War, it's said, has unintended consequences. Tell it to the Italians.
The saga of Italian reporter Giuliana Sgrena, held for a month by kidnappers in Iraq and then shot by U.S. soldiers as she made her escape, is just another bizarre chapter in the continuing story of how President Bush's invasion of Iraq has put America behind the international eight ball.
The wounding of Ms. Sgrena and the killing of her rescuer, Italian intelligence agent Nicola Calipari, triggered massive mourning in Rome and intensified simmering anti-American sentiment in Italy, where public opposition to the invasion clashes with official government backing.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, one of Mr. Bush's staunchest supporters on the war, has asked the U.S. Embassy for an explanation of the affair, in which the car carrying Ms. Sgrena and Mr. Calipari to the Baghdad airport was fired upon as it drove - or sped - through a highway checkpoint.
The initial U.S. explanation was that the car was bearing down on the checkpoint at high speed and that the U.S. troops, fearful of another suicide car bombing and uninformed by the Italians of the car's mission, took customary defensive action when the driver of the car ignored commands to stop.
That may be true, and perhaps a failure of communication was at fault. But in the court of public opinion in Italy and much of Europe, the incident only rekindles hostility toward the Americans for starting a war that they have not yet been able to finish.
The string of unintended consequences, from the liberation that turned into an occupation to the splintering of international solidarity and the short shrift given to the principle of collective action, has generated enormous diplomatic and political second-guessing about U.S. policy in the last two years.
Mr. Bush, after rushing into Iraq rather than allowing more time to build a broader alliance against Saddam Hussein, has been faced with the unintended consequence of having to pass a tin cup for help in fighting the resultant insurgency. He does so now by emphasizing another unintended consequence: that Iraq has become a breeding ground of terrorism for al-Qaida and others.
At the same time, the unintended consequence of U.S. interrogation methods toward detainees has been the severe tarnishing of Uncle Sam's role as a foremost champion of human rights in other countries.
The administration's feckless contention that its prison guards at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib were beyond the standards of the Geneva Conventions reinforces the impression that America considers itself exempt from the mandates that govern responsible behavior.
Mr. Bush's recent trip to Europe, and the mutual displays of cordiality in his news conferences with Western alliance leaders, especially with his pal Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, could not paper over the greatest unintended consequence of all: Mr. Bush's foreign policies have left him on the outside looking in among so many of America's longtime friends.
The president's re-election might have been expected to restore their good will. Instead, it was met with incredulity among many Europeans who questioned not only the wisdom but the sanity of American voters.
Since his second inauguration, Mr. Bush's agenda has seemed to turn sharply inward, with the same sort of determination to achieve his brand of Social Security reform that he displayed in his first term in forcing regime change in Iraq.
He has been racing around the country preaching "private investment accounts," generating not only a solid wall of opposition from Democrats but also signs of serious leakage within his own party. It's yet another unintended consequence of Mr. Bush's do-it-my-way leadership.
Jules Witcover writes from The Sun's Washington bureau.
© 2005 Baltimore Sun