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The minus touch

By Terry Joseph
August 22, 2003

It might just be that US President George W Bush is going through a bad patch, a spectacularly awful one, actually, because it sure is beginning to look like anything he touches turns from despicable to catastrophic.

His predicament is, of course, measurably less embarrassing than that of Midas, the pleasure-loving King of Macedonia who, Greek mythology insists, was empowered by the deity Dionysus with the facility of turning anything into gold by a mere touch; the net effect of this mischief only becoming apparent when he tried to eat an apple.

Although his name remains synonymous with magic and riches, King Midas was really a singularly shallow fool, deceived by the lure of sudden wealth, necessarily short-lived as his beloved rose-garden, that night's dinner and, I suppose, his underwear; all hardened into precious metal.

A merciful Dionysus lifted the curse, only for history to later record another faux-pas with no-nonsense gods, King Midas coming away from that episode with the oversized ears of a jackass. It is, of course, the classic tale of "be careful what you wish for."

The only similarity between King Midas and President Bush, therefore, is that they wished for things, apparently without properly pondering worst-case scenarios. For all its foolishness, though, the Midas myth contains neither death nor destruction. As earlier indicated, President Bush has not been that lucky.

Bent on purging the world of terrorists, a highly laudable objective, he first went for Usama bin Laden, then Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass-destruction projectiles, side-kick Tony Blair said, could be deployed within 45 minutes. All truly despicable.

As the build-up of US troops in Kuwait telegraphed war, vice-president Dick Cheney predicted his military would be greeted as liberators. On March 30, a fortnight after engagement Pentagon Chief, Donald Rumsfeld said the US knew where WMDs were hidden.

Deputy, Paul Wolfowitz publicly laughed away an estimate by then Army Chief of Staff, Eric Shineski that a post-war force would need more than 200,000 troops. President Bush himself spoke of evidence of complicity between Iraq and al Qaeda in the 9/11 atrocities.

None of it was founded in fact. To date, Mr Bush has found nothing and neither quarry. He now seeks another 30,000 troops to add to the beleaguered 150,000 already in Iraq, approaching General Sineski's original estimate.

Worse, the effort on both fronts has splintered bin Laden's Al Qaeda and Saddam loyalists into countless equally-lethal shards.

Withdrawal seems a remote prospect and as anti-American sentiment rises, his soldiers are being killed with alarming frequency, survivors getting jumpy to the point of gunning down a Reuters journalist, mistaking his camera for a grenade launcher.

Meanwhile, President Bush tabled his road map to peace in the Middle East, wishing for swift closure to yet another unsavoury chapter of modern history, perhaps not properly pondering pitfalls of so many before him who tried. In fact, on this day in 1982, then General Ariel Sharon urged Palestinians to discuss peaceful coexistence with Israel. And on August 22, 1990, George Bush snr called up military reserves in preparation for crushing Saddam Hussein "for all time."

Afghanistan, the theatre of war in which bin Laden was most actively pursued, is slowly returning to chaos, with al Qaeda operatives sneaking back into the country from sympathetic neighbouring territories (or those with intelligence services similar to the network that advised on the Iraqi invasion), wreaking havoc, creating a level of instability that has potential for making even the despicable Taliban look good.

This week's suicide bombing of a bus in Jerusalem and the drive-through carnage inflicted on employees at the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, delivered two fresh slaps to the face of the most powerful nation on earth. As Mao Tse Tung suggested in "his little red book" on revolutionary tactics, when citizens get the feeling that even an army cannot provide security, they will gravitate toward the very insurgents for protection.

The Palestinian barbarity blew an irreparable pothole in the road map. The UN bombing, designed to show that US forces cannot guarantee safety for even the most benign of people working on the much needed reconstruction of Iraq, achieved its purpose-not to mention sabotage of oil and water-supply lines. All truly catastrophic.

Although it may be premature to compare grisly details of both attacks (the number of dead and seriously injured were eerily similar), their timing pushes coincidence to the outer limit of its broadest definition. Happily, no one rushed to pin blame on the wrong source, given last week's blooper of hastily fingering Canada for widespread power outages along North America's eastern seaboard; before recognising the yet unsolved mystery actually had its genesis in Ohio.

But boosting the power grid is going to be far easier and considerably less expensive than maintaining order in Afghanistan and Iraq, or getting Arabs and Israelis back to the chat-room. To whatever degree we may agree with President Bush's determination to wipe out terrorism worldwide, his actions have resulted in more of the very undesired thing and more agony. America has, by its own admission, become increasingly vulnerable, both at home and abroad.

But because we so passionately share his vow to seek and destroy ruthless terrorists, it may be that, as Daddy Bush suggested, we have spent all our time reading The President's lips, never stopping even once to glance at his ears.

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