AUSTIN -- So far, so good. Way to go, military.

It has turned out, in previous campaigns of oxymoronic "surgical bombing," that initial reports exaggerated both the effectiveness and the accuracy of our efforts. But as of the bombing of Yugoslavia (with the exception of the unfortunate "ooops" over the Chinese Embassy), we seem to be getting better at the ghastly art.

The pathetic shortage of what the military calls "first class targets" in Afghanistan was underlined in the first wave of bombing designed to take out the Taliban's air weapons -- according to one British expert, they have or had 12 planes. Our announced plan of clearing the skies so we can bomb them with butter seems to me exceptionally shrewd, although we have the unfortunate precedent of a humanitarian mission turned sour from Somalia.

So the military is out there doing its thing, in its obscure language Pentagonese, while some of us nail-biters at home have gotten into a bitter argument. The pundit class seems to have fallen into Manichean error -- that's the one where everything gets oversimplified into good/bad, dark/light. Among our more excitable brethren, a few have concluded that anyone who advocates an Israeli-Palestinian accord is playing Osama bin Laden's game and is the moral equivalent of the 1930s appeasers of Hitler. Get a grip.

Bin Laden is so appalling that if he were in favor of sunshine and laughter, one would be tempted to vote for dark and gloom. But that would give him control. There is a mild parallel to this situation in G.W. Bush's foreign policy prior to Sept. 11. As near anyone could tell, the sole unifying theme of his policies was to be for whatever Bill Clinton had been against and vice versa.

Clinton pushed mightily for a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, therefore Bush would not push. Clinton was for the Kyoto Accord and various international treaties banning biological weapons, small arms trade, etc., therefore Bush was opposed to same. And so it went. One unhappy consequence of this unthinking pattern was that we seriously ticked off the European allies. Their generous support post-Sept. 11 is especially commendable given that they were Not Happy Campers to that time.

The point is that policy needs to be judged not on who is for it or against it -- for all we know Saddam Hussein may be right about something -- but whether the policy works. We are the shrewd, pragmatic Yankees, remember? It is in our interest and the interest of Israel and the Palestinians to get that situation settled, so let's get it. Who cares if Bin Laden is for it, too? (He's not, of course. He wants to destroy Israel and the Wes. No one is appeasing Bin Laden -- you can't appease a fanatic.) I think those who are flying into the boughs of overwrought rhetoric at the idea that something we might do could somehow be construed as "giving in" to Bin Laden are ceding the man entirely too much control over our decisions. Why stick with a dumb policy because of him?

The main reason we want to try something new as regards both the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Iraqi sanctions is because what we're doing now clearly doesn't work worth squat. There is no percentage in letting a bad situation get worse. Pragmatism may not be a great moral philosophy, but it is useful. Liberals, as usual, are accused of being naive, warm-and-fuzzy peaceniks (when not being labeled Hitler-appeasers). To use a homely phrase, someone here doesn't have his thinking cap on straight, and as far as I can see, the only actual thinking, rather than reacting, is being done on the left.

Come on, let's get some new ideas in here. Or even some good old ones. I go back to the much-agreed point that the most successful American foreign policy of the 20th century was the Marshall Plan. The United States helped rebuild Europe with that plan, including Germany -- a place of which we then had no reason to be fond. But it was very smart of us.

Looking way down the line, we need to rethink our role in the arms traffic. According to a congressional study published in August, world arms sales to developing countries rose by 8 percent last year, with the United States dominating the market. Weapons sales came to $36.9 billion, with the United States accounting for about half, $18.6 billion. We've been shot at with our own weapons all over the world. We armed the mujahedeen (different war, different world), but we didn't stick around to help glue the pieces back together when it was over. Bush said recently, "We're not into nation-building," as though it were a venereal disease.

The question is, would it work? We all have 20-20 hindsight on Afghanistan now -- better that than this.

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.