AUSTIN, Texas -- Back from a month in Europe, I meant to begin by suggesting it's time to start thinking outside the box. Then I got back to Texas. The sign outside our neighborhood strip joint says, "Hot Babes, Cold Beer, Nuke 'Em, GW." Actually, let's start by thinking.

Bush's "bomb them with butter" campaign in Afghanistan is a good start. One step we might usefully ponder is announcing that Osama bin Laden, when smoked out and rounded up, will be turned over to the World Court in The Hague to be tried for crimes against humanity.

First, bin Laden and his terrorist network are guilty of crimes against humanity; second, this would emphasize that it's the whole world against the terrorists; third, we're more likely to get bin Laden that way. The few extreme Arab states might hesitate to turn him over to the Great Satan, but turning him over to the World Court would be much easier for them. The government of Pakistan, in particular, which is between a rock and hard place, would find this helpful -- and Pakistan is in a position to be very useful to us.

Numero Two-o, something has to be done about the Israeli-Palestinian tragedy. Among foreign policy experts, there is wide agreement that the single most successful American policy of the 20th century was the Marshall Plan. Why not go to the oil-rich Arab states and suggest it is time for them, given their concern for their oppressed brothers in Palestine, to put together a Marshall Plan for the West Bank? They could build there the most beautiful city in the world, complete with universities, hospitals and mosques. This is important because the Palestinians truly are the wretched of the earth -- they have nothing and, furthermore, are continually subject to humiliation.

Third. We may want to rethink our presence in Saudi Arabia. I hesitate to suggest this only because it would give bin Laden satisfaction if we were to withdraw -- otherwise, it's worth thinking about. How necessary is our physical presence there, and how deeply do we want to be involved in propping up a corrupt monarchy?

I am assuming we would continue to keep a fleet with plenty of firepower in the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea. The answer on Saudi Arabia has always been oil, but the truth is we could conserve our way out of oil dependency and into oil self-sufficiency merely by going to the standards currently in effect in Europe, not to mention the possibilities of hybrid cars -- the gas/electric combinations already on the market. (The French make one car so short it looks like a pregnant roller skate. They can park their cars between the posts on the sidewalk, like Harleys.) Are the red-hot patriots who want to nuke anything that moves willing to give up some gas?

Great powers are always interested in "stability," in preserving the status quo. But that's a hopeless endeavor, since change is a constant. Military experts have been telling us for some time we need less muscle and more flexibility -- the same can be said of our foreign policy.

The Europeans were much taken aback by W.'s language after the attack. I must confess, I'm such a Texan I didn't even react. We'll "smoke 'em out and round 'em up." Sound plan. "Bring him in, dead or alive." You bet your butt. I did cringe at his use of the word crusade, but only because I recently read a history of the crusades -- "Deus Lo Volt!" by Evan S. Connell -- and so realized this would be taken as an announcement of a gory jihad against all Moslems. Someone at the State Department was asleep at the wheel when vetting that speech.

The worry is that Bush is painting himself into a corner with his rhetoric. This is not a war, it's a gigantic police operation in the face of a crime beyond all understanding.

Unlike FDR, we can no longer say the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, but fear itself is one of the things we need to be most afraid of. Fear is at the root of most evil. As Boots Cooper, age 8, said after a close encounter with a chicken snake, "Some things'll scare you so bad, you'll hurt yourself."

These dotty proposals to breach the Constitution fall into that category. We cannot make ourselves more secure by making ourselves less free. According to reporting in the Los Angles Times and The New York Times, the terrorists got in and stayed through loopholes in the visa system, not some fundamental constitutional principle.

Just one more Texas sign, in front of a pharmacy -- "Generic Prozac Now In: God Bless America." It's a great country.

To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2001 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.