DESPITE MY BETTER instincts, I am becoming a big fan of the emir of Kuwait. The spicy old fellow really knows how to live. He's sort of the Hugh Hefner of the Arab world, except on a much grander scale.
The emir didn't return to his war-torn country until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had restored one of his several palaces to its former opulence.
Only when new furniture had arrived, gold-plated toilet fixtures were restored, the air conditioners were humming and the gigantic indoor waterfall bubbling did the emir join his fellow Kuwaitis, most of whom are still enduring shortages of water, electricity, food and other essentials.
So now that he's back in his palace, what is Kuwait's ruler doing? Is he leading, ruling, using his wisdom to guide his war-weary people through their troubled times?
No, he's out of sight and probably looking to have a good time, according to a prominent Kuwaiti merchant quoted in the New York Times.
"All the emir does is get married," the merchant said.
By that, he meant that for many years the emir's main interest has been young maidens.
As the story explains, under Islamic law the emir can have four wives.
Ah, but he is a sly emir. He has only three wives who are his permanent spouses. (It is said that they live splendidly. After all, the billionaire sheik is no cheapskate.)
So that leaves a vacancy for one wife. And that's the emir's loophole.
As the Times story says: "At regular intervals -- sometimes weekly -- Sheik Jaber is said to marry a young virgin on Thursday night . . . only to divorce on Friday."
Obviously, the emir couldn't do that if every time he got married and divorced he had to hire a lawyer and a private detective and go to court to testify: "Your honor, she has been carrying on shamelessly with a rock musician, and I have the photographs to prove it."
But under Kuwait's laws, all he has to do is get up on Friday morning, yawn, scratch, have a gulp or coffee and say, "I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you." That's it -- he says it three times, and the one-day marriage is kaput.
It's perfectly legal, although some Arabs say it really isn't sporting. "He's following the letter of the law, but not its spirit," a Chicago Arab-American told me.
The Chicagoan, who has studied the emir's exploits, said there is no shortage of young maidens for the sheik to deflower. He said some come from the Bedouins, the nomadic tribes that wander the desert and don't have much property that they can't load on a camel. Others are from Kuwaiti families that want to improve their standard of living.
"The virgin brides get money, goods and gifts. I'm not sure if their families get in on the graft as well, but I suspect some do.
"Future marital prospects are not affected for these young women. A legally divorced woman can marry again, so her reputation is not tarnished.
"Some of these girls and their families consider this a great honor. They might hope that they will be selected as the permanent fourth wife."
Fat chance. At 65, with years of experience at this sort of thing, it's unlikely that the emir would oversleep or wake up with a hangover and forget to say those three magic words three times.
So that may be one of the reasons you won't be seeing much of the emir in the news. One of his sons, the crown prince, will be trying to run the government, soothe the many angry and hungry Kuwaitis who couldn't flee to luxury resorts when Saddam invaded, and get the all-important oil wells pumping again.
I'm sure that there are some prudes who are offended by the emir's lifestyle. But look at it from his perspective. If you've seen his picture, you know that he has a long honker, an unsightly mustache and the general appearance of a swarthy basset hound. Put him in a group photo with Groucho, Chico and Harpo, and you'd swear that he was Sheiko.
Nature didn't make him a Warren Beatty. So he makes do with what he has, which is all a guy can do. And what the emir has, even after the war, are all those billions of gallons of untapped oil under his many palaces.
If most men were honest -- especially those with droopy faces -- they'd admit that if they happened to be born a billionaire sheik, they'd be tempted to use their royal positions to turn the pretty heads of some impressionable young things.
So the amorous emir shouldn't be scorned for hot-footing it out of his country when the first shot was fired. And for not returning until we had chased the bad guys away and his royal boudoir had been prepared.
Who knows? It's possible that the emir has been influenced by American culture. Back in the 1960s, he was a youngish guy. Maybe he picked up on a popular slogan from those days.
Remember it? "Make love, not war." He's just an aging flower child.