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US President George "Dubya" Bush addressed a joint session of Congress attended by British Prime Minister Tony Blair Thursday night, and offered a sketchy outline of his plan to rid the world of terrorism.

First on the to-do list appears to be engineering a ground war in Afghanistan.

On Thursday a council of Afghani clerics offered a proposal to the US, suggesting that Osama bin Laden might be politely persuaded to leave the country. This no doubt was meant to open the bidding as low as humanly possible in hopes of driving a solid bargain. Of course the Americans would reject it.

The US counter-proposal was as high as humanly possible, in keeping with the spirit of good dickering. According to Bush, the Taliban must:

"Deliver to United States authorities all the leaders of Al Qaeda who hide in your land.

"Release all foreign nationals, including American citizens, you have unjustly imprisoned.

"Protect foreign journalists, diplomats and aid workers in your country. Close immediately and permanently every terrorist training camp in Afghanistan and hand over every terrorist and every person in their support structure to appropriate authorities.

"Give the United States full access to terrorist training camps so we can make sure they are no longer operating."

Of course the Taliban would reject it. Unfortunately, Bush gave himself absolutely no room for bargaining.

"These demands are not open to negotiation or discussion. The Taliban must act and act immediately. They will hand over the terrorists or they will share in their fate," he declared.

The mullahs are scheduled to meet again Friday to further consider their position, but it's a pretty safe bet that they're not going to give up half of what Bush is demanding.

Of course the US now can't accept less than the full package without making the president look like a fool. Indeed, it would appear that the US has crafted its first and final offer specifically to manufacture a pretext to invade Afghanistan.

There were also strong hints that the US is about to take the thin veil off its imperial ambitions.

"Every nation in every region now has a decision to make. Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists," Bush declared.

Substitute 'barbarians' for 'terrorists', and you can imagine the Emperor Hadrian saying pretty much the same.

Interestingly, Bush used the word 'war' twelve times, and the word 'freedom' thirteen. The revolutionary rhetoric of the nation's founders still echoes in the collective imagination, and inclines Americans to associate 'freedom' with 'war' naturally, a fact Bush's writers exploited with considerable skill.

At any rate, war in Afghanistan now looks very likely, unless the nation's clerics experience an overnight conversion. We're not holding our breath. ®

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