Jewish World Review August 8, 2003 /10 Menachem-Av 5763

Paul Greenberg

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Monk and the Case of the Iraqi Maze | In the labyrinth of any problem that confronts us, we must select the most promising paths; if we attempt to follow all at once we shall arrive nowhere. — Nero Wolfe in "The League of Frightened Men"

When does detective fiction rise to literature? Answer: When the detective becomes more than a stock figure, and the intricacies of the plot become only background. People don't read about Sherlock Holmes to solve the cases.

In a great detective story, it is the central character that enthralls us. Someone we could watch forever. Like a Columbo, an Hercule Poirot, or the latest classic, Adrian Monk on the USA Network.

This newest object of our fascination is a total obsessive. He shrinks back from holding hands, or must sterilize everything in sight, or arrange his furniture just so. He is so frightened by things that don't frighten us. We are amused — and feel superior.

Yet his obsessiveness also makes Monk superior to us. His sensitivity is such that he can separate all the clutter and discern a central theme. He can separate the multiple threads in the fabric of a story, and spot the single one out of place.

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Adrian Monk has a lot to teach us as an election year approaches and a war lingers. The political attacks on the White House are sure to increase. Many of those attacks will be misleading — threads that go nowhere.

See the big to-do over the Sixteen Words. By now that isolated passage of a presidential speech has been parsed so many times it's beyond meaning or relevance. And interest. The subject comes to bore even those of us who once might have been curious about what British intelligence knew or didn't know about uranium in Niger.

The whole fuss has only obscured what we did know about Saddam Hussein and what he was capable of. All of which tends to be forgotten now that he's on the run.

Some of the more vociferous attacks on George W. Bush are simply fraudulent. Like the assertion that the president had warned "that the threat to the United States was imminent." (To quote an ad placed by MoveOn.Org, aka TrashBush.Org. )

That accusation has become a staple of the anti-Bush camp. As in: "We were told by this president that Saddam Hussein constituted an imminent threat to our security. Bunk!" — Robert W. Byrd, senior senator and pre-eminent gasbag from West Virginia.

Actually, the point of the president's last State of the Union was not that Saddam Hussein represented an imminent threat — but that to wait until he became one would be to wait too long.

Or do any of the president's critics really believe the world would be a better place if Saddam Hussein were still in power? His fall has shifted the balance of power in the volatile and strategic Middle East — in favor of freedom and stability.

Others have edited the president's remarks to conform to their own misimpressions. The most brazen has been The New York Times' Maureen Dowd, who used an ellipsis to make nonsense of something the president had said about the threat posed by al-Qaida . and then criticized him for speaking nonsense. Neat.

The fog of post-war covers every discussion. Competing theories clamor for our attention: The war in Iraq was really about oil, not terror. Just follow Dick Cheney's trail to Halliburton! Never mind that there's no evidence of any conflict of interest on his part.

And since Saddam Hussein's links to al-Qaida were vague at best, therefore he had no connection with terrorism at all, or wouldn't have developed any. Any more than such disparate types as Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo would ever have united to threaten world peace.

So many trails that lead nowhere, so many false clues spread out everywhere. In all the confusion, the immediate danger facing this administration — and this country — may be obscured. It's the guerrilla war in Iraq that, even now, the White House can't bring itself to call a guerrilla war.

An American general named MacArthur once said that in war there is no substitute for victory. The same applies to post-war.

Win, and all the political distractions will be seen for what they are. Fail to win, as in Vietnam, and no explanation will suffice. And every Democratic aspirant for president next year will be campaigning with General Quagmire as a running mate. That is the simple, stark truth under all these many, gaudy distractions. Adrian Monk would spot it as soon as he entered the room.

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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.

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