On the likelihood of a U.S. attack on Iraq I’ve tended to be a maybe-not type of guy, but it sure looks as though the dogs of war could be out of their kennels in a month or two. After all the hoopla and the build-up, how could G. Bush not launch his attack in Baghdad? He’s got no exit strategy, even as he and the manic Rumsfeld shove their feet ever deeper into their mouths and the markets tumble downward amid relentless deflation in retail prices. Suppose the troops all come home with not a missile or a bullet fired? Won’t there be pressing questions to the effect of: what was all that about? Then people start noticing the mess the homeland is getting itself into on the economic front.
But is it really feasible to imagine the War Party flouting the opinions of the UN, of NATO, of much of the Congress and the huge slice of the American public opposed to unilateral action without strong evidence that Iraq is a clear and present threat? Only 22 percent support the What-the-Hell, Let’s-Go-It-Alone path.
Jude Wanniski argues that there is complicated footwork designed to let the White House crow that it made Saddam blink, and allow the job of inspection to proceed on a proper footing, with compliant Iraqis cowed into cooperation by tough talk from the U.S. On the oft-cited openness of South Africa to inspection, Wanniski cites the well-informed Dr. Gordon Prather, to the effect that "South Africa signed the NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty] in June 1991 and a Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] in Sept. 1991. Yet, it was not till March 1993 that SA admitted having had a nuke program, which it claimed it destroyed prior to signing the NPT. This was the first that the IAEA had heard about the SA ever having had nukes, much less about the destruction of the nukes…"
According to Wanniski, Prather insists that the "mechanisms devised by the IAEA in 1998 to prevent any country from importing materials to develop a nuke program are air-tight. In other words, there’s no way Iraq can be a nuclear threat in the future, with or without Saddam."
As I’ve stated before, I still believe Laura Bush can save the day. She looks adorable in those hot photos with the Scottie, featured on every checkout counter in every supermarket in America.
Rummy’s jibe about "old Europe" (his dismissive ref to pusillanimous France and Germany) got French leaders calling him an asshole and his boss a cretin. Will the Iraqi fighting man stand and fight? Probably not. Would you, if you were in the Iraqi fighting man’s position? On the other hand, there are many thousands who reckon that any post-Saddam regime will not be kind to them, so they’ve got scant option but to go down with the Leader. At a December meeting in London of Iraqi exiles, one Iraqi opponent of the war listened in amazement as some Iraqis deeply involved in Washington’s plans calmly agreed that a casualty rate of around 250,000 Iraqis was acceptable.
On the protest front, the coverage of antiwar protests round the world has been scandalously bad. Many reporters and editors opted for demure phrases such as "tens of thousands," which scarcely does justice to turnouts in excess of a quarter of a million. Friends of mine at the demonstration in Washington, DC, said the one last October was double that of the first, in the spring of 2002, and that the Jan. 18 demo had doubled the crowd of October, giving a rough Jan. 18 total of 300,000 (the estimate of a cop who’d been at all three). There were anywhere from 50,000 to 200,000 people in San Francisco, and 20,000 in downtown Portland. There were big demonstrations in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton and Halifax, and others in France, Japan, Pakistan, Britain, Sweden, Syria, Belgium, Egypt, Lebanon and New Zealand.
Even if he does topple Saddam Hussein I doubt it will do Bush much good in the end, same way his dad found out that Conquering Hero did not spell magic at the polling booths in 1992.
Patton: Fury Mounts
Spending last weekend with friends in Landrum, right on the North/South Carolina line, I found the death of the Smoaks’ dog was still very much on folks’ minds. You’ll recall that the Smoak family was stopped on Jan. 1 on I-40 by a posse of four police cruisers. Then, while handcuffed and imploring the berserk cops to shut their car’s doors so the dogs wouldn’t jump out, the Smoaks endured the sight of their dog, Patton, having its head blown off by a shotgun blast.
Sitting with friends in Bo’s Fish Camp in Inman, SC, eating broiled flounder and hush puppies, I listened to expert dissection of why the cops’ version didn’t stand up. For example, the bulldog mixed breed had jumped from the car and gone past the first deputy. It seems that if Patton had been harboring aggressive intentions, he’d have gone for the first cop in his path.
A few days later the Tennessean ran a story on computer enhancement of the video of the episode recorded by one of the police cruisers. The cop who killed Patton didn’t shout "Get back!" before firing, as he and another officer wrote in police reports. Instead, Officer Eric Hall yelled as he fired the shotgun. Nor was there barking on the audio track. Two officers said in their reports that the dog barked before advancing on Hall. Pamela Smoak can be heard warning the police that Patton was not dangerous. The Tennessean reported, "‘That bulldog is not mean. He won’t hurt you,’ about 20 seconds before Hall fired. The audio portion of the video was analyzed by Doug Mitchell, an associate professor in the recording industry department at Middle Tennessee State University, at the Tennessean’s request."
I was in South Carolina to haul a 1968 22-foot Airstream back to California behind my Ford 350 one-ton. Interstate 40 would have been a logical route west but out of respect for the late Patton I headed north from Knoxville into Kentucky. Rolling out of Lexington toward St. Louis at dusk I could see graceful horses nibbling at the snow-covered pastures as the sunset turned the western sky red.
All the way across the Great Plains I listened to radio reports of the cold about to roll down out of Canada. There’s nothing between you and the North Pole out there on the prairie. "Not even a tree to hide behind," as one 19th-century pioneer homemaker plaintively wrote home to her European mother as she and her family cowered in their sod cabin amid the terrible blizzards of 1886 and 1887, which finished off the cattle boom and sent Teddy Roosevelt scuttling east from his ranch on the Little Missouri River.
The snow and ice finally caught up with me 100 miles east of Denver, where I sat in the lobby of a Comfort Inn listening to a Cherokee Christian denounce the meanspirited arrogance of the millionaires of Jackson Hole, whence he had just driven as he headed home to Atlanta. His main business was the mass production of diapers, but as an expert die-maker he was also producing high-end western chandeliers, selling at $45,000 a pop.
I ground my way up into the Rockies in low gear and burst into sunshine somewhere just short of the Eisenhower tunnel, at more than 10,000 feet. I caught sight of a dejected human settlement south of the interstate that at first glance resembled miners’ houses in some old photo of coal country in Appalachia. Then I realized that these were the condominia of Vail, where huddled but well-fed masses of ski people and snow-boarders were praying for snow.
Downtown Salt Lake City reminds me of Moscow: big, 50s-style buildings, wide boulevards (as stipulated by Brigham Young, who said a wagon should be able to turn round on one) and at the heart SLC’s answer to the Kremlin in the form of the Mormons’ Temple. SLC’s substantial gay and lesbian population was up in arms about legal threats to the status of their civil unions. The next day, amid the bare expanses of the great Salt Lake, a taxi with a "For Hire" sign bowled by, followed shortly thereafter by a white stretch limo. The answer to the puzzle came a few miles later at the Nevada line and the gambling town of Wendover, with the first slots and blackjack tables available for gamblers since they left Colorado.
The weather gods stayed kind. I left Winnemucca at 5 a.m., and five hours later went over the Donner Pass in 60-degree weather. I stopped at the summit and was gazing down on Donner Lake, wondering whether the cannibals had seasoned their ribeyes, when a woman climbed out of her pickup, said she was a hippie, liked Airstreams and asked, Would I care to share "a bowl" with her. She didn’t look like a narc, and anyway, why would a narc bother with an Airstream type? But it seemed early in the day for marijuana, which I don’t greatly care for anyway. Besides, I still had a couple of hundred miles of Northern California mountains to get across.
The bowl-offerer pointed out the Blue Star memorial put up at the Donner summit by some California garden clubs in honor of America’s fallen warriors. She added a few uncomplimentary words about G. Bush.
I was home by midnight, a week after leaving South Carolina. Along the way, two people offered to buy the Airstream. No one seemed to be keen on war with Iraq. The mayor of Salt Lake City said publicly it’s a lousy idea, as did the entire city council of Chicago, with one dissenting voice. Mostly, the local papers were filled with stories about state budget crises.
The night after I got home, my friend and neighbor Joe Paff strongly recommended an amazing poem by Walt Whitman, written just after the Civil War, titled "Respondez!" It makes Ginsberg’s Howl sound like some uplifting jingle on the back of a corn flakes packet: "Respondez! Respondez!/(The war is completed—the price is paid—the title is settled beyond recall;)…/Let there be money, business, imports, exports, custom,/authority, precedents, pallor, dyspepsia, smut, ignorance, unbelief!/Let judges and criminals be transposed!…/Let the slaves be masters! Let the masters become slaves!…/Let all the men of These States stand aside for a few smouchers! Let the few seize on what they choose! Let the rest, gawk, giggle, starve, obey!/Let shadows be furnish’d with genitals! Let substances be deprived of their genitals!…"