Click your heels together three times and repeat after me:

"Weapons of mass destruction...
Weapons of mass destruction...
Weapons of mass destruction...."

Congratulations. By the dubious standards of the Clinton administration, you have now qualified as an expert on policy toward Iraq. Your assignment is to do the Sunday-morning talk-show circuit and intone the above litany as mournfully as possible, all the while talking about the need to present a united front against the evil Saddam Hussein, who may be producing, that's right, boys and girls, Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Were I slightly more cynical, I'd suspect the State Department was sending interns to Microsoft for training. The United States, after all, is a leading producer of W.O.M.D. in its own, er, uh, right, and what better way to take out a competitor than to make him into a demon? But Bill Gates apparently isn't involved; this folly belongs almost entirely to Bill Clinton.

While the ongoing UN economic sanctions have been devastating to the Iraqi people, it's hard to see how Saddam Hussein himself has suffered much. The US, seeing assassination plots as bad public relations, has insisted that it is not primarily interested in seeing Saddam replaced, only in seeing him curbed. Neither the sanctions nor the previous Gulf War did much to curb him, though, and there's no reason to think a limited number of air strikes will accomplish much more.

A new approach, therefore, is called for, preferably one in which Washington gets less of an opportunity to look foolish. The sanctions should be lifted, and simultaneously an ultimatum should be issued to Saddam: "We know you're up to something. Don't try it. You step out of line, and the next thing you know, Baghdad will be the parking lot for the new Fertile Crescent Mall, and the Presidential Palaces will be Porta-Pottys for the construction crew." Self-preservation is always the bottom line, even in the Middle East, and to reinforce the idea, there's always the example of the late, unlamented Cold War, in which the former Soviet Union was kept in line by a combination of ongoing American resolve and blithering incompetence in Moscow.

The Administration, of course, will oppose this notion, which, if nothing else, demonstrates the universality of blither. On the other hand, it's not beyond the White House to make this same suggestion to Kenneth Starr.

The Vent

#90
22 February 1998

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