WASHINGTON — If they could shrink themselves to the size of a typeset period, perhaps things would be different.

If the children of the Middle East did not have dark and fearful eyes, but instead looked more like those the president cuddled and held aloft for pictures — their golden locks glowing in photographers’ lights as he showed off kids adopted as embryos — then George W. Bush might show the same respect for the lives of desperate civilians in the Middle East that he bestows upon those he invites to the White House.

He might demand that the children of the war zone that stretches from Israel through Gaza into Lebanon and Iraq be afforded the human decency he insists must be granted to blastocysts the size of pinpricks. These laboratory creations, tiny clumps of cells — neither fetuses nor babies — have no flesh, no brain, no playthings nor petrified parents who pack them into vans and taxis for a perilous flight toward safety, or toward violent death. For those with a microscopic claim to life, the president demands greater rights than he presently seeks for the living, breathing offspring of the troubled lands he believes can be subdued through force.

Of all the shocking hypocrisies of the Bush presidency, none makes the skin crawl so much as the juxtaposition of the president’s veto of bill enabling more stem cell research with the carnage he cynically tolerates in the Middle East.

Bush used the first veto of his presidency to reject a rare bipartisan measure that accepts scientific fact for what it is: That is, the medical research that might save or improve the lives of the sick and disabled through the use of stem cells from embryos that would otherwise be discarded as medical waste. As a matter of medical ethics, Bush’s objections are inconsistent. If he truly believes that destroying human blastocysts is “murder” — as his spokesman Tony Snow says — then he should move to shutter all the nation’s fertility clinics, which after a time destroy unused embryos.

The illogic of the stem cell position has to do with the president’s catering to that fringe of American society that prefers theocracy to scientific progress. It is harder — much harder — to fathom this president’s apparent lack of revulsion at war.

As Bush was protecting blastocysts at home, the news from the Middle East made clear the depth of that oft-told political lie about respecting all forms of human life. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s surprise trip to Beirut on Monday had all the substance of a U.S. official’s description of the stop: “We are here, we are concerned.” The White House continued to reject international pleas to work for a quick cease-fire; the U.S. has speeded up delivery of armaments to Israel.

The new buzzword is that the United States seeks a “sustainable” cease-fire between Israel and its terrorist tormentors in Hezbollah. The admirable goal is troubled by history: There has been no “sustainable” cease-fire since Israel’s founding in 1948. To wait now only ensures more bloodshed, more orphans and more anti-American and anti-Israeli anger.

Still, Iraq is the best measure of Bush’s faith in the policy of using force without a diplomatic consensus about its legitimacy. As the White House maneuvered to put the best political face on the stem cell veto, the United Nations gave what amounts to the first officially sanctioned account of civilian deaths in Iraq. Relying on reports from the Iraqi Ministry of Health, it estimates that since the U.S. invasion in 2003 “at least 50,000 persons have been killed violently,” with the Baghdad morgue alone receiving 30,204 bodies between 2003 and the middle of this year. “The ministry further indicated that the number of deaths is probably underreported,” the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq said.

For years, political sages have attempted to explain the unusual mindset of a president who so often seeks to give war a chance. It is that 9/11 “changed everything” for Bush. Or that he distrusts the old diplomatic order — that is, the one followed by every contemporary American president, including his father — as a form of appeasement. Or that he is certain that he can change the game in the Middle East.

Given the coincidence of right-to-life politics at home alongside the bombs that rain down abroad, it is time to give up this endeavor at comprehension. Because no one can explain the inexplicable.

Marie Cocco’s e-mail address is mariecocco(at symbol)washpost.com.

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