Maureen Dowd: History Up in Smoke

Friday, 18 April 2003 07:09 by: Anonymous

History Up in Smoke
By Maureen Dowd
New York Times

Wednesday 16 April 2003

WASHINGTON - Last week, the C.I.A. was leaning toward believing that Saddam Hussein was alive and Osama bin Laden was dead. This week, the C.I.A. is leaning toward believing that Osama bin Laden is alive and Saddam Hussein is dead.

Unless, of course, Saddam is not dead.

Even though Tommy Franks claims to have Saddam's DNA, American forensics experts have not been pawing through the rubble of the Baghdad safe house and restaurant where Saddam and his sons were targeted on April 7. (A pretty good clue that they don't expect to find any Saddam traces there.)

And last night, rumors were flitting through the intelligence community that Saddam may be on the run, after plastic surgery.

The man is known to be an aficionado of cosmetic enhancement. He requested liposuction, teeth-whitening and hair-transplant equipment through U.N. officials in 1998 as humanitarian "essential medical supplies." Maybe the reason we haven't found any weapons of mass destruction is because all that botulinum toxin he stored wasn't to make biological weapons, as Colin Powell said, but Botox?

What if Saddam never intended to defend Baghdad? What if he plotted a "Body Heat" ending, where a look-alike would be blown up while he escaped to a secluded tropical beach?

It wouldn't have been so difficult. While he went under the knife in an underground operating room or in Syria, he could have put old videotapes on Iraqi TV and sent out doubles to do walkabouts and the wacky information minister to do lie-abouts.

It always seemed suspicious that at the height of the bombing campaign in Baghdad, with American forces ringing the city, that Saddam strolled into the Baghdad Bada Bing flanked by relatives and top aides.

Whether the tacky tyrant is MOAB dust or has a new face, he's gone. And we now own his country for the bargain down payment of $79 billion. America broke away from the British empire, and now it's building its own British-style empire. We are, as Niall Ferguson, the author of "Empire," put it, "an empire in denial."

We obviously have some things to learn from the British. When they carted off the treasures of the nations they conquered to the British Museum, they at least preserved them for future generations to fight over who should own them.

The coalition forces were guarding the Iraqi Oil Ministry building while hundreds of Iraqis ransacked and ran off with precious heirlooms and artifacts from a 7,000-year-old civilization. Rummy blew off the repeated requests of scholars and archaeologists that the soldiers must protect Iraqi history in the museum as zealously as they protected Iraqi wealth in the oil wells.

The secretary of defense made it clear yesterday that he was not too worried about a few old pots in the big scheme of things. He said it was "a stretch" to attribute the looting of the museum to "a defect" in the war plan.

"We've seen looting in this country," he said at the Pentagon briefing. "We've seen riots at soccer games in various countries around the world. . . . To the extent it happens in a war zone, it's difficult to stop."

The government should have taken 20 seconds, when it was awarding the Halliburton contract, to protect the art, the books and the hospital supplies.

Even when they had the museum as an awful example, the war planners let more of Iraq's priceless intellectual history be destroyed, as looters and arsonists ransacked and gutted the National Library.

Just because we didn't go to Iraq to bring artistic treasures home doesn't mean we have to be utterly indifferent to their fate.

Just because we don't want to be an empire doesn't mean we have to be utterly lacking in grandeur.

Just because the leaders who prosecuted this war were oil men doesn't mean they have to prosecute the war like oil men.

Leonard Woolf, Virginia Woolf's husband, was sent to govern part of Ceylon in the early 20th century and resigned, discouraged about the difficulties of occupation. The most an imperial administration could hope to do, he said, was to "prevent people from killing one another or robbing one another, or burning down the camp."

And that's the least we must do.

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