While perusing the U.S. News (http://www.usnews.com/usnews/issue/030310/usnews/10bush.htm) cover story on Bush and Iraq -- "Sticking to His Guns" -- we were struck by a small photograph at the bottom of the page.

It was a handwritten note ("Iraq, N Korea, Firefighters, FTA" or free trade agreement) that Bush had scribbled for his meeting with Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

Not terribly surprising, we suppose, that the White House would provide the talking points as a way of showing the president fully engaged -- a far cry from the days when journalists assumed that he could barely remember the names of foreign leaders without a cheat sheet from Condi or Powell.

But the magazine's decision to run it reflects the media's absorption with all things Bush -- his thought process, his style, his values, his religion, his good-versus-evil world outlook. Even his scribblings might provide a clue. To a degree almost unimaginable when he won a contested election, Bush is now the dominant figure in the world, fueling endless media efforts to deconstruct the Dubya persona.

Thus we have the Newsweek story on Bush and God, and Time's war cover last week, with Bush depicted as a top-hatted Uncle Sam, trying to enlist America in his crusade against Saddam.

The U.S. News piece quotes Ari Fleischer as saying his boss is "in a zone." Now the media are flooding the zone.

Name a subject, and chances are it revolves around Bush.

When millions of Europeans protest the looming war, they are really expressing their disgust for Bush. When Democrats complain about reckless tax cuts and inadequate spending on homeland security, they are probing for chinks in the Bush armor. The environmental movement, the civil rights community, labor unions, judicial activists, anti-global warming types and corporate reformers are all gunning for Bush on a daily basis.

On a purely political basis, Bush's command performance in the '02 elections not only handed the GOP total control but really discombobulated the opposition.

But it's the war -- and the president's willingness to take on the U.N., the French, the protesters, the recalcitrant Turks and anyone else who stands in his way -- that has forced reappraisals, positive and negative, of what the man is made of.

The downside for Bush is that he's the undisputed father of any future failure. If the war doesn't go well, if post-Saddam Iraq erupts in chaos, if other Middle East governments fall, if there's an upsurge in terrorism, if the economy continues to flatline, there's no one else to blame. Bush has so personalized these battles that the outcome will determine the fate of his presidency.

In the meantime, media types will keep trying to figure him out.

Can war be averted? Here's the latest from USA Today: (http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/iraq/2003-03-02-iraq-peace_x.htm)

"Iraq continued to destroy banned missiles yesterday and promised more information for United Nations weapons inspectors on chemical and biological weapons as a U.N. vote approaches on a U.S.-backed war resolution.

"Iraq crushed six more al-Samoud 2 missiles, bringing the total destroyed so far to 16, and cut up casting chambers used to make missiles. Iraq has more than 100 al-Samouds, which were ordered destroyed because they violate a U.N.-imposed range limit of 93 miles. Iraq also promised to report on its stocks of VX nerve gas and anthrax next week, said Hiro Ueki, a spokesman for the inspectors. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"But White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Iraq still falls short of the 'complete, total and immediate disarmament' that the United Nations has demanded."

The protests won't end when the bombs start dropping, says the Philadelphia Inquirer: (http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/news/nation/5297555.htm)

"If U.S.-led forces attack Iraq, antiwar activists in Philadelphia and around the country plan to blockade federal buildings and disrupt major business districts with large protests and nonviolent civil disobedience.

"Many organizers have kept their intentions under wraps, so that police and officials at targeted sites, including large corporations and U.S. military bases, will be caught off guard. But drafts of some plans have appeared on Web sites, and training sessions on topics such as 'nonviolent blockades' are under way. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"Some disruptions have already started: Eight antiwar protesters were arrested in Seattle on Feb. 18 after blocking the eastbound lanes of Highway 520, halting the morning commute.

"In California, dozens of protesters plan to infiltrate Vandenberg Air Force Base on the central coast, hoping to disrupt work. A San Francisco-area collective called Direct Action to Stop the War plans to blockade the TransAmerica Pyramid, the Pacific Stock Exchange and the Federal Reserve in San Francisco.

"Protesters in Washington may focus on the White House. A spokesman for a national group, Peace Action, said plans called for activists to gather at 5 p.m. on the day the United States goes to war, or at that time the following day if an attack begins at night. Scott Lynch said protesters would probably block one of the White House driveways."

All of which will accomplish what?

Andrew Sullivan (http://www.andrewsullivan.com) is quick to register his indignation:

"I cannot be the only one disturbed by reports that the anti-war movement intends not merely to protest the war before it happens, but to actually attempt to undermine it when it starts. If they go ahead and try to impede those people in the military doing their jobs, if they launch a 'stop-the-war' movement after it has begun and American and British lives are at stake, it strikes me that they will massively over-play their hand.

"It took a long time in the Vietnam War for people to start campaigning against an existing war; and longer still for some to withhold support from the troops facing battle. If the anti-war brigades decide to cross that line instantly, then the backlash could be enormous. And deservedly so."

The New Republic's (http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=20030310&s=chait031003) Jonathan Chait portrays a "September 10th President":

"Through passivity or, more often, active opposition, President Bush has repeatedly stifled efforts to strengthen domestic safeguards against further terrorist attacks. As a consequence, homeland security remains perilously deficient.

"'President Bush vetoed several specific (and relatively cost-effective) measures proposed by Congress that would have addressed critical national vulnerabilities. As a result, the country remains more vulnerable than it should be today,' concluded a report published last month by the Brookings Institution. A December 2002 report sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations concurs: 'America remains dangerously unprepared to prevent and respond to a catastrophic terrorist attack on U.S. soil.'

"Bush's record on homeland security ought to be considered a scandal. Yet, not only is it not a scandal, it's not even a story, having largely failed to register with the public, the media, or even the political elite. One reason is that it's simply hard to believe that something as essential as protecting Americans from terrorism would be resisted by any serious person in Washington. We have been hearing for a year and a half, after all, that September 11 altered the basic dynamics of American politics, at least as far as security issues go."

Salon's (http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2003/03/03/powell/index.html) Eric Boehlert says Colin Powell's reputation is squarely on the line if the U.S. invades Iraq without U.N. approval:

"For Powell himself, it would be an embarrassing defeat that would give fresh ammunition to circling critics both on the left, who have questioned his new hawkish stance, and on the right, who doubt his competence and judgment.

"Powell watching has been something of a Beltway obsession almost from the beginning of the Bush presidency. Hawks determined to go to war with Iraq, and supporters of Israel who suspected him of representing the traditional Arabism of the State Department, have long had an evil eye for the secretary of state. Liberals, for their part, have seized on him as virtually the only voice of moderation in an overwhelmingly right-wing administration. As a result, his sudden backing for the war in recent weeks has led to intense speculation about his motives and true beliefs.

"Liberals and moderates who saw Powell as a stabilizing force inside the White House feel betrayed and charge he's flip-flopped from a thoughtful, war-tested skeptic to an administration spokesperson busy peddling dubious intelligence."

National Review's (http://nationalreview.com/frum/diary030303.asp) David Frum says the recent indictment of former professor Sami Al-Arian on charges of being a Palestinian terrorist (which we wrote about in The Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A31034-2003Mar2.html) yesterday) has not caused some supporters to change their tune:

"Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations says 'nothing has been brought forward to indicate any criminal activity' by Al-Arian. What we're seeing, instead, is the 'Israelization of American policy and procedures,' a police-state frame-up manufactured top to bottom by the 'attack dogs of the pro-Israel lobby.'

"The American Muslim Political Coordination Council thinks it a 'disturbing' sign of sectarian bigotry that federal prosecutors have 'inserted religious expressions like Jihad and martyrdom' in the indictment of .{sbquo}.{sbquo}. a Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader accused of financing martyrdom attacks. The Arab American Institute calls the charges against Al-Arian 'specious.' The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee reports that there is 'no evidence' against him whatsoever.

"Perhaps it's no surprise that CAIR and the others continue to stand by al-Arian. In a way, it's even clarifying. Our choice of friends tells much about us: about our values, our principles, and our ultimate loyalties.

"But one thing in this story still remains curiously unclear: How was it that Sami al-Arian and his family were allowed to get as close as they did to Candidate and then President George W. Bush?"

We suggested yesterday that health care reform would be extremely difficult to pass, and this wire story in the Boston Globe (http://boston.com/dailyglobe2/063/nation/Democrats_assail_Bush_prescription_drug_plan+.shtml) seems to underscore the case:

"Democrats launched an attack on President Bush's Medicare prescription drug proposal yesterday, saying that limited coverage for seniors in traditional Medicare is of 'very, very marginal value.'

"Meanwhile, Bush prepared to outline parts of the proposal in a speech today before the American Medical Association. The administration has already briefed top congressional Republicans on the plan and was sending lawmakers an outline last night.

"According to Republican aides, seniors enrolled in the traditional fee-for-service Medicare program would get a discount drug card that would offer some savings when buying prescriptions. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi was expected to criticize the administration's plan in a speech to the American Legion today, the same day House Democrats planned to offer their own prescription drug plan. "

How greedy are these already-rich corporate guys? The New York Times (http://nytimes.com/2003/03/04/business/04WAKS.html) answers the question:

"Saying he knew that his actions had been wrong, Samuel D. Waksal pleaded guilty yesterday to evading sales tax on $15 million worth of contemporary art that he bought from a New York City gallery.

"Dr. Waksal, the founder and former chief executive of ImClone Systems, admitted participating in a scheme in which he bought the art and then had the gallery owner prepare false invoices showing that the works had been shipped to a New Jersey address. In fact, they were delivered to Dr. Waksal's apartment in Manhattan, he said during his arraignment in Federal District Court in Manhattan on two charges of fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud, which meant he owed a total of $1.26 million in state and city taxes."

The same evading-taxes-on-expensive-art is what tripped up Tyco's Dennis Kozlowski.

A Defense Department probe sparked by a Washington Post story is nearly over, says the Washington Times: (http://washingtontimes.com/national/20030304-33321319.htm)

"A Pentagon investigation of Gen. Tommy Franks has cleared him of all but one charge brought by a subordinate at U.S. Central Command, according to sources familiar with the inquiry.

"The charges revolved around Gen. Franks' wife, Cathy, and whether the government was reimbursed for air travel and whether military personnel did personal errands for her. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"The sources said the only area where Gen. Franks may face a problem is a technical question of whether his wife was present during the presentation of one piece of intelligence."

Here's a story that's getting big play overseas, and almost none at home:

"Just when you thought the United States' worldwide unpopularity couldn't plunge to greater depths, a story in Sunday's London Observer reported that in preparation for another possible United Nations vote on military intervention against Iraq, the U.S. government was engaging in 'dirty tricks' by conducting surveillance on members of the U.N. Security Council," reports Salon's (http://salon.com/news/feature/2003/03/04/spy/index.html) Jake Tapper.

"The story was based on a memo allegedly sent by a National Security Agency official seeking surveillance information on the thoughts of U.N. Security Council delegates for countries that remain either opposed to or undecided on the war against Iraq. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"'It's a big story in Russia and it led the French news today,' said Martin Bright, the Observer's home affairs editor. Bright, who helped write the story, was reached on his cellphone as he drove home from an interview with Canadian TV. Bright said that he had agreed to interviews with NBC, CNN, and Fox News Channel -- and that all three had called and canceled. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"When the story broke Sunday there were initially questions about the legitimacy of the memo by the Drudge Report and the Washington Times, which noted that the memo used British spelling of several words. But the Observer subsequently fixed the memo and added a clarification, noting that it had 'reverted to the original US-spelling as in the document leaked to The Observer.' Questions about its credibility seemed to vanish when no one in the government disputed it."

A Senate Democrat is doing something rather unusual -- not throwing his hat in the '04 ring, says the Hartford Courant: (http://www.ctnow.com/news/custom/newsat3/hc-dodd0304.artmar04,0,1922582.story?coll=hc%2Dheadlines%2Dnewsat3)

"Sen. Christopher J. Dodd turned down an opportunity to make history yesterday by announcing he would not join his Connecticut colleague, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, and the eight other Democrats competing for the 2004 nomination for president.

"With the canary-yellow walls of the Old State House in Hartford as backdrop and his wife, Jackie Clegg Dodd, by his side, the 58-year-old senator laid out a coherent and sometimes passionate explanation of why he has decided not to seize this chance at the presidency. The primary reason for his decision, Dodd said, was his conclusion that he was of more use in the Senate than on the campaign trail. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"Although Dodd rejected the notion that he decided against a run because Lieberman was already in the race, he acknowledged it would have complicated the election for many Connecticut Democrats."

Mere heart surgery doesn't slow down some candidates, the American Prowler (http://theamericanprowler.com/article.asp?art_id=2003_3_2_21_44_38) says:

"Sen. Bob Graham of Florida has been dialing for dollars over the past two weeks. While convalescing from serious heart surgery at first his daughter's home and then his own townhouse, Graham has been using his time calling longtime donors and fundraisers for his presidential campaign.

"'He's pulling in a quarter million a day,' says a Graham adviser on Capitol Hill. 'Not bad for a guy who hasn't been getting out.'

"Much of Graham's backing is coming from Florida, where he is a Democratic Party icon. Graham has some catching up to do with party comrades already committed to running for president. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"Graham believes, though, that he has one advantage over his other competitors: war with Iraq. 'When war breaks out, the media is going to want a Democrat who's on top of all the security issues, and as ranking Democrat on Intelligence, he's that guy,' says the adviser. 'He'll be the most visible Democrat during the war. We're banking on it.'

"With that kind of hope for war, you'd think the senator would be more vocally supportive of the initiative against Iraq."