ONCE AGAIN Saddam Hussein is sending an important message, clear and in the open.
He travels about Iraq, appearing before carefully organized crowds. He stands above them, whips out his pistol and fires over their heads.
The crowd understands and shouts love for its master. "Bush, Bush, listen carefully," it chants then.
No speech needed; the bullets are the message. "I am here," they tell the world. "Fear me."
Hussein has done his best to teach the world that he means to carry out his threats, no matter how long it takes. Arab "brotherhood" did not stop his invasion of Kuwait.
The mobilization of staggering power against him did not change his course. And the missile attacks against Tel Aviv were his message that he would never stop trying to destroy Israel. This man means what he writes on the mirror: blood.
Only fools or cowards failed to listen to him before -- or those Westerners and Middle Easterners who have a taste for the brand of fascism by which he has ruled. Unhappily, the foreign offices and think tanks of the West and the Middle East have an endless supply of all three.
In the United States, these "specialists" concocted the misinformed, mistaken and misbegotten policies that built up Hussein and empowered him to start the war.
Among them was the disastrous decision to declare in 1982 that Iraq was no longer a state practicing terrorism. That was a straight-out lie. It allowed U.S. credits and militarily useful technology to flow into Iraq until the very eve of the war.
Now they busy themselves justifying the heartbreaking historic error made by President Bush with their support: the decision to stand aloof from the Iraqi rebels.
That was really a decision to allow Hussein to crush the rebels and remain in power. The rebels understood that; Hussein understood that; all the Middle East understood that. Around the world, democratic movements that have counted on American support understood it, too well.
What can Hussein do with his pistol -- power destroyed, sanctions controlling him? But he was not destroyed. The decisions made by Bush allowed Hussein to escape with substantial armor -- tanks and artillery.
They are not enough to begin another war. But they are a base upon which his secret military procurement network, probably the most widespread and skillful in the world, can build.
With Hussein in power, economic rebuilding can be a step
toward military rebuilding. The American Friends Service Committee's international division is already denouncing "all non-military sanctions." Its letter to the New York Times, printed last Thursday, says Hussein brought Iraqis "substantial improvements in infrastructure, schooling, health care and material comfort," and that those achievements were largely destroyed by the bombing.
Nothing is said about how much more "substantial improvements" the Iraqis could have had if Hussein had not poured their great natural wealth into missiles, tanks and nuclear death plants. Hitler built the Autobahn, and Mussolini, he made the trains run on time.
Did American airmen wantonly destroy Iraq? Opponents of the war told us civilian casualties would be counted in the scores, possibly hundreds or thousands. Now Iraq's deputy foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, tells the Washington Post that civilian casualties are "above 1,000."
But a new war is not on Hussein's immediate agenda. That can wait until his Arab brothers welcome him back; already they meet in council with him. Then he can rectify his error of not attacking Israel first. Who will send troops to a coalition against him then?
Meantime he will use a weapon the war did not reach: the nests of Middle Eastern terrorists he paid and harbored so long, including all the shameful years the U.S. was appeasing him. A new paperback is full of important information: "Terrorist," by Steven A. Emerson and Christina Del Sesto (Villard).
He will go on shooting his pistol into the air, preening before the Arab world, showing plainly that he remains a gun pointed at the world.
For the U.S., as long as he lives and rules, Hussein will be the true, deadly quagmire.
"Bush, Bush, listen carefully."