Bush vs. Saddam: Round 2

Sandy Grady

July 18, 1991|By Sandy Grady

Washington -- THE MAN was lying and cheating. I don't consider him a very bright man to think he can get away with this."

Pop quiz: Who stirred George Bush's temper?

OK, another hint: "If he assumes he can get away with it, he's wrong as he was Aug. 2 when he sent his forces into Kuwait."

You got it. It's Round Two of the endless between Bush and Saddam Hussein, the presidential punching bag.

The victory parades have faded, the confetti swept up, most of the 500,000 troops are home, the generals are writing their memoirs, and the TV combat scenes are fleeting.

But the Persian Gulf expedition is a war that won't end -- not as long as Bush is obsessed with Saddam Hussein. Nothing irritates Bush so much as the sight of Saddam still holding clout -- and possibly the makings of a nuclear bomb -- in Baghdad.

"Saddam must go" is clearly a Bush priority. But the impatient president is running out of solutions.

Assassination? Not kosher under U.S. law. The Pentagon was secretly authorized to bomb Saddam during the war. But if he escaped 90,000 allied air sorties, it's bootless for U.S. intelligence to target him now.

Economic sanctions? The oil embargo hasn't dented Saddam's power. More "get Saddam" rhetoric? Despite Bush's pep talks, no Iraqi general has obeyed his cheerleading to erase Saddam with a bullet.

Bush got himself into this box by personifying Saddam as "Hitler" and mythologizing him as America's enemy No. 1 with no clear idea how to dispatch his nemesis. Rolling U.S. tanks into Baghdad would have produced a bloodbath. The Kurdish and Shiite rebellions were unforeseen scripts. Now Bush, like a good ex-CIA man, claims "deniability" -- getting rid of Saddam was not one of the war's "stated aims."

That's humbug. Bush's vendetta won't be ended, or the gulf war a satisfactory P.R. exercise, until Saddam Hussein is dethroned or dead.

So, lacking any good options, why not bomb Iraq again?

Bush has blustered for weeks about bombing raids unless Iraq stops playing shell games with its primitive nuclear weaponry. Now at the London economic summit, he's lined up British Prime Minister John Major, French President Francois Mitterrand and probably a U.N. resolution to call in the F-16s.

One mystery: What would the Pentagon target? It was hard enough to locate Scud missiles. But experts say the 90 pounds of uranium needed to build a nuclear bomb is "the size of a grapefruit" and "could be hidden in somebody's attic."

After all, five months ago the Pentagon technocrats crowed that they'd finished Saddam's nukes. "Our pilots shot down Saddam's nuclear business," boasted Gen. Colin Powell. A Pentagon briefer said Iraq's nuke facilities were "110 percent destroyed." And Defense Secretary Dick Cheney bragged on March 19, "I'm confident it will be a long time before Saddam Hussein has nuclear capability."

Now the Defense Nuclear Agency warns that Iraq is a few months away from building a "weapon of terror." But DNA director George Watson admits the device "would weigh five tons and have to be carried on a flatbed trailer."

I know Saddam's clever, but it's going to be tricky to truck a five-ton bomb on a flatbed trailer into Tel Aviv or Riyadh. Would he disguise it as a parade float?

Basically, although Kuwait has been "freed" (if you can tell through the burning oil) and 100,000 Iraqis have been killed, we're still caught in the Bush-vs.-Saddam melodrama.

The "unforeseen consequences" that critics predicted of the gulf war have come home: U.S. troops indefinitely guarding Kurds, undemocratic Kuwait afire. While the military triumph stokes Bush's popularity, the embarrassment of an intact, nuke-armed Saddam erodes the war's political potency.

Was it worth it?

It will be easier for Bush to campaign in '92 if he gives Saddam one more crack on the knuckles.

So roll out the F-16s. Give us an adrenaline booster shot of laser bombs and nose-camera pictures of bull's-eye explosions.

You'll love the CNN blockbuster, "Son of Gulf War."

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