Oh, Well, Never Mind

March 15, 1991|By JACOB WEISBERG

If the authorities who have analyzed the Gulf crisis for the past several months were doctors, their malpractice insurance premiums would be due for an increase. Were they baseball players, they'd be sent back to the minors. Were they samurai, they'd commit seppuku. Never in the field of human conflict have so many been so wrong about so much, so publicly.

Experts, however, pay no penalty for being wrong. Most have already been on the same TV shows and op-ed pages offering fresh insights. So before memories of the crisis fade, it may be worth taking time to honor a few of the season's most remarkable performances. As is the tradition of the National Academy of Opinion Arts, each winner will be presented with a ''Zbig.''

The award is named for a true master. On December 5 Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former national-security adviser, assured the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that a war would split the international consensus against Iraq. ''The United States is likely to become estranged from many of its European allies, and it is almost certain to become the object of widespread Arab hostility.'' He went on to predict that the war would be protracted and financially devastating, and would deprive us of the fruits of our victory in the Cold War. And he warned that some Israeli leaders might ''seek to take advantage of an expanded war to effect the expulsion of all Palestinians from their homes on the West Bank.''

Ten days later Mr. Brzezinski stated: ''We will be bogged down in a protracted mess in the Middle East.'' On January 27 he predicted Saddam Hussein would use chemical weapons as soon as ground fighting started. By February 4 he forecast a ''global wave of sympathy for Iraq,'' ''a decline in domestic support for military action,'' and ''a rise in bitter domestic divisions.''

Oh, well, never mind.

Best melodramatic monologist. George Ball, the distinguished former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on December 20 that Mr. Hussein, ''conditioned by the psychology of the Middle Eastern bazaar,'' would try to bargain his way out of his predicament.

Best fictional screenplay. The academy recognizes the achievement of Daniel T. Plesch of the British American Security Information Council. His February 8 New York Times op-ed played out an apocalyptic scenario in which a chemical attack causes U.S. troops to ''panic and run,'' sand gets in our tank engines, and Iraqi troops push into Saudi Arabia. The intifada resumes, causing Israel to attack Mr. Hussein. Our Arab allies switch sides. ''After the Iraqis use anthrax to halt a renewed coalition offensive, the U.S. resorts to nuclear weapons, outraging the Arab world, which accuses the West of genocide. Iraqi-backed terrorists then attack Western nuclear-power plants and bomb Union Station in Washington.'' Public and congressional support for the war collapse, forcing the United States to sue for peace and cede parts of Kuwait to Iraq.

Cecil B. DeMille Award. This prize honors gratuitous hyperbole in estimating ground-war casualties. The competition was stiff. With the aid of computer modeling, Joshua Epstein, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution, was able to determine that American casualties would range between 3,344 and 16,059. He neglected to mention that his margin of error was plus or minus 10,000 percent.

Best sound editing. The Academy wishes to recognize the achievement of Edward Luttwak, who told the Senate Armed Services Committee that even with extended preliminary ''softening up'' by air power and a non-frontal attack, a best-case scenario would mean ''several thousand killed in action and maimed.'' Mr. Luttwak wins not for his prediction, which was no more erroneous than many, but for his subsequent effort to delete it from the sound track. ''I was not going to give my real forecast of casualties,'' he told the Washington Post. ''As advocate, you only make forecasts when they are conducive to your advocacy.''

Best special effects. The winner is Oliver Stone, who told the New York Times just before the ground war: ''I see a parallel reality. There is a major time-warp going on here. The quickening of the American pulse. We all feel the '60s are coming back.'' Come on baby, light my fire.

Best stunt work. This award goes to James Schlesinger, the former two-time Cabinet secretary and CIA director, for his daring midair conversion. Mr. Schlesinger argued in August for a diplomatic settlement on the grounds that the embargo wouldn't work because other nations would cheat, and it would be ruinous to us if it did work. In November he testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that the embargo was ''the most successful ever achieved aside from time of war,'' and insisted sanctions would work in time.

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