THE KUWAITI newspaper Al-Seyassah said last week that Saddam Hussein had had a dream. In that dream, the Prophet Mohammed appeared and told Saddam, "Your rockets are pointed the wrong way," directing Saddam to point them away from Saudi Arabia.
A true dream, says the ancient lore of Islam, is the fortieth part of prophethood. Islamic tradition also teaches the dreamer who wishes to recount his vision to choose a confidant with care, to keep silent rather than tell the wrong person: A dream, claims such teaching, belongs to the first interpreter. Saddam told his aides; they told Al-Seyassah. "Al-Seyasseh" in Arabic means either "politics" or a policy or strategy that is being pursued. Thus oil traders, on waking Tuesday morning, inverted their cups of thick Turkish coffee, read the grounds and concluded that Saddam's dream was a face-saving ploy; psychological preparation for a withdrawal from occupied Kuwait. Oil prices tumbled and war fever cooled, though both have since risen again.
"There are six types of people who see dreams," according to a 2,000-year-old manuscript from India, "The Questions of King Milinda." "The man who is of a windy humour, or a bilious one, or a phlegmatic one, the man who dreams dreams by the influence of a god, the man who does so by the influence of his own habits, and the man who does so by way of prognostication." But the anonymous author of "King Milinda" forgot one type of dreamer: the politician who is in a fix.
There are five types of dreams with different qualities, wrote Artemidorus of Ephesus 1,900 years ago: "The first is a Dream; the second a Vision; the third an Oracle; the fourth a Phantasy or vain Imagination; the fifth an Apparition." But Artemidorus, though he had scoured the Mediterranean for dreams, forgot one type: the dream that is a Political Convenience, a Solution, an Excuse.
On the very night of Saddam's vision, for example, George Bush suddenly awoke and sat up straight; he was beaming. "I've had a dream, Barbara," he said shaking his wife gently. "A visitation. It's given me the solution to the millionaire's surtax problem."
Mrs. Bush regarded him sleepily but warily. "I knew we shouldn't have slept in the Lincoln bed," she said. "You didn't have one of his awful catafalque dreams, did you? Did you dream of a saint? A beloved relative from beyond?"
"Not quite," said the transported president. "I dreamed a TV show. One of the great TV shows."
"Yes. J. Beresford Tipton came to me."
His wife eyed him closely. "Was he Skull and Bones? He sounds like he went to Yale."
"Oh, no," said the happy chief executive. "He was the lead character on 'The Millionaire,' that marvelous show back in the '50s. I bet he probably did go to Yale; he was a terrific guy. Every week he'd find some deserving, ordinary American and hand him a check for a million dollars, no questions asked. That show was an important part of our culture, Barbara; it reflected a truth that liberals have made us lose sight of: If you treat your millionaires well, they'll give you their money. But if we let the Democrats have that 10 percent millionaire's surtax, that can never happen again. Millionaires won't even have enough for themselves."
Barbara was silent. "Is that what this guy told you?"
"More or less. See, my dream was a whole new episode of the show. Tipton finds an ordinary, deserving American who's having a rough time, and he says to him, 'Look, I wanted to give you a million bucks, but I can't anymore. The Democratic Party has made it impossible for me. So you can't trade in your Nash, your dog can't go to the vet, your wife will have to do without modern appliances and your kid can't attend an Ivy League school; he's going to grow up ignorant. Too bad, huh?' "
"Then what happens?"
"That's it. The poor guy says, 'That's okay. If I had a million, then I'd have to pay the surtax, too. I don't want to be rich anymore.' So he stays poor and miserable, and his dog dies. That's what'll happen to the whole country. Barbara, I've got to stop it. By the way," said the president easing back on his pillow, "there were some great '50s ads in my dream, too; cigarettes and stuff. I sort of miss the old Winston jingle, don't you?" On the night of Saddam's dream, the phone rang in Boris Yeltsin's Moscow apartment. It was Mikhail Gorbachev.
"Boris!" Gorbachev's voice was excited. "Boris! Is that you? I've had a dream! A vision!"
Yeltsin squinted at his bedside clock. "Of course you have, Mikhail," he said hoarsely. "And the people all share your vision. You just have to move more quickly. Especially on the economy."
Mrs. Yeltsin rolled over. "Who the heck is calling at this time of night?" she asked.
"It's Mikhail," said Yeltsin with his hand over the receiver. "I think the Nobel Prize has gone to his head."
"No!" Gorbachev protested. "I'm talking about a real dream. Boris, I dreamed I was Kerensky."
"Yes! It was 1917 again. The czar was off the throne, and though I wanted to establish liberal democracy, I was buffeted by social revolutionaries on the Left and by military reactionaries on the Right. Finally, the Bolsheviks overthrew my provisional government. I failed, Boris."
"But it wasn't your fault, Mikhail."
"Of course it wasn't my fault, you fool. It was a dream. But that's not the worst of it. Boris, I went into exile and ended up teaching political science in an American university."
"My god! Do you want me to come over? I just got some Swedish vodka."
"You and your damn vodka," said Gorbachev, and began lecturing him about drinking and setting an example. Yeltsin let him drone on, glancing down at the newspapers he'd left scattered by the bed. There were articles about another republic declaring sovereignty, continuing food shortages, ethnic tensions, the rise of extremist groups and the security of the nation's nuclear arms.
" 'History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.' " Yeltsin quoted. "We should have built a radiant future based on James Joyce. Perhaps we did. Mikhail, do you know how unhappy history has made many people? That Thomas Carlyle was tortured by horrible dreams all his life? The proximity of history can be a dangerous thing."
"What are you talking about?" Yeltsin heard Gorbachev add in a muffled aside, "You were right, Raisa. He's drunk," but Yeltsin ignored it. He glanced at the bottle; in fact there was not much left in it.
"Pray, Mikhail, that you are really are Gorbachev and have dreamed you are Kerensky. And that you are not actually Kerensky, forgotten and dozing off between lectures to American students, who is at this moment dreaming he is somebody named Gorbachev, and who is snoring with pleasant revenge."
"Drunk!" Boris Yeltsin heard the phone slam, and in one practiced motion set his own receiver down and reached for his Swedish bottle. On the night Saddam dreamed a dream, the statesmen of all Europe tossed in troubled sleep. To Helmut Kohl came Otto Bismarck with a worried face beneath his piked helmet.
"Helmut," said Bismarck, "we are brothers. To few men has it been given to unite Germany. In fact, just to you and me. That is why I have come to you tonight: I want to exchange dreams with you."
"I am deeply honored, Prince," replied Kohl. "But what are you talking about?"
"Once, before I became chancellor, I was in Biarritz, where I actually had the following striking dream; you can find it in my biographies. I dreamed I was walking along a mountain path that grew more and more narrow. Suddenly I came upon a wall, and my way was blocked, for beside that wall was a deep abyss. I was going to turn back, but instead I took my walking stick and struck at the wall."
"It fell, and my way was clear again. I used to tell people that that dream was an encouraging omen, given what lay ahead for me. But today, with a real wall fallen in our beloved Berlin, and the German path clear again, I realize that I really dreamed your dream. I want to give it back to you."
"This is too wonderful," said Kohl. "For a moment I was afraid you wanted to give me your famous nightmare of the map of Germany rotting away in your hands. But you said you wanted an exchange. Have I had a dream you want?"
Bismarck adjusted his helmet; he looked uncomfortable. "Perhaps. As you know, I died before the cinematograph was invented, and was thus deprived of some of the greatest of Germany's cultural achievements. I wonder, Helmut, if you ever saw our wonderful 'Blue Angel,' and if it might have made you dream of Lola-Lola singing in her stockings?"
Kohl looked at Bismarck in astonishment, and Bismarck smiled back at him shyly. "Traume sind Schaume," said Bismarck with a wave of his walking stick. "Dreams are froth." "Reveillez-vous mon President!" echoed a voice in the Paris night. "Awake! Kohl has been dreaming of Bismarck! You must dream of me." Francois Mitterand kept his face in the pillow and his eyes closed. He knew who it was; he'd had this dream before.
"But mon General," said Mitterand to De Gaulle, "you seem to think I must constantly dream of you."
"Silence. In Germany tonight they are speaking of visions. You must choose one of mine. My visions are the visions of all France."
"General," said Mitterand, his face still buried in the pillow, "when you lived, of whom did you dream?"
"I? My dear president, Nerval wrote, 'Le reve est une seconde vie,' but I was a dream even when I lived."
"You are a socialist. You are in great need of dreams."
"Go away. Tomorrow I shall tell the chef to put less butter in the sauce, and you will not torture me again."
"So you refuse? France has lost a dream." De Gaulle's voice became distant. "But France has not lost the night." The night of Saddam's dream grew old; the moon set. Fidel Castro twisted in his bed. He dreamed he was a baseball pitcher, as he had wanted to be in his youth. Since 1959 he had been dreaming the same continuing game. Thousands of innings ago, he had faced a Washington line-up of John Foster Dulleses and Dean Rusks, and had pitched well against them. But now his team looked hopelessly behind. In fact, there seemed to be no one left on his team to back him up. Standing alone on the mound, he faced a batter whom he recognized as Desi Arnez, and Castro realized that he was no longer playing Washington, but Havana. Even the fans were against him: As Arnez stepped to the plate, the crowd screamed "Babaloo!," quoting Arnez's only known song. The shout awoke Castro, who rubbed his aged pitching arm, now sore.
In Ottawa, Brian Mulroney conjured up Charlemagne. "I'm going to kill you," Mulroney said, and did. In Canadian dreamtime, no one anywhere spoke French.
On Observatory Circle, Dan Quayle heard a voice. "Arise," it said, "and follow me."
Quayle opened his eyes, startled. "Whither will you lead me in this darkness?" he asked.
"Come," was the answer, "and I will reveal to you humanity in its true reality."
Quayle followed a point of light through a city of death and perished grandeur. The voice bellowed as a fear seized Quayle. "Look upon this, mortal, and despair!" A form emerged from the shadows.
"Don't have a cow, man," said Bart Simpson.
"I don't get it," said Quayle. "What's this all about?"
"If you can answer my question," said Bart. "I'll change your life. My question is, since we're both famous for underachievement, how come I'm so cool and you're held in such contempt?"
"I give up."
"Good for you; you're already on the right path. The answer is, you're pretending to have a third dimension. Give it up. It gets you nowhere. People like to dream dreams that somebody else has made up for them. That's my message. Get recast, Dan."
"Can somebody please change the channel?" pleaded Quayle.
But the sun was up and the dreams were being forgotten and Al-Seyassah was going to press.
Charles Paul Freund is an Outlook editor.