interfaith prayer meeting in Detroit last Friday, Rev. Edwin Rowe from the Central United Methodist Church was right on the mark when he said, "At this point, an eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth would be an improvement."

Bill Gallagher, a Peabody Award winner, is a former Niagara Falls city councilman who now covers Detroit for Fox2 News. His e-mail address is gallaghernewsman@sbcglobal.net.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com July 25 2006