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Mary McGrory

Shield Us From War

By Mary McGrory
Thursday, February 13, 2003; Page A31

The pope, God bless him, has the right idea. He has sent a cardinal, his personal emissary, to Baghdad.

He is Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, and he is carrying a message to Saddam Hussein. May his eminence make a lengthy stay. And when he returns to Rome, the other 170 members of the College of Cardinals -- some of whom might welcome a chance to do good -- should follow him, one by one, to Iraq.

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It is a papal variation on a theme composed by "Old Europe": wimpy, out-of-it Germany and France, which want to flood Baghdad with visitors whom the faith-based, hellbent White House hawk will dare not bomb.

Old Europe suggests a tripling of U.N. inspectors, who now number about 100. They require support staff -- helicopter pilots, medics and the like -- of about 160. They could sit on Saddam Hussein's head and clog the machinery for any aggression he might be plotting. The cost per year of the present complement is $80 million, and the beauty part is that it doesn't cost us a dime. All expenses are paid out of the U.N. oil-for-food program, which entails the sale of oil to buy food for Iraqis. That surely beats the $200 billion cost to Uncle Sam projected by former economic adviser Larry Lindsey.

I don't know about you, but I never felt more secure than when I was watching Peter Jennings broadcast from Baghdad. I knew that no missiles would fly with him on the ground. I propose an anchor relay: Tom, Peter and Dan could rotate and provide bomb insurance for all. It beats war. Americans may be ready to sacrifice, but offing the country's twilight companions borders on sacrilege. Human shields have been urgently needed since George W. Bush made his chilling statement about Iraqi troops being hidden among the civilians, which could provide justification for bombing urban neighborhoods and prepare us for shrieking babies and other horrors of "collateral damage."

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld -- who should, by the way, be renamed Secretary of Offense, as he inflicts insults not permitted in a president -- has labeled the pacific activities of France and Germany "disgraceful." Some applaud Germany for kicking its habit of starting world wars and causing untold agony and misery for millions.

Rumsfeld is not a student of history; he thinks that time began in 2000. He has been remiss in one respect, however. While he has been hurling sneers and epithets at countries refusing to understand that Bush must win his stare-down with Saddam Hussein, he has failed to castigate Belgium, which had the nerve to stop a move in NATO to compensate Turkey in advance for its cooperation (which has commanded big bucks from us). How come Brussels gets off while Berlin gets a comparison with Cuba and Libya?

These measures may not cancel the bloody enterprise that consumes the White House. They may only delay it, and not for long. But everyone needs a respite from the encircling apprehension and dread. Beginning with the president, all should take a deep breath and reassess. Colin Powell is working overtime to close the loop on Iraq's ties to al Qaeda. In his masterly U.N. speech he made the case against Saddam Hussein, but not the case for war. He needs a rest. The orange alert has worn everybody out.

People are storming their hardware stores for duct tape to seal their windows against a germ attack; or they are negotiating with their local CVS to get an extra supply of prescription drugs -- a hilarious concept to regulars.

The president needs an interlude to reconfigure his "axis of evil." The variety of approaches went from bewildering to weird.

Iraq, which wants nukes, gets invasion and occupation. North Korea, which has them, gets lectures from neighbors. But strangest of all, the third member, Iran, which is forging ahead with a nuclear factory, gets treated like a lodge brother or a fellow Kiwanian. A U.S. delegation visited Iranian counterparts in Europe recently and asked them to lend a hand with Iraq: Lie low while we invade, take in refugees and rescue downed pilots. And did our side ask, "Shall we put you down for a couple of tables at our spring victory fundraising gala?"

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) wrote a letter accusing the president of "turning a blind eye" to more proliferation in return for Iran's help.

It's more proof that nothing matters more to Bush than war with Iraq. Proliferation, logic, reason are also-rans. One glimmer of hope could be detected in the gloomy Capitol. At the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a pair of hapless bureaucrats testified on postwar Iraq. The undersecretaries of state and defense were clueless, and the members noticed. Gen. Anthony Zinni, a retired Marine, brilliant and forthright, said we may have planned for war, but not for peace.

Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) suggested we put off one until we had a grip on the other. It's our only hope.


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