Peace Lady called from California. She has a plan to bring peace to the Persian Gulf region. Her scheme is to divvy up Kuwait's oil so that Iraq gets what she says is its fair share. To Peace Lady's utter surprise, I reacted with anger. Saddam Hussein gets nothing, I said. After many years and dozens of calls, Peace Lady and I have broken up. The phone went click.
Peace Lady and I go back a long way -- so long that maybe I owe her an explanation for why we now have what the lawyers would call "irreconcilable differences." After all, we once agreed on almost everything. We were both opposed to the war in Vietnam, questioned some of the assumptions of U.S. foreign policy and viewed the Reagan administration's visceral anti-communism with some trepidation. We still can't get all that upset about the Sandinistas.
Yet on Saddam Hussein, we split. We do so for two reasons. The first is that I care -- and I think Peace Lady does not -- about Israel. This is a complicated, controversial proposition, which, I suppose, opens me up to charges of dual loyalty and the willingness to spill American blood for a foreign country. But having a certain affection and respect for Israel is, really, much the same as having similar feelings for Britain.
If I get all weepy about the Battle of Britain (and I do), I am entitled to feel something for Israel as well. By his own word, Saddam Hussein threatens it -- and by the word of every recent American president, Israel (like Britain, Ireland or now, Germany) is our friend.
Second and more important, Peace Lady's way of avoiding a conflict in the Gulf region is to basically reward Saddam for aggression. I think this is not only wrong in principle but deadly wrong in practice. Iraq's invasion of Kuwait presented the world with its first post-Cold War crisis. There are sure to be others.
Peace Lady ought to look around the world. The Soviet Union, home to an impressive nuclear stockpile, is simply coming apart at the seams. So too is Eastern Europe. Taken together, this is an area of great and abiding ethnic and nationalistic hostilities. These scores may be settled yet.
Peace Lady ought to keep looking. India and Pakistan, both of them probably nuclear powers (India for sure), are having their usual argument. They may yet go to war. But the most arbitrary and senseless national borders are probably in Africa -- and those wars have yet to be fought.
That leaves the Middle East, which already has brought us the first post-Cold War crisis. It's the one that may well set a precedent for those that follow. Maybe Peace Lady is too accustomed to thinking America is always wrong. Well, not this time.
If Peace Lady asks, "What has all this to do with me"? she poses a good question -- and one the Bush administration has not effectively answered. The president himself is a product of the World War II generation, and the folly of isolationism may seem so obvious to him that it does not bear mentioning. But younger generations need to have America's role in the world explained. They must be told -- as, now, so do the Germans and the Japanese -- that with wealth comes responsibility and obligation. Almost unnoticed, the old isolationists of the right and the neo-isolationists of the left have joined forces. Bush has his work cut out for him.
The other day a defense intellectual asked what would happen if Saddam Hussein made just one atomic bomb -- and turned it over to terrorist Abu Nidal. To my mind, the proposition is far-fetched. But it does illustrate the sort of world we are living in -- a world that will, with advances in technology, get no safer.
The Soviets learned in Afghanistan that a sophisticated airplane could be downed by an unsophisticated rebel -- as long as he had a Stinger missile on his shoulder. Like the six-gun in the Old West, the silicon chip has become the "great equalizer." Such a world needs organizations such as the United Nations to play cop and countries such as the United States to provide the nightsticks -- precisely what the Bush administration is attempting in the Persian Gulf.
That in a nutshell is why Saddam Hussein has to be stopped -- why he cannot be rewarded for aggression. His is the first mugging of the post-Cold War era, a precedent that is being carefully watched by a bevy of despots all over the globe. Peace Lady seemed not to understand that or, I suspect, to have given it much thought. So we have split up. She's the same person she always was -- and that, to my mind, is the problem.