Who can forget that fateful chat then-Ambassador to Iraq April C. Glaspie had with Saddam Hussein in 1990, just before the Iraqi president invaded Kuwait? Of course, it was policy then to kow-tow to Hussein.

But it appears she may have started a diplomatic trend, for now we have our top official in Burma saying nice things about the military thugs who run the country. Worse, charge d'affaires Carmen M. Martinez -- our top diplomat there -- did it in an "exclusive interview" in the weekly Myanmar Times, a rag that makes the old Pravda look like a hard-hitting investigative journal.

Word leaked out in November that the State Department was considering recommending that Burma be certified as cooperating in the war on drugs. Such a move would have given the military, once known by its initials as SLORC, a major political and economic boost.

Furious editorials and congressional protests, plus a Time magazine Asian edition story detailing the repressive regime's links to major drug dealers, helped persuade State to reverse course. The department may have been in the process of that course correction Dec. 3, when Martinez praised the regime for "a good job on counternarcotics efforts."

Martinez, according to the paper, said Washington supported democracy, but the Burmese have to find a solution in "their style of government." A lot of Burmese probably thought they did just that when they overwhelmingly elected Aung San Suu Kyi's party in 1990, just before the military arrested her. "We are not trying to impose our style on this country," Martinez said.

"We can understand how it is difficult to have a democracy in a multiracial and multireligious society," she observed. "There are similarities between our country and this country; we have diverse ethnic groups, diversity of religions." It might be a whole lot less difficult if the Burmese army would stop using rape as a weapon against those minorities.

"We wish that foreign journalists could be permitted to visit the country," she said, "because there are positive things going on . . . and the story of this country will be written by the press."

There would be no need for foreign journalists, of course, if the pond scum in charge would allow the opposition to publish a newspaper.

An OMB Christmas Tree Worth Hiding

There is nothing like an Office of Management and Budget Christmas. And definitely nothing like the unusual Christmas tree that graces OMB Director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr.'s office.

Former OMB director James T. Lynn, who held the job in the Ford administration [Paul H. O'Neill was his deputy], first put the tree together as a gift for his successors at the agency.

Lynn, also heir to the informal traditional title of "the Indomitable No Man," found a dead branch, grabbed a pot, threw in some dirt and planted the branch in it. He then got used tinsel, a few glass ornaments that he broke with a hammer and -- voila! -- a tree befitting the budget-cutters at OMB. The finishing touch was a sign, made from a dry cleaner's shirt cardboard, that said: "Ye Old OMB Christmas Tree." Lynn last week praised his work as "frugally festive."

Lynn said he put the pathetic "tree" together "to show Washington you could do more for less." Since that Christmas about 25 years ago, the tree was apparently placed in closets and shunned and forgotten. But we're told it kept coming back from time to time as successor directors got into the spirit of a true OMB Christmas.

And who embodies that spirit but Daniels, who, legend has it, still wears a jacket he has had for 30 years, in college once fished coins from a urinal for beer money, and grilled one of his daughters over her lunch money needs.

For Medicinal Use Only

Outgoing White House legislative chief Nicholas E. Calio says he's leaving his $145,000-a-year job because, "I can't pay my bills. It comes down to the two F's: family and finances." The wine-loving Calio keeps nearly 1,000 bottles of it in his basement home in Chevy Chase, but he said he wasn't going to sell any bottles to pay the bills.

"It wouldn't be enough," he said.

But Calio, who had been earning about $70 an hour, said he would miss working for the Bush administration, which reduced the pay raise of federal workers and had opposed extending unemployment benefits.

Let them sell wine?

OMB Director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., left, and former director James T. Lynn frame a tree that, like the ghost of Christmases past, visits the budgeteers.