AUSTIN, Texas -- Don't you hate when war starts in springtime? We are now united in desperately hoping that the war will be both easy and short.

The most depressing thing about this war is that we are going into it with the support of the majority of public opinion in exactly two countries, the United States and Israel -- and that is indeed a miserable failure of diplomacy, as Sen. Daschle put it.

In the current issue of Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria has a long and thoughtful piece on what went wrong. He reports, "I've been all over the world in the last year, and almost every country I've visited has felt humiliated by this administration." He quotes Jorge Casteneda, the recently resigned foreign minister of Mexcio: "Most officials in Latin American countries today are not anti-American types. We have studied in the United States or worked there. We like and understand America. But we find it extremely irritating to be treated with utter contempt."

Zakaria's analysis is more complex than the simple chickens-coming-home-to-roost, but it is impossible to argue that the Bush administration did not bring a great deal of this on itself. That makes it all the more imperative to follow the advice of Poppy Bush to reach out immediately to those who are not supporting us.

On the details of the negotiations, Josh Marshall of The Washington Monthly had a fascinating point on his website (Talking Points) about Resolution 1441 itself. He suggests there are two different interpretations of it. The one by the United States is that if Saddam Hussein were found not to be in compliance (could we please bury "material breach" now? The most pointless bit of jagon of the year so far), the resolution gave the green light for an invasion. "France, Russia and most of the rest of the countries on the Security Council thought they were signing on to a juiced-up version of inspections, basically like what we had until the old system broke down in 1998," says Marshall. "That would mean a relatively open-ended process in which inspectors went into Iraq and searched around at will. If they found stuff, it would be destroyed. If they obstructed the inspections, then the U.N. might sanction forcing the issue by authorizing an attack."

The text of the resolution itself is wonderfully opaque and can be read either way. But Marshall goes back to look at the legislative intent, as it were, at the time the thing was passed. (When judges are trying to determine what a law means, they often go back to the debate on the original bill to find "legislative intent.")

The key word was "automaticity" -- that is, who decided if there was noncompliance. Now here's where the "legislative intent" is found: On the day the resolution was passed, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Negroponte said to the Security Council: "There is not ‘automaticity,' and this is a two-stage process, and in that regard we met the principal concerns that have been expressed for the resolution. Whatever violation there is, or is judged to exist, will be dealt with in the council, and the council will have an opportunity to consider the matter before any other action is taken." Now that is perfectly clear. And that is why the other nations so bitterly feel had on this. No one likes people who deal in bad faith.

In the meantime, I have some unsolicited advice for both those who are pro- and anti-war at this point. If you are anti-war, keep in mind that (SET ITAL) anyone (END ITAL) who suggests or urges that you do anything illegal or violent to oppose the war should immediately be regarded as poison. Peaceful civil disobedience is another matter, but I have always maintained that there is a good case to be made for taking out Saddam Hussein. I'm just sorry the administration -- by constantly changing its rationales, making dubious or unprovable claims about nuclear weapons and links to Al Qaeda, and relying on what turned out to be forged evidence in the case of the Niger papers -- has so muddied the water and alienated the rest of the world.

To those super-patriots who are now picking on the Dixie Chicks, I would suggest you curb your enthusiasm. In World War I, "patriots" used to go around kicking dachshunds on the grounds that they were "German dogs." It's the kind of thing that gives patriotism a bad name. Dissent is not unpatriotic, even during wartime. Try not to be as silly as Congress was about renaming French fries.

Even if the war goes well, and we all pray it does, it's going to be the peace from hell. Let's try being a little gentler with one another. If you don't want to drink French wine, instead of pouring it out, why not make some bum really happy?

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 2003 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.