- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 23, 2002

In the old days, politicians had a reasonable chance of saying contradictory things in two different towns, and getting away with it. But Samuel F.B. Morse's invention of the telegraph in 1837 spoiled the fun until this week. Over the last few days, Colin Powell, Ari Fleisher and President Bush have been telling our dear friends and constant allies at the United Nations that we were giving diplomacy a chance, while simultaneously suggesting to Americans that surely we would soon be going to war. But unlike the politicians prior to 1837 who took the precaution of riding down the road a few miles before contradicting themselves, Team Bush is saying different things right here in Washington. They are hoping only part of what they are saying will be heard up in New York, and the other part only in the rest of America. Given the lunacy of the times, it just may work.

Over the weekend, Mr. Powell suggested that inspections could be successful without Saddam being removed from office, and Mr. Bush said he was giving diplomacy one last chance. But Monday the president's spokesman Ari "a bullet is cheaper than a war" Fleisher remarked that: "Clearly, if Iraq did all the things the president called on him to do which they seem to have no inclination to do then the very nature of the regime would have changed. But I don't think it's realistic for anybody to think that Saddam Hussein has any intention of leaving his regime to change. I think this is among the greatest stretches of the hypotheticals, of the possibles, of the unlikelies that you could possibly hypothetically discuss … Let the changes in ways take place, and then ask me about it … The policy is regime change, however it is defined … We will have zero tolerance for any violations of a U.N. resolution." If vaudeville was still alive, Ari could go on the road with that act. He is a very smart guy who always says exactly what he means. But what, exactly, did he say?

Meanwhile Mr. Powell was getting in on the same act. He told the weekend audience that not only was there a chance for Saddam to comply and avoid regime change, but also that he was going to table a U.N. resolution that, while not expressly authorizing war if there should be any violations, would expressly refer to unexpressed "consequences." The secretary went on to explain that once it becomes clear that the aggressive and intrusive inspectors could not function, "they're going to come home right away." (Notice the absence of the subjunctive tense in the last clause.) Then we are left to guess what the consequences will be.

I suppose the theory of all this wordification is that any sensible person will understand that we intend to go to war and change the Iraqi regime but that the French and Russians will not understand it that way. Or, more to the point, they will intentionally choose to not understand it that way. Or perhaps they will understand it that way, but we don't care.

Perhaps in order to assure noncompliance with our intrusive inspections regime, we will send in a team of around-the-clock proctologists, rather than weapons inspectors. It would be the mother of all proctological examinations. This way, at least, we can be sure that Saddam will not sit comfortably on his throne. And if he wiggles or flinches, well, consequences happen. Bombs away, as it were.

I stoop to make such low humor because there is no way to take seriously this flood of contradictory words. These efforts are to high diplomacy as pie in the face slapstick is to a Cole Porter lyric. I'm not against duplicitous diplomatic language, but one does prefer one's perfidy to be subtle. After all, that's the point of it, what? We Americans are just gawdawful at being verbally sneaky. The French could carry it off with paragraph-length abstract phrases that sound wonderful, but mean nothing. My motherland, perfidious Albion (England) historically bamboozled the yokel countries with great panache. The Chinese, with their endless banquets and toasts, can spend hours not getting to the point.

But we Americans couldn't trick a 4-year-old to look out the window. We are as obvious as a teen-age boy making a pass. We would do better to just pay the French to carry out our diplomacy while we carry out the war. Let them gas on at the Tower of Babble by the Hudson. We will full throttle across the sands of Araby.

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