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New Policies, Anyone?

The crisis gives us reason to revise some of our bad habits.

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So the military is out there doing its thing, in its obscure Pentagonese language, while some of us nail-biters at home have gotten into a bitter argument. The pundit class seems to have fallen into Manichean error -- that's the one where everything gets oversimplified into good/bad, light/dark. Among our more excitable brethren, a few have concluded that anyone who advocates an Israeli-Palestinian accord is playing Osama bin Laden's game and is the moral equivalent of the 1930s appeasers of Hitler. Get a grip.

Bin Laden is so appalling that if he were in favor of sunshine and laughter, one would be tempted to vote for dark and gloom. But that would give him control. There is a mild parallel to this situation in G.W. Bush's foreign policy prior to September 11th. As near anyone could tell, the sole unifying theme of his policies was to be for whatever Bill Clinton had been against and vice versa.

Clinton pushed mightily for a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, therefore Bush would not push. Clinton was for the Kyoto Accord and various international treaties banning biological weapons, small-arms trade, etc., therefore Bush was opposed to same. And so it went.

One unhappy consequence of this unthinking pattern was that we seriously ticked off the European allies. Their generous support post- September 11th is especially commendable given that they were Not Happy Campers up to that time.

The point is that policy needs to be judged not on who is for it or against it -- for all we know Saddam Hussein may be right about something - - but whether the policy works. We are the shrewd, pragmatic Yankees, remember? It is in our interest and the interest of Israel and the Palestinians to get that situation settled, so let's get it done. Who cares if bin Laden is for it too? (He's not, of course. He wants to destroy Israel and the West. No one is appeasing bin Laden -- you can't appease a fanatic.)

The main reason we want to try something new as regards both the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Iraqi sanctions is because what we're doing now clearly doesn't work worth squat. There is no percentage in letting a bad situation get worse. Pragmatism may not be a great moral philosophy, but it is useful. Liberals, as usual, are accused of being naive, warm-and-fuzzy peaceniks (when not being labeled Hitler-appeasers).

To use a homely phrase, someone here doesn't have his thinking cap on straight, and as far as I can see, the only actual thinking, rather than reacting, is being done on the left.

Come on, let's get some new ideas in here. Or even some good old ones. I go back to the much-agreed point that the most successful American foreign policy of the 20th century was the Marshall Plan. The United States helped rebuild Europe with that plan, including Germany -- a place of which we then had no reason to be fond. But it was very smart of us.

Looking way down the line, we need to rethink our role in the arms traffic. According to a congressional study published in August, world arms sales to developing countries rose by 8 percent last year, with the United States dominating the market. Weapons sales came to $36.9 billion, with the United States accounting for about half, $18.6 billion.

We've been shot at with our own weapons all over the world. We armed the mujahedeen (different war), but we didn't stick around to help glue the pieces back together when it was over. Bush said recently, "We're not into nation-building," as though it were a venereal disease.

The question is, would it work? We all have 20-20 hindsight on Afghanistan now -- better that than this.

Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star- Telegram and a member of the Creators Syndicate; her work appears occasionally in the Flyer.

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