In his Nov. 13 op-ed column, Jim Hoagland included a quote he attributed to Iraqi "snake-oil merchant" Nizar Hamdoon. He offered it as a revelation of the Iraqi's nefarious intentions; Hamdoon had invited Western journalists to Iraq because he said, "your presence here and the reporting you do means that Baghdad ceases to be an abstraction in the minds of the people in the West. It becomes for you a real place, with real people. If the Americans bomb us, everyone knows that ordinary people like themselves will be killed. In a way, you are a form of national defense for us."

How fiendishly clever of Hamdoon to try to humanize his people in the eyes of the enemy. He even had the gall to ask journalists to take part in this insidious empathy business. The man just doesn't play fair.

Hoagland, on the other hand, is the more traditional war propagandist. He dehumanized the enemy. He'd like us to forget the nameless millions and remember just two names -- Saddam and Hitler. Comparing the two, however, he said, gives Saddam "too much credence." Instead, he likened Hamdoon to Goebbels.

No doubt Saddam is wicked. But the woods are full of wicked despots we don't threaten with war. The real reason for war in the Gulf is that the president thinks that with the sacrifice of a few thousand ordinary lives, things can be arranged in the Middle East more to the economic and political benefit of the United States.

If they told us that, we might stop to consider how successful pat schemes have been in the Middle East. We might doubt that the sacrifice Bush asks will bring the results he hopes. We might even doubt whether our cause is noble. So the administration must pound the war drums and, lacking a propaganda ministry, depend on journalists to pick up the beat.

-- Maxine Hattery