YESTERDAY, in Madrid, the American Secretary of State virtually obliterated the distinction between terrorists and those fighting terrorists: "I think we are all in agreement and the world is in agreement that the solution will not be produced by terror or a response to terror." Quite a departure from the Bush Administration's response to September 11.

Later in the day, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer joined in the holiday from moral judgment. He said that the murderous suicide bomb attack in Haifa, in which eight Israelis were killed and a dozen others wounded, somehow underscored "the need for all parties to step back, for Israel to withdraw, and for the Palestinians and the Arabs to stop the violence, stop the killing." How wonderfully even-handed (even as it ignores the fact that the terrorist attacks against Israel have declined significantly since the Israeli military offensive began).

Administration officials speaking anonymously to reporters went further. "U.S. officials" told CNN White House correspondent John King Tuesday night that the ambush of Israeli military forces in the West Bank "would not have happened had Prime Minister Sharon heeded the president's advice and pulled back his troops." In other words, if Israelis die fighting terrorism, it is their fault for fighting back and for not heeding the American president's warning.

In fact, some senior White House officials seem to have launched a campaign against the national unity government of Ariel Sharon. The Washington Post quoted "administration sources" saying support for Sharon was "eroding . . . inside the White House." These "senior White House aides are beginning to express doubts about whether the Israeli leader can be a long-term partner in achieving the administration's goals in the Middle East."

These "senior White House aides" may be unaware that the current Israeli military operation has the overwhelming support of Israeli people across the political spectrum. But in any case, isn't it rather extraordinary, at a time when Secretary Powell is reaching out his hand to "Chairman" Arafat, that White House officials are now suggesting they would like to see the elected prime minister of Israel out of office?

Which leads to the question: Who are these "senior White House aides"? For months we've been reading about the unprecedented discipline of this White House--how no one speaks to the press without authorization. So we can safely assume that only the highest officials in the White House could be making statements with such significant policy implications. People at the level of, say, Andrew Card, Karl Rove, Karen Hughes, Condoleezza Rice, and Ari Fleischer.

Is it really the case that "regime change" in Israel is now administration policy? If not, these officials may want to publicly dispel the impression left by "senior White House aides."

--William Kristol & Robert Kagan

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