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Exactly a year ago yesterday, Sharon promised at his Knesset swearing-in ceremony to safeguard the citizens of this country, move peace forward with painful concessions and "build up trust and mutual respect with the Palestinian people." The hundreds of thousands of voters who switched sides, casting their ballot for him instead of Barak, believed that Sharon had an organized plan for extricating us safely from the al-Aqsa Intifada.

Many years ago, General Eisenhower was elected president of the United States on the strength of his promise to end the Korean War. The day after the elections, without even being formally inaugurated, he was on his way to Korea, with blueprints for carrying out that promise. Sharon has never had a blueprint for anything.

Arafat, who has never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity, including the Clinton plan, was stupid enough not to put Sharon's promises to the test. In this way, he provided Sharon with an excuse to do the only thing he has ever specialized in during the whole span of his career: implementing a policy of brute force.

This week, a year after that candy-coated speech at the Knesset, Sharon has brought us his apocalyptic vision: Now it's "us or them." Now we are "at war with a cruel and bloodthirsty enemy on whom we must inflict painful losses. Now there is no political option. Only a military option. We are fighting for our home. It will not be easy and it will not be quick, but if we are steadfast and determined, Israel will win." A poor man's Churchill speech.

Fighting for our home? Sharon's worst enemy couldn't have come up with a more serious indictment of his incompetent leadership. While the army, under his bullying command, has gotten itself mixed up in a "rolling" operation employing heavy armor and elite troops, the world has turned on its head. Time after time, the terrorists have managed to trip us up, using the most primitive means to make us wince. Now they are David and we are bumbling Goliath.

The scenario painted by the government involves force, period. "Our political script calls for military victory," says Field Marshal Sharansky. "We're very close to a showdown," says Silvan Shalom. "Let's topple the Palestinian Authority," says Livnat. "Let's reoccupy the territories," says Landau.

Woe to a government that acts in a wild fit of lunacy, the blood rushing to its head. Woe to a government that leads us to the point of no return while the Labor Party, the so-called peace camp, trails along in the role of chief partner.

In abandoning the political track, Sharon is offering us three options that are like taking your pick between plague and cholera. The option of defeating terror is non-existent. No terror in the world has been eradicated without a political settlement. The option of unilateral withdrawal is non-implementable, both for fear of the settlers and because it will be interpreted as weakness and set the Palestinians on the home front warpath. The third option, reoccupying the territories, will bring the world down on us and saddle us with even more terror than before.

Barak handed Sharon a country that wasn't in great shape, but the job waiting for him was more than he could handle. It's not a matter of age. Churchill was elected prime minister when he was 66, leaping straight into a war against Germany. De Gaulle grappled with Algeria when he was 68. Adenauer was chosen to rehabilitate Germany at the age of 73. What characterized these leaders was that they reached office when they were at their prime, and only got better.

The trouble with Sharon is that he still has the mentality of a brigade commander, who sees the world through a gun barrel and scoffs at the idea of negotiations. It's no coincidence that Sharon was never deemed fit to be chief of staff. It's no coincidence that Begin hemmed and hawed for months before giving Sharon the defense portfolio, describing him as a person who couldn't control himself. The man was right.

Those who didn't want Sharon as defense minister got him as prime minister, of course, but he has remained a brigade commander. He is still fighting the wars of the past, with his reprisal attacks, his Gaza, his Lebanon. He is still back in the days when people used to say that the only language the Arabs understood was force.

The Sharon administration has lost its reason for being. It has failed at every turn, and robbed the nation of its most prized possession: hope.