A Letter to Bush from Baghdad

President Bush:

In the name of Allah the compassionate, the merciful.


Two years ago, as the Mother of All Battles approached, I told your American newsman Jennings that I desired a talk with you, a meeting "in which the eyes can meet." No such meeting ever took place. Yet I feel that we have come to know each other, as men who fight will often do.

I have observed your election campaign with interest. And I notice that your opponents seem at last to have grasped something that has been apparent to me for some time: that your reputation as an expert in foreign policy is built on sand.


Four years ago, as your first election drew near, I confess that I was concerned. Your country had supported me when I acted as the sword and shield of Arabism against the accursed Iranians. When that war came to an end in the summer of 1988, I feared you might no longer indulge me. But my worry was needless. I laughed when your intelligence agents put about the story that it VTC was Iran, not I, who had used poison gas that year against the traitorous saboteur Kurds at Halabja. I knew then that I could breathe easier.

I laugh louder still when your rivals bring up the matter they call Iraqgate. I laugh when you claim to have known nothing of what was happening in 1990, when your government covered up the fact that I was diverting American grain export guarantees to build my arsenal against the imperialists and the Zionist entity.

I laugh even harder when I hear you say that it was really your

opponent, Clinton, who had tried to curry favor with Iraq -- because he once received my ambassador for a five-minute courtesy call. And amid my laughter, I hear another sound, too -- the sound, as you say in English, of the nails being hammered into your coffin.

When I retook our 19th province, Kuwait, I thought you might yet prove a worthy adversary. Bush, I did not believe you would attack me. But I laughed again, this time with relief, when you spoke of going to war to eradicate your "Vietnam Syndrome." This amused me, because it meant you had no interest in thinking about who your real enemy was. And I felt I understood you fully when my aides translated for me some passages from this new book by your soldier Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf. I laughed when he said that your White House had decided to end the ground war after exactly 100 hours because this would allow you to "package a historic event."

In thinking of Vietnam, of packaging, of your re-election, you never understood the things that the despised "area specialists" of your State Department might have told you. For political reasons, you inflated the strength of my forces in Kuwait. But you never understood the real sources of my power. Baath, Amn, Estikhbarat -- these are just a babble of Arabic words to you. But they are the agencies that I have spent half my lifetime building up to protect my power. And they protect me still, for all your dreams of coups d'etat.

Naturally, it irritates me that you should have established "no-fly zones" over the north and the south of my country. At the end of the war, you acted to avoid the fragmentation of Iraq, and I benefited richly. Now, as my Arab brothers have told you, you do the opposite. But your shift pleases me, too, in its way, for it lays bare your inconstancy and your opportunism.

I have observed these qualities in many of your dealings with the world. When I look at the sale of your F-15 aircraft to the traitor Fahd of Saudi Arabia, I see you for what you are. Pork, you Americans call this. To arm the man who has defiled the holy places of Islam is at least part of a longstanding alliance. But you also sell your F-16s to Taiwan, for the sake of a few votes in Texas. Was not your friendship with China, in the face of so much opposition, your strongest claim to expertise and principle in foreign policy?


Now my envoys tell me of a man named George Kenney. This Kenney, they say, is an expert on Yugoslavia. He has resigned from your State Department in disgust at your policy of inertia in Bosnia -- once more because you see no re-election advantage in the situation. But this time, I think, it will be for another president to put out the fire that you have allowed to blaze. In this respect, Yugoslavia will not be like Iraq.

Now, as your Mother of All Elections draws near, I wished to send you this message of farewell, to speak to you as one man to another. Our Arabic language is rich and subtle, and the slang of my native Tikrit -- a little like your Texas, perhaps? -- is richer still. But I feared the translation would fail me. My envoys, then, have studied your English language for some appropriate idiom. And the phrase they have given me is this: He who laughs last, laughs loudest.

George Black is writing a book on China's democracy movement. He wrote this commentary for the Los Angeles Times.