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Famous Last Words

They say that nothing raises one’s posthumous status more than the way one faces those last few moments before meeting what W. C. Fields called the fellow in the bright nightgown. Oscar Wilde was witty to the bitter end (Ah, well, then I suppose I shall have to die beyond my means.), as was Voltaire. (Do you renounce the devil? Certainly not. This is no time to make new enemies.) When Saddam’s final bulletin comes, and it sure is coming, the poet Heinrich Heine’s exit line might apply—“God will pardon me. It’s his profession”—but I would suggest the following: “My exit is the result of too many entries.” (Iran, Kuwait, Kurdistan …) Mind you, wit is probably not high among Saddam’s priorities at this moment, and I doubt it ever was.

Perhaps the most famous last words in military history were those of John Sedgwick, an officer during the Civil War who announced, “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance” and was immediately shot dead by enemy fire at the battle of Spotsylvania in May 1864. The unfortunate Sedgwick’s fate illustrates the psychology of warfare—a strong tendency to underestimate the enemy’s strength. No, I’m not implying that Iraq will give it the old college try. To the contrary.

After an intense 48-hour aerial bombardment by cruise missiles, other types of smart bombs and precision weapons, and close to 1,000 planes, the main invasion by American infantry and tanks will proceed north out of Kuwait on the 300-mile journey to Baghdad. I am betting my last Euro that Turkey will change its mind at the last minute with the wily Turks taking under-the-table Yankee dollars in the billions. If my fearless predictions are correct, four U.S. army brigades will advance through Kurdish areas along with airlifted troops. The Iraqi army will disintegrate quicker than you can say Bill Kristol, the sofa Samurai who has replaced John Wayne as America’s numero uno warrior.

The final shoot-out between white and black hats will take place at OK Baghdad, if it does take place at all. However slim, chances are that Saddam might play it safe by departing for the French Riviera, where many of his ilk reside during the winter months. Personally, I doubt it. The 13,000-strong Special Republican Guard, men mostly recruited from Saddam’s own al-Bu Nasir tribe and home region around Tikrit, should put up resistance in door-to-door fighting in the capital, where smart bombs and tanks are useless if one cares to avoid civilian casualties. I’m betting that Saddam will die in the rubble, his last words echoing the greatness of Allah and of Iraq. If he decides to fight to the last, he will obviously use all of his arsenal, including biological and chemical weapons—if he has any, that is. The result, of course, will be that unprotected civilian Iraqis will die horrible deaths in the thousands, deaths that will be blamed on the American invasion.

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One thing that President Bush has managed to do is to make Saddam Hussein more popular with his own people. I have been in Europe these last few months and have spoken at length with Iraqis and other Middle Easterners. To a man, they believe that Bush going it alone with his poodle Tony Blair will have terrible consequences for the post-war region.

Unlike the 1991 Gulf War, there is no Arab coalition for this conflict and almost no regional support. The Iraqi exiles are a joke. They represent less than one percent of the people of Iraq, yet the armchair warriors in America speak of them as the silent majority. Make no mistake about it. The Arab street believes the war has to do with oil and imperialism rather than disarmament.

And it gets worse. Does anyone except for those with vested interests in the war—the neocons, Ariel Sharon, the oil companies—really think that the concept of a Western democracy can be instilled among the Iraqi people? That democracy is infectious is only a slogan. It took Europe 1,500 years to get used to it, and there is not a single Arab country that has ever enjoyed it. Do the Kristols of the world think us this dumb? America has a habit of leaving the scene, as in Vietnam, for example. Does anyone truly believe that we will sit in Iraq for the next 25 years trying to establish a democracy?

What is more likely to happen is voting by clan, which means power will pass from the less than 20 percent Sunni minority to the Shi’ite majority. The Iranians next door also happen to be Shi’ite, which means when Sharon’s—sorry, Bush’s—next target, Iran, is attacked, things will not be as easy.

Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress, is a very rich exile who is sought by Jordan for massive fraud. Writing in a British newspaper not long ago, Chalabi said that “The idea that Iraq’s different ethnic or religious communities will propel the country into chaos is a myth.” Chalabi is eager for Bush to install him as interim head of Iraq, so he will obviously say anything that suits his purpose. Just to give you a sample of the Chalabi verse, here he is again: “Four million Iraqi exiles and three million in the liberated area of Iraqi Kurdistan support the individual rights and liberties that are commonly recognized outside Iraq.” Of course they are. In Syria, in Saudi Arabia, in Kuwait, in Egypt, in fact all over the Arab world. This guy should be hired by Fox News—or the Defense Department.

What puzzles me and some of my friends over on this side of the pond is how President Bush got himself into this mess. As the sister of a victim of 9/11, Colleen Kelly, poignantly put it, “My brother was not killed by a weapon of mass destruction, nor poison gas nor by a nuke. It was 19 boxcutters that did it, and unless we address the reason these people hate us, we will never be safe.” Hear, hear!

Until this administration came along, America hid its imperialistic tendencies by fighting against empires such as the Spanish and the British. The Roman, Spanish, Dutch, French, and British empires were driven by the instinct to acquire and to rule. Now Uncle Sam has suddenly come out, flexing his muscles and declaring that he will teach the rest of the world how to live. Heaven help us. It is a universal human tendency to suffer from self-delusions, and my beloved Uncle Sam has suddenly gone senile on me.

Dr. Richard Wrangham, professor of anthropology at Harvard, points out that that it is a common illusion that all wars will be quick ones. This unrealistic belief characterized the start of the Boer War, the First World War, the Second World War, the Suez Crisis, Vietnam, Rwanda, Chechnya, and the Congo. I say Afghanistan, too.

Baghdad will fall quickly, Saddam will die amid the rubble, and the Arab world will sink into despair, grow still further in hostility towards the United States, and terrorists the world over will find thousands of young men ready to die as long as they take an American with them. Otto von Bismarck once famously said that a certain region was not worth the life of a single Pomeranian grenadier. I don’t think all the sofa Samurai are worth the life of a single American soldier, or for that matter, a single innocent Iraqi.

Sam Goldwyn on his deathbed is reputed to have said, “I never thought I’d live to see the day.” It is a brilliant Goldwynism, most likely made up by a wit. Maybe these should be Saddam’s dying words: “I never thought I’d live to see the day—when a Bush would make me a hero.”