The U.S. military, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has assured those who raised the question, is quite capable of waging the virtually foreordained war with Iraq and taking on the newly feisty North Korea. I wish someone could settle my own questions with such clarity and conviction. I've got a ton of them.

For instance, has the decision to forgo unilateral military action against Iraq in favor of taking the matter of Iraqi violations to the United Nations been subverted into some sort of Catch-22? Our government seems to be telling us that if Iraqi President Saddam Hussein denies having weapons of mass destruction, while we know he does have them, that falsehood becomes a material breach of Iraq's agreement, and reason to take Saddam Hussein out militarily. But if Saddam Hussein admits to having such weapons, he stands convicted out of his own mouth and therefore we have no choice but to take him out.

("We know he's got those weapons of mass destruction," satirist Mark Russell explained the other day. "We've got the receipts!")

Is America really serious that the war we propose is for the purpose of bringing democracy to the people of Iraq? Is it hopelessly cynical to imagine that democratization is a much lower priority than controlling Iraqi oil reserves, asserting our authority in that part of the world and (perhaps) avenging our president's father?

I mean, Saddam Hussein at least pretends to have a democracy. Our allies such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait don't even go through the charade.

Which brings me to another set of questions. Is it possible to call attention to our own duplicity or Saudi Arabia's lack of democracy without seeming to say that Saddam Hussein is innocent? He's not, of course. He's pretty much all the things the administration has said he is.

But is he such an imminent threat to the United States as to justify our unilateral military action against him? Is war -- a war that is likely to cost thousands of innocent Iraqi lives -- the only way to remove whatever remains of Saddam Hussein's ability to wreak international havoc? Will our effort to take him out -- even if successful -- create more havoc than it prevents?

If the proposed war is less about democracy and more about opposing international terrorism, why am I mistaken in the view that an attack on Baghdad likely would spawn more anti-American and anti-Israeli terrorism and increase -- perhaps many fold -- the number of terrorists who see us as the international menace?

And by the way, how much of the commitment to rid the world of Saddam Hussein is calculated to meet Israel's needs rather than our own? As important as it is to avoid the logical trap that to oppose the war is to proclaim Saddam Hussein's innocence, one must be careful not to buy into the line of those who oppose the war because they hate Israel. But if we are willing to launch a war at least partly for Israel's sake, shouldn't we have a little more clout than we appear to have over such matters as the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories?

One of the key questions in my mind is how those who make our policy see the role of the United States. Do they see us as the only adults in a room full of squabbling children -- the only ones with both the clarity of vision and the military wherewithal to undertake the unpleasant task of belling the aggressive cats of the world? Do they see us as Johnny Appleseeds of democracy?

Or do they see us, as I sometimes fear, as some sort of international Dirty Harry, packing lots of heat and requiring only the thinnest of pretexts (and little patience for procedural and evidentiary niceties) to rid the world of its scum?

Finally, do they think -- does America think -- that it's too late to work at peace, that it's wimpy to wonder why so much of the world dislikes us, that it's a form of appeasement to try to show the world our better nature?