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U.S. taking wrong approach on Iraq

Tuesday, February 03, 1998

By Tony Norman

Life would be a lot simpler if I didn't agree with the French about the coming war with Iraq.

But these are surreal times and the French, those wily inventors of surrealism, have their fingers on an important truth many of us need to consider: There's no honor in destroying a 5,000-year-old culture just because its ruler is delusional.

Why don't we, as the French suggest, give the Iraqis a firm timetable for lifting some economic sanctions if they comply with U.N. inspections unconditionally.

Why can't we say to Iraq: "You can sell all the oil you want in 90 days if we find no evidence of biological or nuclear weapons in your country."

Ah, but that would give the Iraqis propaganda points, and we can't abide that. No, it's better to reduce what remains of Iraq's infrastructure into Mesopotamian dust than allow Saddam Hussein a minute of bragging rights.

Meanwhile, it's clear that he enjoys the challenge of outlasting American presidents and British prime ministers on the world stage.

He knows the Allies could've wiped him out at the end of the Gulf War if it wasn't for our pathological fear of the unknown. Visions of Iraq split into three or four Islamic states make a strongman in Iraq, even someone as crazy as Saddam, a necessity.

Seven years after his badly beaten troops transformed the Kuwaiti desert into a crimson mosh pit in their rush to surrender, we find ourselves on the verge of administering yet another high-tech lynching to a regime that probably couldn't hold its own against the Republic of Moldavia.

Judging by the rhetoric pouring out of the State Department these days, no one is particularly concerned about the prospect of a slaughter as long as American casualties are kept to low double digits.

Last week, the Pentagon declassified footage of a new generation of smart bombs designed to penetrate deep inside Saddam's reinforced bunkers.

Once the warheads explode we're told, they'll incinerate the dictator's stash of biochemical weapons in subterranean fireballs.

As horribly efficient as that sounds in theory, we also know the Pentagon's rosiest predictions are always trotted out whenever the military is about to embark on something unspeakable.

But we're a funny people when it comes to war; we have the capacity to see ourselves as underdogs and our enemies as 40-foot giants regardless of whether they're nationalistic Vietnamese peasants, Panamanian drug lords or in Saddam's case, a former Cold War puppet who's strayed a little too far from the script.

Columnist Clarence Page has jokingly suggested that the Clinton administration staged a sex scandal to deflect attention from the war. It's an intriguing hypothesis, but the president almost needn't have bothered given the lack of interest it's received so far.

Most of us know more about the machinations of the secret government on "The X-Files" than we do about the events that lead us to this disaster in the first place.

That's why some folks can still blink in total incomprehension when reminded of George Bush's high praise for Saddam mere weeks before he invaded Kuwait.

And if we all play our parts as scripted, we'll watch from the safety of our living rooms as a new generation of missiles fall down on Iraq like lightning.

We'll gasp in wonder at their murderous precision and promise not to be too grossed out by collateral damage inflicted on hospitals, air raid shelters and apartment buildings in the name of global security.

Obviously, the administration hopes that not too many Iraqis die as we "liberate" them (yet again) from Saddam's clutches.

I can't help feeling a little embarrassed about the military conflicts we allow ourselves to be drawn into these days.

If the criteria for destroying Iraq is the presence of weapons of mass destruction, then Iran, Syria, China, Russia and half our allies are going to have to be on notice.

Meanwhile, how are we going to explain to our kids what this new definition of military heroism is all about: killing an "enemy" you never see with weapons that don't discriminate between combatants and civilians?

That's why we're standing alone on this one.



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