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A Time To Worry

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DUMMERSTON, Vt. - Troubled times demand bold and intelligent leadership.

Unfortunately, our president is George W. Bush.

His inept performance at the recent G-8 summit in Russia was yet another example of why the rest of the world thinks we have a moron in the White House.

Having a moron in the White House wouldn't be a problem if this were a placid time of peace and prosperity. It is a problem when the Middle East is in flames and the prospect of World War III is staring us in the face.

But stupidity is not the sole reason we are in this position. What we are seeing in the Middle East right now is the logical conclusion of the Bush administration's biggest foreign policy mistake since it took office - its refusal to do anything to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The Bush administration made a choice to invade Iraq rather than settle the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as the best way to advance its interests in the Middle East.

Vice President Dick Cheney summed up the administration's attitude toward diplomacy when he told the Knight Ridder news service in 2003, "We don't negotiate with evil, we defeat it."

No negotiations. No compromises. Condemn the Palestinians as "terrorists." Assume the world will accept without question any of the United States' or Israel's actions. This was the Bush administration's policy.
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It was a blunder of the highest order.

The Bush administration refuses to recognize that the occupation of the West Bank and Israel's treatment of Palestinians is the greatest source of resentment and anger in the Arab world. It is the impetus behind every Arab terror movement in the Middle East.

Bush failed to realize this when he all but ended the Clinton administration's efforts to work out an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Bush did nothing when the second Intafada broke out as he took office. He did nothing as Israel built more settlements in the West Bank and started building its separation wall. He did nothing as Palestinian settlements were razed by the Israelis.

Now the Palestinian Authority is broke and powerless. Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad have the power. These groups are not states. They may get their backing from Syria and Iran, but they are powers unto themselves. And to many Arabs, they have more credibility than the existing governments.

That's how Hamas won this year's parliamentary election in Palestine and how Hezbollah won seats in the Lebanese legislature. Give Arab nations the democracy that President Bush loves to talk about and they will elect anti-Israel, anti-U.S. candidates. And when you are offered no chance to achieve your goals through diplomacy, force is the only option left. When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.
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The United States is the only country with the power and the moral prestige to rein in Israel and put an end to the fighting - or, at least it was, until it squandered both these things with its invasion of Iraq and the squalid way it has conducted the so-called war on terror.

As the self-proclaimed last superpower, the United States thought it could go it alone in the world and impose its will through force. But this nation's ability to use force has been reduced by our commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran and Syria know this. They aren't afraid of President Bush and they will push their aims as far as they can until someone stops them.

Force without diplomacy is mere violence, and it has been turned loose on the world. All the long simmering conflicts in the Middle East - Arab vs. Israeli, Shia vs. Sunni, the India-Pakistan fight over Kashmir, the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Iran's saber-rattling against the United States - are all starting to merge together into a global catastrophe that no one may be able to stop.

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Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at randyholhut@yahoo.com.

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