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Monday, March 31, 2003

Saddam's Endgame

I nearly got booed off the dinner table when I floated this idea Friday night, but it's a new day. My question - if you were on Saddam Hussein's payroll as a consultant, what advice would you be giving him? If we can assume for a moment that he has a strategy, what might it be?

First, if he is seeking glorious martyrdom, make sure his check clears before you dispense with the advice. However, imagine that he truly hopes to remain in power. What then?

Plan A relied on world opinon and the United Nations to restrain the US. Well, that is why we have a Plan B.

Under Plan B, we (his somewhat conflicted consultants) advise Saddam that he needs to think outside the box. Abandon the tired zero-sum "win-lose" mindset, and think in terms of "win-win". "Look, Saddam, baby, (the "baby" works ONLY if you are videoconferencing, which I would strongly recommend), you are not going to WIN this war. Face reality. Denial is not just a river, and neither is the Tigris, which you now have by the tail", we tell him, but does he get American humor? No. More wasted time.

Saddam can't "win" unless he can redefine winning in a way that leaves him with what he really wants, but lets the US declare victory. And what does the US want? Working off of Rumsfeld's list of eight goals, we see:

1. Regime change - Saddam out
2. Disarmament - no WMDs
3. Drive out terrorists
4. Gather intelligence on terrorists
5. Gather intelligence on the international network of WMDs
6. End sanctions and deliver humanitarian relief
7. "Secure Iraq's oil fields and resources, which belong to the Iraqi people"
8. "to help the Iraqi people create the conditions for a rapid transition to a representative self-government".

OK, and what does Saddam want? To stay in power, we presume. So, here is our proposal, which might pass as a mission statement. Saddam needs to present this war as follows: Saddam Hussein, responsible world citizen, leads the patriotic Iraqis in defense of their homeland against foreign invaders. Please, snickering during the presentation is distracting.

What does this mean for our military plan? Three things, immediately:

A. DO NOT attack Israel. This is about patriotic Iraqis versus the imperialists, remember? Shelve the old "Arab v. Jew" script.

B. DO NOT torch the oil fields. If you hold them, great, but what are the odds? If the US gets them, well, think of it as throwing them a bone - it's something they want that you don't need.

C. DO NOT use chemical or biological weapons. Of course you have them, but as a "responsible world citizen", you need to maintain "implausibe deniability". Stay with the script.

Anything else? Of course. Fight like fury in some of the southern cities so the world gets a good, ghastly look at urban combat. Wait for the coalition to surround Baghdad, then ask the UN for a cease-fire. You agree to inspections, and since you haven't used WMDs, the UN keeps a straight face and says OK. They want documents, you have documents, on terrorists and WMDs, and anything else. Regime change? Agree to a partition of Iraq - you keep "Inner Iraq", located around Baghdad, and the coalition gets "Outer Iraq". Promise elections in five years, and try to keep a straight face when you sign the documents.

Result - of Rumsfeld's eight points, the US can claim satisfaction on seven and a half. That is a win for Bush, isn't it? And if the alternative is to level Baghdad, he might go for it. And for the client, who appears impoverished and alone as ruler of Greater Baghdad? Well, those oil fields are for all the Iraqi people, right? How about a share of the revenue, then, for humanitarian purposes. This is not precisely a clear win for Saddam, but it is not a total defeat, and tomorrow is another day.

LIVE UPDATE: Nick Denton proposes a three part partition. The Insta-man does not sputter with rage. Could the politics be such that a deal like this could develop? For whatever it's worth, on Friday it was three lefties who hated this idea, pounding the table with the idea that Bush would never go for it. What do they know about the mind of the right? Little, since, it now appears that a couple of non-lefties are able to accept the concept.

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