Maureen Dowd, Desert Double Feature, NYT, June 22, 2003


Looking back, you have to wonder if Rummy and Saddam were in two completely different movies, Rummy starring in a heroic war adventure like "Sands of Iwo Jima" while Saddam was scheming in a slick heist caper like "Ocean's 11." (With a soundtrack by Frank Sinatra using the Iraqi dictator's favorite song, "Strangers in the Night.")

Could we have been at war with someone who wasn't fighting back?

In Iraq, Rummy wanted to prove that the sleek, high-tech American military could be used to fight in unconventional ways. But maybe Saddam, who gives creepy new meaning to the phrase ultimate survivor, was playing an even more unconventional game.

What if he never meant to mount a last stand in Baghdad but merely spread word that there was a dread "red line" of chemical and germ warheads ringing the capital to give himself time to melt away into subterranean safety?

Two nights before the war began, Qusay or his minions were busy plundering a billion dollars from Iraq's central bank.

As U.S. tanks sped through Iraq, meeting surprisingly little opposition except for fedayeen harassment, Saddam may have been burning records of his weaponizing and terrorizing. He had probably already hidden or destroyed any bad stuff during the year the Bushies spent trash-talking about whupping him.

Maybe he decided that rather than hit America with biological warfare, he would use psychological warfare, discrediting the U.S. with allies by stripping the anthrax cupboards.

Was the tyrant sending out doubles in public while he plotted his getaway? Or making loyalists pretend to be double agents, dishing fake tips to the C.I.A. about where the Ace of Spades was dining so the U.S. would bomb the wrong places?

Saddam knew how hard it would be for America to rely on trust and understanding in a part of the world that we don't understand and where no one trusts us.

He had 12 years between wars and Bushes, after all, to plot ruses.

His captured top lieutenant has told American interrogators that he fled to Syria with Saddam's sons after the war (until Syria expelled them) and that Saddam was hiding in Iraq.

Maybe Saddam has been chortling from the sidelines as his guerrillas and Islamic militants kill enough U.S. soldiers to make Americans queasy. Maybe he could inflame an Iraqi rebellion over chaotic conditions, to expel the occupiers who came with no occupation plan.

Or, if Saddam brought a plastic surgeon underground with him, perhaps he could resurface as a fresh face, a populist candidate in Viceroy Bremer's first democratic elections.

After all, Baath, the name of his party, translates as Resurrection.

It's funny that the Bushies didn't recognize a heist when they saw one, given that they pulled off such a clever heist of their own: They cracked the safe of American foreign policy and made off with generations of resistance to pre-emptive and unilateral attacks.

On Friday, senators on the intelligence committee cut a deal that lets "a thorough review" i.e. a Republican whitewash go forward into whether the spy community ginned up prewar intelligence. The Democrats, already Fausted by their prewar fear of being pantywaists, naturally caved on open hearings.

Open, closed, who cares? Congress is looking in the wrong place. They're scrutinizing those who gathered the intelligence, rather than those who pushed to distort it.

George Tenet might have buttered up his bosses by not objecting loud enough when the Bushies latched onto bogus or exaggerated claims, but if obsequiousness is a subject of Congressional investigation, we're in for a busy summer.

The hawks started with Saddam's demise and worked backwards.

As the latest New Republic reports in its "Deception and Democracy" cover article: "In the summer of 2002, Vice President Cheney made several visits to the C.I.A.'s Langley headquarters, which were understood within the agency as an attempt to pressure the low-level specialists interpreting the raw intelligence. `That would freak people out,' said one former C.I.A. official. `It is supposed to be an ivory tower. And that kind of pressure would be enormous on these young guys.' "

It's scary, all right. Dick Cheney's hot breath on your raw files.