O mighty munificent Saladin of our age: Gonna miss you, Saddam. You've been horrible to everybody else but good to me -- in your own evil fashion. (Sorry if the formal greeting is dated. I recall you demanded something like that from Iraqis back in the days when we met.) For 30 years I have watched you snake out of the traps set for you by the Kurds, Iranians, Saudis, the hubristic first President Bush and the clueless Bill Clinton. Gotta give you that: They are history and you are still on top.
So I thought you had, oh, a 10 percent to 20 percent chance of slipping out of the noose again. There were escape hatches in the U.N. inspection process. Or you could play on divisions in George W. Bush's national security team to gum up the works. Careers at the State Department's Near East bureau will, after all, suffer even more than mine from your . . . well, your richly deserved retirement.
So I thought. Until this week.
This is the week you sealed your fate. Your 12,000-page whitewash on weapons of mass destruction you have known and loved gives the Bush team a decent shot at securing a second Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force against you. Having to defend that mess of a report should embarrass even the Russians and the French.
The sighs of relief that U.S. officials exhaled when they got a first glance at the report tell me the administration will alter its strategy and pursue a second resolution actively. This would give Colin Powell a major diplomatic triumph that would be denied him should Washington go it alone.
Your mortal neighbors in Iran also got in on the act in a decisive way. Their national security guys brought Iraqi opposition leaders to Tehran and splashed their meetings in the press. That puts a public Iranian stamp of approval on regime change in Iraq, even if the most rigid, American-hating ayatollahs are still against a U.S. invasion.
Here was the scene: My old friend and your recent accomplice Massoud Barzani embraced your eternal foe Ahmed Chalabi, the central figure in the Iraqi National Congress. Barzani's Kurds are now back on board for regime change. The two then discussed power-sharing in a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq with Bakr Hakim, Tehran's Iraqi surrogate. Iraq's other Kurdish leader, Jalal Talabani, has already signed up for overthrow.
What's that? You know all this? You had your vice president publicly threaten Iran on Tuesday for hosting this meeting, adding to its reasons to oppose you? Okay, okay, so you are paying attention.
What you may not know, Mr. Huffy, is that this coming weekend 350 Iraqi dissidents are meeting in London, with U.S. encouragement and financial help, to write a unity document that will guide an Iraqi transition after you are . . . well, you know, not you anymore. Tehran was prelude for London. Reaching a modus vivendi with Iran on Iraq is one precondition for a successful U.S. operation. Guess what. The Great Satan area code still works from Tehran. In a phone call from there on Wednesday, Chalabi told me that the Iranians seem ready to accept what he outlined as the main goal of the London conference: "a unified political statement that will commit Iraq to a democratic, pluralistic, parliamentary and federal system."
The INC, the Kurds, other exile groups and Iraqi independents should emerge from the London meeting prepared to establish "a provisional government on any Iraqi territory as soon as it is liberated. The next step then is forming a constituent assembly to draft a constitution and organize elections," Chalabi added.
That fits the unfolding Washington thinking. U.S.-led coalition forces will handle four basic tasks when you are gone: They will find and destroy the weapons of mass destruction you pretend not to have; prevent communal bloodshed; help get oil fields back to full production quickly; and distribute humanitarian supplies. The transitional Iraqi regime that will be roughly sketched in London this weekend will stand beside a U.S. military proconsul for a year or two.
In return for the deeper understanding of the brutal nature of Middle East politics, of tyranny and genocide you offered me, a final spot of advice: Do you think this constant banging on the Security Council for "giving in to American blackmail" is really helping your cause?
You're making Bush look reasonable and responsible. You're putting a second resolution within his reach. He brought the Iraq case to the United Nations, and he should keep it there as long as you let him, all the way to war. All the way to your becoming only a columnist's fading memory of the monsters of yesteryear.