Having played his Scud card, his oil-spill card, his oil-field-fires card, Saddam has little left in his hand. He has exactly three cards left: his Republican Guards, his chemical weapons and Peter Arnett. The first two are useless so long as the United States refuses to oblige Sad-dam by launching a ground war.
Which leaves him with Arnett, who, of course, is just shorthand for the Western press allowed into Iraq for the sole purpose of reading government-approved scripts and showing government-approved pictures of civilian casualties.The press is one prong of Saddam's two-prong strategy for winning this war politically. Civilian casualties are the other. Saddam needs them both.
Part I of his strategy, elaborated by Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland last week, is to pile up as many Iraqi bodies as possible.
Saddam told U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie that America is too soft to withstand 10,000 losses. To date, Saddam has not inflicted 10,000 but 39. So his strategy shifts. He is now out to see whether America can withstand 10,000 Iraqi losses.
Saddam's strategy is one the Palestinians have perfected over the past decade: Provoke a fight, lose the fight, pile up the bodies and invite the press.
That was the story of the Lebanon war of 1982, a war the Palestinians provoked with years of unrelenting attack on civilians in northern Israel and which they won politically by successfully playing victim when Israel struck back. West Bankers then repeated this victory-through-victimization even more successfully with their highly telegenic intifada.
On the eve of this war, Arafat declared that he was in the same trench as Saddam. It is no surprise that his trench-mate should have adopted the PLO technique for political victory in a losing war.
But political victory, in Iraq as on the West Bank, cannot be won without Part II: the press. Hence Arnett. Piling up bodies is not enough. Dead bodies are of no use unless they are on video. And not just any video. Iraqi TV would not be taken seriously.
When Iraq presses claims of victimization, the effect borders on the ridiculous. Iraq launches an unprovoked war of aggression - then claims to be aggressed against. It indiscriminately attacks Israeli civilians, boasts that it will turn Tel Aviv into a "crematorium" - then complains of attacks on its civilians. It scorns a dozen U.N. resolutions demanding that it withdraw from Kuwait - then complains that the allied war effort has gone beyond the U.N. mandate for getting it out of Kuwait.
It is because Iraq cannot undertake a moral critique of anyone that it needs the Western press to do so for it. The Iraqis do not need CNN's cameras. They are adept at video technology. What they need is for Iraq's suffering to go out under a New Zealand accent and a CNN logo.
And now, the first major civilian disaster of the war: Wednesday's bombing of a Baghdad bunker packed with hundreds of civilians. With footage of this attack, Sad-dam's strategy gets under way.
The resulting shock will increase pressure against the allied war effort from the Arab street, the Soviets, the United Nations and American protesters.
How to meet the pressure? Not by restricting the press. Arnett and friends have every right to remain in Baghdad and pursue their story. Even in wartime, a free country may censor only military secrets, not disturbing pictures.
We meet the threat by using our critical faculties. One criterion for just war is proportionality of means to ends. The ends here are saving Kuwait from obliteration and the region from weapons of mass destruction.
By any measure, casualties thus far have been proportional to that end. They have indeed been far less than one would have expected of a war against so vast a military machine as Iraq's.
The ultimate compliment to America's policy of discriminate targeting is given by the Iraqi military. It is moving military equipment and personnel into civilian areas for their safety.
Richard Beeston of the London Times reported (after leaving Baghdad, mind you) that a local commander emerged to greet reporters from his headquarters - in a school. Saddam's interview with Arnett took place not in his bunker but in a safer place - a suburban bungalow.
And yet, the exercise of one's critical faculties is one thing. Pictures of injured children is another. Civilian pain in war is a horror beyond words.
But when a war is just, it must be faced with a kind of nerve. We demand of American soldiers on the front the nerve to risk their lives on our behalf. We, far to the rear and totally safe, have a reciprocal and far less onerous obligation to them: to keep our nerve in the face of Sad-dam's cynical strategy of broadcasting the carnage he has brought upon his own people.
That means not being panicked into demanding further restrictions, Vietnam-style, on the bombing. It means not rushing into a land war as a way of trading our dead for Saddam's.
Saddam began the horror Aug. 2. He can end it tomorrow. So long as we scrupulously attack what we reasonably believe to be military targets, the bombing of Baghdad is a cause for sorrow, not guilt.