"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 9 February 1998. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Minor Threat


[todays quick hits about work-]

The first battle in Islamic

history was an upset. When the

1,000-strong pagan army of

Quraish, equipped with the

seventh century's smartest

weapons, seemed on the verge of

wiping out Mohammed and a group

of about 300 faithful, the

Prophet threw a handful of dust

at the attackers. A great wind

immediately kicked up, blinding

the attackers, and allowing the

Muslims the first of many



When, sooner or later, Saddam

Hussein faces off against

whatever's left of the Gulf War

coalition (just us, it seems),

he'll be facing even worse odds.

And he may or may not have God

on his side.


But don't let that get in the

way of the news. Speaking to The

New York Times a few days ago,

UN arms inspector Richard Butler

declared that Saddam's Weapons

of Mass Destruction were

sufficient to "wipe out Tel

Aviv." This definitive statement

was quickly challenged by

Butler's UN bosses, since it

contradicted the (presumably

more accurate) reports he'd

issued to the United Nations

Special Commission on Iraq.

Israel's general staff chief

Amnon Lipkin-Shahak has called

the likelihood of such an attack

"very, very small."


The Times, where Middle Eastern

theory runs the full spectrum

from Labor to Likud, didn't

bother to find out if this

threat to Israel's security was

accurate, preferring instead to

spend column inches on

strikingly inventive comparisons

of Saddam to a certain

historical villain. (Can you

guess who that villain is?

Starts with "H"!). Lately,

William Safire has been so

gleefully running through combat

scenarios (we knock out his

command and control, he drops

chemical weapons on Israel,

Israel nukes Baghdad) that he

can barely keep that

black-gloved right hand under



In other news, the news was the

same. The print food chain dined

on Butler's quote, along with

secretary of state Albright's

claim that the United States was

"of one mind" with its Arab

friends (never mind that the

Arabs themselves have shown

little stomach for once again

shooting rockets at other Arabs;

that's just what they say in

public). Martin Peretz, who in

1996 characterized the Arab

nations as "societies that

cannot make a brick let alone a

microchip," used his New

Republic vanity column to

suggest mildly that we "depose

or destroy Saddam himself."

Except for the ever-contrary

John McLaughlin, who made some

sympathetic noises about easing

sanctions, the rest of the

commentariat has been pretty

much united on the need to put

an all-new hurtin' on the Bully

of Baghdad.


[if i had any more on my plate, id want it to be sushi]

This sort of locked-and-loaded

hellraisin' by moisturized

desktop generals has become a

pretty regular ritual by now,

but there are some bugs in the

argument. No matter how hard we

try to make Iraqis look as

fearsome as the Germans, they

still tend to fight like the

French. No matter how many times

we classify Saddam's World War

I-ready arsenal as "Weapons of

Mass Destruction" (the vast bulk

of which has already been

destroyed, according to UN

inspectors), Iraq still has a

neighbor with the capacity to

nuke it off the map (in an

encouraging step forward for the

peace process, Netanyahu has

promised to drop his usual

reserve and compassion if Iraq

repeats its Gulf War I antics).

It's certainly not lost on the

Arabs that the original gangsta

of the atomic age now allows one

Middle Eastern country to keep a

nuclear stockpile, but thumps

its chest when the Arabs try to

get a little of their own back,

through weapons best known as

"poor man's nukes."


[darwinism does not apply in the workplace]

We have our own reasons for this

double standard, even if we

don't quite know what they are.

After all, when it's not spying on us, bombing one

of our ships, invading its

neighbors, or slaughtering

civilians, Israel is a pretty

staunch ally, backing America up

on ticklish matters from Vietnam

to Monicagate. And even by the

none-too-high standards of the

Arab governments (which define

Jordan's police state as a

progressive country and the Gulf

States' head-chopping bigamists

as our bosom pals), Saddam

Hussein's administration ranks

lower than most. But any claim

that his hokey cult of

personality is still a menace to

world peace, or that he still

hopes to assert his (not

entirely empty) claim to Kuwait,

would seem to have been smashed

seven years ago, when we sent

our Kevlar hypochondriacs into

the desert for the first time.

The Iraqi army, depleted by 10

years of Sylvania/Freedonia

combat with Iran, one month of

obliteration in the Gulf War,

and 7 years of disarmament

(among other things, the Scud

missiles, that will supposedly

deliver the chemical and

biological weapons have been

completely eliminated), is now

defined by Jane's World Armies

as operating "with a hollow

organisational structure," a

threat - like most of the Arab

armies - only to its own



But we're operating on the True

Lies principle of foreign policy

- where Arabs can be at once

bumbling idiots and diabolical

geniuses. Just over a year ago,

Time reported on an impending

attack on Israel by the Syrian

army - which, to paraphrase

Marty Peretz, can barely afford

shoes, let alone Patriots. The

story turned out to be a fib

made up by retired Mossad agent

Yehuda Gil, who is now on trial

in Israel. But this sort of


be fable always works when the

topic is those crazy Muslims.

Islam is the syringe in the

geo-political Pepsi can - a

threat by virtue of seeming

threatening. Louis Farrakhan

remains the Scariest Brother in

America, despite the fact that

(besides a few internal hits,

maybe) the Nation of Islam, in

its entire garbled history, has

never done much of anything -

except tap into Whitey's primal

fear that the You-Know-Whos

might someday figure out how to

organize themselves.


[keep people happy, they wont want to leave]

Unless the current confrontation

ends with Saddam's assassination

(with all the practice we've

had, you'd think we could get

one right by now), it's hard to

see how it can end at all. On

the one hand, the UN inspectors

can always find enough of what

UNSCOM biological weapons expert

Richard Spertzel calls "good,

tantalizing information, but no

concrete information" to justify

looking under every last grain

of sand, and then starting over.

Saddam has his own good reasons

to play the coquette - massive

war crimes to cover up, the PR

boost of standing up to the

United States, maybe even some

legitimate national security

concerns. Without America, he's



It would all look pretty much

like a flimflam if we weren't

looking at it through the prism

of the Arab/Islamic threat,

which these days is sustained

mostly through sloppy rhetoric

about "Hizbollah terrorists" (to

describe people fighting an

occupying army according to a

pre-agreed set of battlefield

rules) or "The PLO Charter

calling for Israel's

destruction" (read that

document lately?), and of course

"wipe out Tel Aviv." The

question is whether, with Iran

making quasi-friendly noises and

the Arabs united only in their

uncanny ability to be poor, we

can sustain the Green Bogeyman

much longer. Polls showing 70

percent approval of a military

strike against Iraq suggest we

can. It's worked for the last

1,000 years or so.

courtesy of BarTel d'Arcy