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03/12/2003 Entry: "Gene Lyons, March 12, 2003 and Astrologers for Peace"

"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."
Gene Lyons, March 12, 2003

If there isn't such as thing as Astrologers for Peace, there should be.

Gene Lyons, March 12, 2003

No Guts, No Glory

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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