"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 22 February 1999. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Cage Match


['poem for bishop ll'-]

If anyone actually bothered to

listen to newspaper columnists -

or, for that matter, to any of

the various blowhards on the

Internet - there's a chance

they'd be genuinely dangerous.

Triple the potential danger from

columnists who sit in their

offices and crow for blood to be

spilled thousands of miles away.

And quadruple the potential

danger from Maureen Dowd just on

general principle.


Back on 19 January, New York

Times Op-Ed contributor Thomas

Friedman beat his chest hard

enough to cause bruising. Under

the biker tattoo headline,

"Rattling the Rattler," Friedman

called for Uncle Fuckin' Sam to

rock Saddam Hussein's world,

Stone Cold-style: "With Saddam

rattled, now is the time to

really rattle his cage ... Blow

up a different power station in

Iraq every week, so no one knows

when the lights will go off or

who's in charge. Offer a reward

for removing Saddam from office.

Use every provocation by Saddam

to blow up another Iraqi

general's home." You picture

Friedman slapping high-fives

around the newsroom: Home boy be

psycho on Middle East crew!


And Friedman offered no doubt at

all that the Iraqi leader really

was "rattled." Among the "good

news" cited by the Times

columnist as proof were the

facts that the Iraqi military

keeps shooting at US warplanes -

always a sure sign you've got

someone beat - and that "several

generals have been executed in

recent weeks." Neat!


Ten days later, Friedman's own

newspaper joined the rest of the

news media in reporting on the

testimony of Marine Corps

General Anthony Zinni before the

Senate Armed Services Committee.

The general, who commands all

American forces in the Persian

Gulf, appeared to view the

conflict with Iraq in slightly

less than WWF-like terms. "I

don't see an opposition group

that has the viability to

overthrow Saddam at this point,"

Zinni helpfully explained. "Even

if we had Saddam gone, we could

end up with 15, 20, or 90 groups

competing for power ... The last

thing we need is a

disintegrated, fragmented Iraq

... Saddam should go. There's

not a doubt in my mind. But it

is possible to create a

situation that could be worse.

And that's my concern. These

groups are very fragmented."


[daddy's out of town and i'm all upset
this leash is restrictive
and my paws are all wet]

Well, sure - but The New York

Times could probably whip 'em

into shape. Someone should let

Zinni know.


A very few days after Zinni

knocked down Friedman's bilious


bleating, another senior US

official stepped forward to

dismantle the columnist's flat

assertion that the Iraqi leader

was just about all washed up.

"His regime is not, as some have

claimed, a house of cards," CIA

Director George Tenet told the

same Senate committee. Maybe he

just misread his notes.


But let's back up a few days to

20 January - the day after

Friedman's Op-Ed column ran.

That's the day the Associated

Press reported that anti-Saddam

Hussein groups weren't uniformly

thrilled with the notion of

direct American support; at

least one flatly rejected an

offer of US funding. It wouldn't

seem all that surprising,

really, that a Tehran-based

organization called the Supreme

Council for Islamic Revolution

in Iraq would give a

less than warm reception

to the overtures of the Bubba

administration. Which further

complicates the wistful notion

that a change of regime could

make Iraq a cornucopia of

pro-Western affection, yes?


[i'll whine just a little
so that mom can hear]

While previous comparisons have

been made between Iraq and

Vietnam, here and in more influential

quarters, the Western tendency

toward clumsiness in other parts

of the world is much more widely

apparent than that single

example suggests - and another

mildly intriguing comparison

comes to mind as the United

States pledges to back Iraqi

rebel groups.


Odette Nyiramilimo, a Rwandan

Tutsi who barely survived the

genocide that swept

through that country in 1994,

offered up a whole bushel of

ironies to Philip Gourevitch,

The New Yorker staffer who wrote an

extraordinary book on those days

of bloodshed. She knew, for

example, that a climate of

violence was building in Rwanda,

and she recognized that she

would be a target if the

just-suppressed sense of

conflict led to its likely

denouement. Nevertheless, she

felt safe enough to return home

from an assignment with the US

Peace Corps in a neighboring

country. After all, the United

Nations was promising to keep

Rwanda from blowing up;

blue-helmeted soldiers from

UNAMIR, the United Nations

Assistance Mission in Rwanda,

maintained a highly visible

presence in Kigali, the nation's

capital. "Really," Nyiramilimo

told Gourevitch, "it was UNAMIR

that tricked us into staying. We

saw all those blue helmets ...

We thought, even if Hutus start

to attack us, the 3,000 men of

UNAMIR should be enough."


The Canadian commander of

UNAMIR at the time, Major General Romeo

Dallaire, even gave Nyiramilimo

his phone number and radio

frequency, so she could call for

help in the event of violence.

Then Nyiramilimo was attacked by

members of a loosely organized

Hutu militia - they threw two

hand grenades at her car,

blowing out all of the windows -

and UNAMIR didn't respond. "I

realized then that these people

would never help us,"

Nyiramilimo told Gourevitch. And

she was right.


Not that Dallaire didn't try. As

Gourevitch explains in clear,

abundant detail, the UN

commander frantically tried to

win permission - before the

killing began in earnest - to

undertake the confiscation of

weapons, which were pointed out

to him by an intelligence

source. His requests were met

with a studied silence. And then

the scrupulously organized

killing began; 10 Belgian

soldiers assigned to UNAMIR were

captured by Hutu gunmen and

tortured to death. Their

mutilated bodies marked the

effective end of first-world

"peacekeeping" in Rwanda.


And the roots of the violence -

as Gourevitch (again) explains -

were very much located in the

choices of the same governments

that abandoned Rwanda once the

brutality exploded: Divisive

racial notions and odd borders

came from Belgium and others;

guns mostly came from France.


[but there's little she can do
'til get a pig's ear ]

So the pattern between the West

and the Rest goes something like

this: Stir up shit; promise that

you'll be there to help when

things get serious; run like

hell when the bill arrives.


The likely reality in Iraq is

that coordinated attacks on

Saddam Hussein create the threat

of explosive violence as Zinni's

"disintegrated, fragmented"

nation goes up for grabs to a

dozen or better warring

factions. The reality in the

newsrooms of New York City is

that very few Op-Ed columnists

will be quite so hawkish - at

least not with their own, safe

selves - when it comes time for

the United States to deal with

the chaos it is trying, against

the better judgment of at least

some of its military leaders, to

create. Mercifully, if George

Tenet is right, the strident

posturing of Thomas Friedman and

the US Senate doesn't appear to

mean any more in real terms than

it does as rhetoric.

courtesy of Ambrose Beers


[Purchase the Suck Book here]