Why are we in the Middle East? This is the real question that the Madrid bombs pose for Europe and the United States, and for the nations of that region themselves. The struggle in which we are all caught up is, ultimately, neither about Iraq nor about terrorism narrowly defined.
There is a dispiriting resemblance between recent news about former Yugoslavia and news about Iraq, the two places that bracket the modern era of intervention. Several factors suggest the necessity not only for reform, but for a new modesty
in the West's approach to intervention.
Ever since its foundation, Israel has been troubled by the thought that it might have as much to fear from supposed friends as from avowed enemies. That is one reason why Israelis are often anxious monitors of public opinion in North America and Europe.
What is regarded as good news and bad news is a changeable thing. Thirty years ago, when anxiety about rising population and diminished resources was fresher than it is today, figures showing a flattening out of population growth in many countries, including our own, would have been seen as a boon.
It has always been true that many things done in the name of God would be abhorrent to a benign deity. But this seems like an especially bad period for the abuse of religion. Religion continues to be a vehicle for political expression and change, whether peaceful or violent.
President George W Bush this week described speculation about an impending attack on Iraq as ''a frenzy'', stressing he was a ''patient man'' and would consult with United States allies before any possible action.