Saddam and the Petunias

The New Age of Anxiety

I don't know if it's true. If you want facts, go ask Saddam. But I kind of believe it. After all, we took out their nuclear bomb factory, the one at Osirak, in 1981. Remember? At the time, the whole world expressed public outrage at our "unwarranted" attack on a sovereign state.

Now we have this oil business. Saddam, hoping to make everyone in the world more pissed off at us than they already are, announced that he is suspending oil exports for a month to protest Israeli military operations against the Palestinians. Oil prices soared, as did international protests against Israel.

Saddam's strategy makes sense. As long as everyone is preoccupied with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, no one is going to be in the mood to cooperate with an attack on his regime. It would be especially difficult for Arab states, no matter how much they hate him, to support an attempt to topple the man who gets billing as the "Palestinian Patron Saint."

The Israeli government has become very grumpy over what it considers Washington's obsession with Iraq. Some officials think focusing on Iraq is a mistake because the real threat is from Iran. Tehran, they say, has major weapons factories manufacturing even ICBMs and it bankrolls the world's main terrorist networks.

Some in the Israeli cabinet complain that the U.S. is putting so much pressure on Israel to settle the conflict only because Washington wants support for its oft promised actions against Iraq.

One obviously naive government official was overheard complaining, "Can you believe it? The United States is trying to get us to stop the war in order to preserve its own interests." Hello?

But many Israelis would be perfectly happy if Washington pursued its own interests a bit more forcefully. Like by jumping in with guns blazing to settle this mess. That would force us both into a cease-fire and back to the negotiating table. We could use some peace and quiet too—and time to smell the petunias.

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