As distasteful as they - and many others - might find it, Bush administration officials should support Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein's request to broadcast a message to the American people over U.S. network television.
Saddam wants equal time on U.S. airwaves after broadcasting an eight-minute taped message from President Bush to the Iraqi people Sept. 16. A similar video from Saddam certainly is justified under the circumstances, no matter how unsavory Saddam himself has proved to be.U.S. officials are not standing in the way of Saddam's proposal, although details are lacking about the content and length of any taped message. State Department spokesmen said they would accept any tape given from the Iraq government as a matter of diplomatic courtesy.
But unlike Iraq's single government-run TV station, the U.S. government has no control over American network television. Bush administration officials said Iraq could simply hand over any tape to the networks.
So far, the networks have not received an official request from Iraq to broadcast the tape and are not rushing to make any commitment until they have such a request and have seen the videotape.
Saddam has not exactly been cut off from U.S. television. Cable News Network has broadcast most of his statements, chiefly read by an Iraqi announcer on Iraq's state television. The administration expressed some irritation earlier about the amount of time the CNN all-news network had given to Saddam's statements, saying the programs, widely seen in the Arab world, were helping build support for Iraq.
But a broadcast over network TV to an American audience would hardly be persuasive. Like the program Saddam did earlier with a British hostage family, an American appearance could turn out to be a public relations disaster for the Iraqi leader.
In any case, if Americans can't be trusted to hear Saddam and discount the lies and propaganda surely contained in any such message, then the American republic has deeper troubles than the Persian Gulf crisis.
Let Saddam talk. He's not going to convince anyone about his peaceful intentions - not with his muderous past, not after seizing Kuwait and massing hundreds of thousands of troops there, and not while holding hundreds of Americans and thousands of other people hostage.