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By Bill Gallagher

DETROIT -- President George W. Bush has created an atmosphere of unparalleled distrust toward the United States as people from places around the globe now shudder when he makes increasingly frequent declarations about his "vision" for the world. From avowed enemies to longtime allies and even our closest neighbors, open hostility toward the United States is epidemic.

People who once looked toward America with admiration and respect and as a beacon for liberty and civility now see a supremely arrogant rogue nation that holds international law and institutions in disdain.

George W. Bush and the neocon crazies who pull his strings, led by Vice President Dick Cheney, have created this reality and an indelible image and ignominious legacy that will take generations to erase.

Every day, we see Bush's high and hamhanded arrogance toward the rest of the world. The bullying and unipolar madness are despicable qualities more suitable for 19th-century British colonialism and 20th-century Stalinism than the behavior of a great nation.

We do as we please, never accept responsibility for failed policies and routinely duck accountability for the tragic mistakes and miscalculations of our military machine. The president's cavalier assurance -- his substitute for true leadership -- the righteousness of his messianic mission and the infallibility of his strategies foster a sense of national supremacy that is as wrong as it is dangerous.

The death of Italian secret service agent Nicola Calipari has outraged an ally and generated even more hostility toward the United States. Calipari heroically protected the life of Giuliana Sgrena, the journalist he had just helped free from her Iraqi captors.

With few facts available, U.S. military commanders quickly defended the troops who fired hundreds of rounds into the car carrying Calipari and Sgrena to the Baghdad airport. It was all justified and the Italians were blamed for the tragedy. A chorus of retired generals on the payrolls of cable news networks echoed the same fact-devoid conclusion -- whatever our troops did was provoked and our flawless intelligence made no mistakes about the passengers in the approaching car.

But Giuliana Sgrena, the only eyewitness speaking on the record, tells an entirely different story. The Italian and U.S. versions of the events are radically opposed.

Italian intelligence told U.S. authorities Sgrena had been freed as she was being hurried to the airport for a flight to Rome. The U.S. military authorities say they didn't know a thing about her release.

They say the car was traveling at a high rate of speed -- estimated to be over 100 mph -- did not stop at a checkpoint and warning shots and lights were unheeded. Sgrena says the car was traveling at moderate speed and there was no checkpoint, no warning shots or lights. Somebody is very wrong.

I don't believe for a moment U.S. troops were deliberately targeting the Italians, but the unending instability in Iraq breeds fear-inspired trigger-happiness and recklessness. This week, as we mark the second year since the U.S. invasion, Iraq remains in bloody chaos and the overstretched troops make plenty of mistakes every day with Iraqi civilians, and more than a few Americans in uniforms commit acts of murder and brutality.

Calipari's death and the wounding of Sgrena caused more furor because, instead of nameless Iraqis, this incident struck well-known Europeans.

The Italian people were torn from the euphoria over Sgrena's release to the searing anguish of Calipari's death. The Italian media reported on the anger and outrage on the streets and the sense people have there that the United States will shrug off the incident as one of those things that are unavoidable in war.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who usually defends his friend George W. Bush, rejected the U.S. account of the incident and demanded an investigation and answers. The Italians are skeptical and for good reason.

They will never forget the 1998 incident when a U.S. Marine pilot's jet sliced through a ski gondola cable, sending 20 people plunging to their deaths. Capt. Richard Ashby was charged with involuntary manslaughter and was accused of recklessly flying his EA-6B Prowler jet on the training mission in the Italian Alps.

The prosecution in the military trial argued Ashby was getting his machismo kicks "flat-hatting" -- flying too low and too fast -- when the aircraft cut the cable. People in the area long had complained that pilots from the NATO base in Aviano, Italy, engaged in dangerous "Top Gun" antics.

Ashby testified under cross-examination that he ignored Marine flight procedures during the flight and admitted adjusting his altitude warning device from the prescribed minimum of 1,000 feet to 800 feet because, he said, "you don't want the thing going off continuously."

Ashby and his navigator also faced an obstruction of justice charge because of the mysterious disappearance of a videotape the navigator made of the fatal flight. Ashby blamed malfunctioning equipment and poor maps for the tragedy. The Marine Corps jury acquitted the Marine Corps flight crew on all charges.

A member of the Italian Parliament, Achille Occhetto, said, "In the face of many dead, and such clear responsibility, this verdict is an act of arrogance and prevarication."

The Pentagon's typical tendency with controversial incidents is to lie, deny, cover up and create myths. This is nothing new, but the Bush administration has encouraged new depths of military deception, further eroding our national credibility with friends and providing our enemies with convenient propaganda.

Bush has fostered an attitude where the United States acts as though it is not responsible for terrible deeds and is immune from international accountability. Bush proclaims and the world is supposed to bow in fealty.

The Canadians bucked our demand that they join in a North American missile shield and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice petulantly canceled a planned trip to Canada. Tests on the "Star Wars" system have failed repeatedly, but Bush is adamant about proceeding with the project that will provide billions of dollars to his cherished military contractors.

Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin said Ottawa will not support the "weaponization of space." That remark sparked a hissy-fit from Paul Celluci, U.S. ambassador to Canada. He said the decision "stunned" him and accused the Canadians of giving up their sovereignty.

Celluci is a third-rate political hack from Massachusetts posing as a diplomat, whose knowledge of Canada extends to hockey and maple syrup. He publicly insulted the Canadians for their refusal to support the war in Iraq.

The Canadians did, however, send troops to Afghanistan and some died there in a friendly fire incident that still outrages many Canadians. A U.S. fighter pilot mistakenly bombed Canadians training near the Kandahar airport, killing four and wounding eight.

Maj. Harry Schmidt was charged initially with manslaughter and aggravated assault, but the charges were reduced to dereliction of duty. He was flying an Illinois Air National Guard F-16 over Afghanistan when, according to his account, he thought he was under attack. The Canadian troop was below in a recognized training zone drilling with live ammunition. They were not firing in the air.

Schmidt requested permission to fire at the flashes he saw and an air controller explicitly ordered him to "hold fire." Schmidt instead dropped a 500-pound bomb, killing the Canadian troops.

A U.S. military inquiry found Schmidt "acted shamefully on April 17, 2002, over Tarnak Farms, Afghanistan, exhibiting arrogance and lack of flight discipline." He was found guilty of dereliction of duty but only fined $5,000.

Maureen Decaire, whose son Brian was killed, told the Toronto Star, "I would like to see him accept responsibility, which I don't think has happened." Taking responsibility is not a big deal in George W. Bush's world, especially if it gets in your way.

That's what our neighbors in Mexico learned when the United States withdrew from a world judicial body after it ordered new hearings for 51 Mexicans on Death Row in the United States.

The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations gives people arrested abroad the right to contact their home countries' embassies or consulates. The United States signed the protocol to protect its own citizens.

The treaty gives the International Court of Justice in the Hague -- the World Court -- the final say in cases in which foreign citizens claim their access to their own consulates was denied.

The World Court ruled last year that the Mexican nationals were not given the treaty protection and required American state courts to grant "review and reconsideration" to claims that their cases had been hurt because local authorities failed to allow them to contact their consulates.

The decision would not get the inmates off Death Row. It only required a hearing. But the Busheviks would have none of that. How dare anyone tell us what to do! We'll just withdraw from the protocol. Peter J. Spiro, an international law professor from the University of Georgia, told The New York Times that the United States' behavior was "a sore-loser kind of move," saying, "If we can't win, we're not going to play."

Ironically, the United States was the first nation to invoke the protocol when Iran took 52 American hostages at our embassy in Tehran in 1978 and the World Court upheld the U.S. position.

The nomination of John Bolton as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations trumpets George W. Bush's disdain for international law and amounts to giving the world community of nations his middle finger.

Bolton, whose thinking was conceived in some wild neocon mating festival, despises what the UN stands for and once said there should be only one permanent seat on the Security Council -- occupied, of course, by the United States.

Bush has brought back his old handler and confidante Karen Hughes to try to polish the nation's tarnished image abroad. Hughes is very skilled in imagery, having helped a dry-drunk, intellectually lazy, mediocre Texas governor become president.

Bush has nominated her to become Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Her job will be to spin a positive image of his warped world view.

That's a formidable task anywhere, but especially outside the United States, where people do more than watch the cable news networks and listen to Rush Limbaugh to understand George W. Bush's pitiful stature in the world.

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 March 15 2005