She was what you might call a character. She spoke a flamboyant English with a British accent, served tea, offered cookies, felt mildly inconvenienced by the embargo and denounced those who thought war was coming as fools, unschooled in the ways of the Middle East. A solution would be found, a settlement reached. As for her, she was staying right where she lived -- in Baghdad.
And so for me the face of the enemy is that woman. It is also an artist I met and a woman whose child, 13 months old, teetered from one near-catastrophe to another -- a hot cup of tea, a tray of cookies, a looming coffee table. These people, like the woman with the British accent, thought no war would come. For many reasons, not the least of them being the conviction that their tyrant, Saddam Hussein, was no different than the other tyrants of the region. War would be avoided. It made no sense.
War seldom does. But the reasons for this one are as compelling as any short of immediate self-defense. I say that as someone who initially supported the slow working of the sanctions but whose mind was changed when I spotted a brimming fruit market in Baghdad. I say that as someone who thinks a true victory may well be impossible.
But having been in Baghdad just a week ago, I think of more than the people I met -- people not much different from you and me -- or even those I did not but can well imagine: for example, soldiers who are our enemy because they have no choice but to wear a uniform. I think also of Saddam Hussein, whose posters, pictures, monuments and statues were everywhere. The presence of the man, never seen but always felt, suffused Baghdad.
In flights of rhetoric, President Bush compared Saddam to Hitler. In one sense, the comparison was ridiculous. Iraq is not Nazi Germany, but that's merely because it can't be. It's a Third World country in the Middle East, not a historic power in the heart of Europe. But in other relevant respects, Bush was right on the mark. Iraq is a police state -- "The Republic of Fear," one scholar has called it. Moreover, Saddam -- like Hitler or, for that matter, Stalin -- is a thug.
In whatever manner American policy was implemented -- ineptly before the Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait but steadier afterward -- it was nevertheless morally correct. In his 11 years in power, Saddam has made war against Iran and invaded Kuwait. He has ruthlessly dealt with his opponents. The army he assembled for the invasion of Kuwait might well have proceeded farther had the United States not intervened. He used poison gas -- as the phrase goes -- "against his own people." From an Iraqi perspective, the Kurds are not their people, but they are people in Iraq nonetheless. Saddam made a swipe at genocide.
The linkage Saddam concocted under pressure is real enough. The Palestinian question must be settled. It is true also that the incredibly rich states of the Middle East must share more of their wealth. Iraq is right, too, when it insists that the oil market, upon which Iraq depends, must be stabilized. These are genuine issues.
I came back to the United States to hear people criticize the president. Yes, his execution has not been faultless. He should not have called Saddam names, thereby possibly making it impossible for the prideful Iraqi leader to reach a compromise. He should not have said the United States would meet with Iraq at any time and then have rejected the dates proposed, preposterous as they were. Maybe history will fault Bush. But my impression is that nothing would have worked. Saddam was never going to back down.
The residual Vietnam dove in me has had a hard time with this war. The faces of Baghdad, the people I met there, are still fresh in my mind. But so too are those of the former hostages, the Iraqis who died under torture, the bloated bodies of the dead Kurds, the people of Tel Aviv who were attacked by Iraqi missiles last night, and now, the Americans who die in combat. Maybe there is no such thing as a good war, but this one, given Saddam's nature, comes close.