AUSTIN, Texas -- One rarely sees a thoroughly bad idea advanced by government. Lots of stuff from silly to smelly gets done, but somebody usually benefits, even if it's not the American people. But can anyone see an upside to having an office of government propaganda with an official license to lie?

They say if you fight someone long enough, you become like your enemy, but this Soviet notion is such a bummer it was useless even to them back in the day. But the Bush administration is apparently determined to bring us not one but two bureaus of propaganda. The "Office of Strategic Influence" -- isn't that a beauty? -- at the Pentagon will use "the media, the Internet and a range of covert operations to try to influence public opinion and government policy abroad, including in friendly nations," according to The New York Times. "Strategic Information" will include both information and disinformation. Disinformation, in case you haven't figured it out, is made of lies.

Then on top of that gem, the Bush administration also proposes "a permanent office of global diplomacy to spread a positive image of the United States around the world and combat anti-Americanism." This would include "intense shaping of information and coordination of messages" to ensure that "foreign correspondents in Washington as well as foreign leaders and opinion-makers overseas understand Mr. Bush's ideas and policies."

Let me go not very far out on a limb to predict this will be a disaster. It will wreck our credibility in no time. Sheesh, when will they ever learn? There are several documented cases of "blowback" from the Cold War, when we spread some lie and it came back to bite us in the rear. As any journalist can tell you, when you put out misinformation, all it does is poison the well of public debate.

The Bushies are great believers in "message discipline" -- they practiced it endlessly during the 2000 campaign. O, but facts are troublesome things. Not even giant public relations campaigns can make them go away. Did you sign up anywhere to have your tax dollars used for government propaganda? Do you like the idea? Let's kill this before it multiplies.

If Bush wants to do something about anti-Americanism abroad, he could:

-- sign the Kyoto Accords on global warming and help save the world.

-- stop our blind support of Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians and get serious about forcing a settlement in the face of that yawning disaster. We are more pro-Israeli than the Israelis, who have a humongous public debate about their own policies, which rather clearly aren't working worth a damn.

We could quit doing dumb stuff like:

-- outraging world opinion by saying we won't treat the prisoners at Gitmo as POWs under the Geneva Convention.

-- appointing John Negroponte, a major figure in the Iran-Contra mess, as ambassador to the United Nations.

-- appointing Otto Reich, another high-level Iran-Contra figure, as assistant secretary of state for Inter-American Affairs.

-- adding to the global warming problem by rescinding rules for improving energy efficiency in air conditioners and heaters, dropping Bush's campaign promise to regulate carbon dioxide and canceling the 2004 deadline for automakers to develop prototype high-mileage cars.

-- pushing for development of small nuclear weapons in violation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

-- banning federal aid to international family planning programs that offer abortion counseling with separate, independent funding.

-- appointing John Bolton, who opposes nonproliferation treaties and the U.N., to under secretary of state for Arms Control and International Security.

-- continuing our own production of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons while lecturing the rest of the world for doing the same thing, including naming Iran, Iraq and North Korea an "axis of evil" for doing exactly what we do. What does that make us?

-- Screwing up our ally South Korea's long-held plans to make some accommodation with the North.

We can all think of several other things America could do to improve the opinion the world holds of us -- but running a propaganda campaign is not among them. Isn't it bad enough that we lead the world in contributing to air pollution -- do we have pollute the truth too?

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 2002 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.