Jewish World Review March 18, 2002/ 14 Adar II, 5763

Wesley Pruden

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The clock runs out for the evil tyrant | It's almost show time. We've got the word of a determined man on it.

The days of drawing one more last line in the sand, the weeks of listening to the antiwar left and massaging the French ego, the months of preparing the invasion force and the years of indulging Saddam Hussein's lies and stalling are just about over.

George W. Bush can't be faulted for not trying to avoid war in Iraq, though of course he will be, by the Nervous Nellies, the Pious Priscillas and the Hesitant Hannahs of right and left who wouldn't be persuaded if Saddam Hussein landed a Scud in George W.'s front yard. Some of the Pious Priscillas, in fact, would only grumble that Saddam should have dropped it down the White House chimney.

Kofi Annan, the secretary-general of the United Nations, ordered his humanitarian workers out of Baghdad, and Hans Blix, the Swedish bureaucrat reluctant to leave the best job he'll ever have, was told by Washington that if he intends to get out before the first smart bombs fall now is the time to do it. Correspondents, cameramen, holy men and any human shields still hanging about in Baghdad looking for a Starbucks and who don't want Saddam to take them at their word - that they yearn to die to protect the Iraqi satrapy - scrambled last night to hitch a ride out to Amman. Even an old garbage truck would do.

The secretary-general, in a sullen pout over the irrelevance of the U.N., couldn't resist one last jab with the needle at George W. "War is always a human catastrophe," he said. "A lot of people are going to be uprooted from their homes." Duh.

Saddam himself was reported to have begun distributing the chemical weapons he doesn't have to his Republican Guard units in hopes they will lob a canister or two before they flee on French leave, to find an American or British soldier willing to take their surrender.

The air of unreality that has hovered over the endless preparations and diplomatic fan-dancing began to dissipate last night with the president's speech. Iraqi dissidents, emboldened on the eve of war, are now openly sabotaging trains, destroying bridges, and even tossing grenades into Saddam's Ba'ath Party offices in rural towns.

"Until recently such acts of open defiance were very rare and were dealt with harshly," says an official in the British Foreign Office. "But as Saddam concentrates his energies on trying to protect his regime from attack, Iraqi opposition groups are becoming more audacious in their attacks."

The markets soared on Wall Street for the fourth consecutive day, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average up nearly 300 points as investors grow increasingly confident that the war will be brief and successful. Any preacher with a peace plan has to get it in place at once, because the war might be over before his congregation crawls out of bed. Even the Turks, who smugly bailed out on George W. a fortnight ago, signaled frantically yesterday that they don't want to be left behind after all. (Is that M. Chirac over yonder, the one jumping up and down and waving his hands? Is he trying to get George W.'s attention, or is he just a Frenchman looking for someone to take his surrender?)

Confidence is often the better part of courage, and this time why not? The Israelis can usually dispatch an entire Arab coalition in under a week. It's true that Saddam blows exceedingly hard, promising to take the war anywhere there's "sky, land and water," but the last time Arabs fought well was under T.E. Lawrence, and this time there's no patient Englishman to jolly them to battle. The mother of all battles, which Saddam promised a decade ago, turned out to be merely Saddam's weak ugly sister and this time he's down to a tacky stepsister.

Still, it's a foolish soldier who forgets Stonewall Jackson's famous battlefield admonition. "Soldiers," he warned, "make short speeches. And when you take out your sword, throw away the scabbard." It's advice this White House heeds. War, the president said last night, is not about certainty, but about sacrifice. The vice president took pains on Sunday to warn that the White House doesn't want "to convey to the American people the idea that this is a cost-free operation, because nobody can say that."

Wars seldom go the way they're planned, and even Arab armies, armed with good weapons and advanced technology, can inflict pain and harm. But nothing short of the worst disaster to befall an American army since First Manassas, when Jackson first stood like a stone wall and the road back to Washington was littered with terrified congressmen, picnic hampers, wrecked carriages and an occasional lady's bustle, can prevent the victory that will make the world a very different place. "The tyrant will soon be gone."

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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