- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Even a messiah feels the sting of a chill wind in his face, especially when it blows off Wall Street with a hint of ice and snow coming down from Detroit.

There’s the sound of distant guns far away to the east. That low growl in the west is the mutter of the money-changers, warning that maybe giving the “rich” a good soak might not be such a good idea, at least not now. And if all that were not enough, there’s Hillary (and Bubba, too), hovering over his shoulder, lending points of fright. Those suppressed chuckles in the background may be coming from an upstairs bedroom at the White House.

Everything looked so simple, so easy, so inevitable, on a cold winter’s day in New Hampshire. The war in Iraq would be solved quickly, maybe even before the first weekend, with a strategy of cut and run. The Russians, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the North Koreans probably only wanted to be appreciated, and who wouldn’t be appeased with a wowser of a sermon or a yowser of a speech.

Sending tingles down various legs (or was it up the legs?) in the claque was particularly easy. The Europeans would applaud, tingles or not. Prescriptions for appeasement always sell big in France.

But suddenly a messiah’s mission begins to look more complicated than it looked from the church halls of Iowa. The view from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is considerably darker than the view from a platform with a zillion glassy-eyed zealots stretching toward the horizon, eager to throw roses, kisses and maybe even room keys. Now he learns that some really bad guys live at Guantanamo, that the corporate beggars lining up for bread and beans at the Treasury building make a line longer than he imagined. And nobody told him about the pirates.

Pirates? Everybody’s seen that movie. But these buccaneers include neither Errol Flynn nor Tyrone Power, or even Johnny Depp. Pirates who seize $100 million in Saudi sweet crude won’t be satisfied with a bottle of rum and Jennifer Lopez or Beyonce at their feet. Booty is not what it used to be.

The Iraqi defense minister warns that “the Gulf,” this one in Arabia, will be “infested” with pirates and Iraq left at the mercy of cutthroat neighbors if the Americans leave his country too soon. “Coalition forces are currently protecting the Gulf, and our navy will not receive its first ships until April 2009,” he says, “and if the Americans withdraw precipitously, our gulf will become like the Gulf of Aden, where there have been 95 acts of piracy.”

A shade purple or not, the Iraqi minister’s plaint demonstrates again that when the rest of the world puts in a frantic call to 911, it’s counting on an American to answer the phone.

President-elect Barack Obama renewed his vow over the weekend to close Guantanamo, which was never designed to be a Club Med, and where guests are treated to waterboarding, not surfboarding. But maybe not so fast. There are hints that Mr. Obama and his men have been sobered, at least a little, by the discovery that some of the Guantanamo guests are really bad guys and, if released, will go back to a career in rape and pillaging. What to do with them and where to put them puzzled George W., too.

Piracy on the high seas continues to pale, on the other hand, before the piracy in Detroit and on Wall Street. Solutions there don’t look as simple as they looked only last week. Citigroup Inc., known only yesterday as First National City Bank, scooped up $20 billion from the Treasury on Monday, along with $306 billion in guarantees for the foolish loans the bankers made earlier, and the Treasury should expect other pirates to get in line today. The Bureau of Printing and Engraving still has a lot of paper and ink in the basement, but a trillion dollars, once real money, just doesn’t go very far these days.

The president-elect pledged Monday that he would honor the commitments of President Bush, and a good thing, too. George W., who sounds like a man who can’t wait to get back to cutting brush and punching cows at Prairie Chapel Ranch, said more bailouts are coming.

Mr. Obama introduced his new economic team, and there was a new face or two in the lineup. This reassured Wall Street, at least for the day, and the Dow Jones Average zoomed upward nearly 400 points. Mr. Obama, like his dazzled millions, is learning that “change” is not always within the ken of a messiah. Life gets complicated when you get past 18.

• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Times.

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