- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 6, 2003

There was this moment in the Peckinpaw classic "The Wild Bunch" in which Angel, the Mexican kid with revolutionary sympathies rides into the local capital with the bunch to negotiate a gun deal with the warlord, Mapache, a vile cur. The general is drunk, seated on the veranda of his headquarters surrounded by his soldiers with Angel's former fiancee on his lap. Ernest Borgnine and William Holden, the leaders of the gang, try to calm Angel, but to no avail: The kid leaps to his feet and shoots his inconstant love dead.

All of the other members of the gang, realizing the hopelessness of their predicament, jump up, thrust their hands in the air and stare intently at the soldiers who are now aiming rifles at them in tense silence. After seconds that seem like hours, Mr. Borgnine breaks into a forced grin and says, "Era su novia" she was his sweetheart and as Mapache tosses the girl's body to the ground, everyone breaks into laughter.

What I find so striking about this scene is the power of the done deed, the fait accompli. While the bunch would surely have been mowed down had Angel simply stood there with his pistol pointed in the general direction of Mapache, once the deed was done, there was time to give thought to what should be done next. Perhaps, we ought to give similar consideration to the coming conflict in Iraq.

The world has decided that America is on the wrong track, that our president is a reckless and unintelligent man determined to pursue a course based upon personal agendas or goals that serve only American interests. From the United Nations to NATO to our so-called traditional European allies, we have experienced nothing but criticism, hindrance and antagonism. What do these august bodies and states have to teach us? That we should trust Iraq to comply eventually with the quixotic bumblings of Hans Blix and company? That Saddam Hussein's irrefutable crimes against humanity are somehow exempt from the purview of civilization, even as Slobodan Milosevic stands trial in The Hague? That this rogue state which invaded its oil-rich neighbor and which pays terrorists to commit suicide bombings in Israel is to be trusted not to fund terrorism elsewhere, if it is not doing so already? Are these critiques valid? Do they support the percentage of the world's population who oppose our movement toward the removal of Saddam?

No, the world is just scared. Scared of war, economic catastrophe, of Muslim uprising, Neo-Nazism, things that go bump in the night. Just before America saved the world from the last major conflagration, FDR told us that the only thing we had to fear was … well, you know. It was propaganda, but it was true. From stock trading to family planning, fear drives all indicators down. This is the strategy of our enemy, and it's working. Everybody is afraid of al Qaeda, and fears that if Cowboy George strikes at Saddam, it'll tick Osama off so much that it'll make September 11 look like a Sunday picnic. And the casualties, oh the casualties military and civilian. And then there's the horrendous costs of rebuilding Iraq afterwards.

Al Qaeda hates us as much as they ever will, so let's just drop that one. Maybe, if we stand up to Iraq, we can find out what Osama really wants and negotiate a settlement of some kind with him, all Arabs and Islam as a whole. It might take decades, but it beats this never-ending warfare.

Casualties. An unavoidable cost of warfare. Look at the progress humanity has made. World War II produced approximately 20 million casualties. Clearly, this war will not result in one-thousandth that number. The sensitivity of mankind toward human suffering has grown since the Second World War, and that is to be applauded. It does not mean that despotism should never again be opposed.

Finally, if America must "go it alone," why do we assume that we will be forced to pay to rebuild alone? The "wise, reasonable, restrained" parties the United Nations, France, Germany, etc. will be sitting there like Mapache in "The Wild Bunch," astounded that we actually did it. Will these paragons of old world responsibility simply stand back and refuse to cough up the money necessary to aid the needy Iraqis after it's all over, or, like the little red hen's so-called friends, will they suddenly emerge from hiding, prepared to eat the now-finished loaf? And it's not mere altruism at work here, friends: It's the reformulation of the map of Iraq. Oh, and there's that little matter of oil, too.


Frederick Grab is a former California deputy attorney general.

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