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Jewish World Review August 9, 2002/ 1 Elul, 5762

Mark Steyn

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Friends in low places |
Ah, it's August, or as we in the newspaper business call it, ''the silly season,'' because nothing important ever happens in August, unless you count the outbreak of the First World War (August 1914), the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact heralding the Second World War (August 1939), the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (August 1945), the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia (August 1968), the only presidential resignation in American history (August 1974), etc., etc.

What sort of August are we in for this year? Another desultory month like August 2001? Or something more explosive? Stop me if you've heard this one before, but on Monday the London newspaper Ash-Sharq al-Awsat reported that al-Qaida was planning a spectacular series of attacks for August, after which terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden would appear in a new video.

This doesn't entirely square with the other reported development of the week: that al-Qaida is now being run by Osama's 20-year old son, Scott bin Laden. No, hang on a minute, Scott's the name of Dr. Evil's son. If you've seen ''Goldmember,'' you'll know that Scott does indeed wind up taking over his dad's evil operation. It couldn't be that al-Qaida have been reduced to taking inspiration from ''Austin Powers,'' could it?

Anyway, just for the record, Osama bin Evil's son is called Saad, and I'd be saad too if I found out I'd inherited a business whose principal asset was the executive latrine at Sub-Basement Level 14 in Tora Bora. But I said a couple of months back in one of the Sun-Times' sister papers that the old has-bin was pushing up daisycutter bits in the Hindu Kush and these new developments suggest we won't be seeing him on video again unless he's dancing with Fred Astaire in a new Dirt Devil commercial.

Meanwhile, what of Washington's own spectacular series of attacks? I had war with Iraq tentatively scheduled for sometime between the G8 summit and the anniversary of Sept. 11. The New York Times and the Washington Post have spent the last few weeks running their hugely entertaining Leak Of The Day features, each with a brand-new top-secret plan revealing how the Pentagon intends to invade Iraq from bases in Jordan/Qatar/Diego Garcia/Pocatello with a two-pronged strike/three-pronged strike/three-strikes-you're-pronged strike/radical no-prong strike using a rather stylish spatula/post-prong approach with plans for post-war reconstruction (the prong is ended but the military lingers on). Who knew there were so many ways to flatten Iraq? How does Aug. 11 work for you? Say, 3 p.m. Eastern?

Don Rumsfeld wrote a tough internal memo demanding the leaks cease, only to have the memo leaked to the Los Angeles Times. Poor old Saddam, who'd wanted to spend this summer on his fourth romantic novel (when he's not gassing Kurds, he's the Barbara Cartland of Baghdad), is instead having to wrap his head round dozens of tedious New York Times analyses of in-depth war plans while trying to bring his ebola factory on-stream before the end of the week.

Sadly, a U.S. invasion of Iraq ''would threaten the whole stability of the Middle East''--or so Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, told the BBC on Tuesday. Amr's talking points are so Sept. 10: It's supposed to destabilize the Middle East. The stability of the Middle East is unique in the non-democratic world and it's the lack of change in Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt that's turned them into a fetid swamp of terrorist bottom-feeders.

But if a more or less civilized regime were to take over in Baghdad, it would have a tremendously destabilizing effect. By ''civilized,'' I'm thinking no higher than a Gen. Musharraf type, someone who's not genocidal and has greater ambitions for the treasury than the anthrax program. Were a local Musher to surface, he'd quickly be pumping an extra couple million gallons of oil a day and thus adding to the woes of the House of Saud, for whom low gas prices means rethinking the gold-plated toilet in your pad on the Riviera. The Saudis have figured that out, which is why they want the old Saddamite to stay in power indefinitely. Hence, the hilarious story in last week's British and Canadian papers, claiming that ''Islamic extremists are threatening to take control of Saudi Arabia's corrupt and autocratic regime, fueling fears in Washington that the United States might lose its most powerful Muslim ally in the war against Islamic terrorism.

''Despite brutal suppression of any public dissent, anti-government demonstrations have swept the kingdom in recent months to protest the pro-American stance of Crown Prince Abdullah, Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler.''

The way to find out what this story really means is to hold it up to the mirror and read it backward. First, and most obviously, Saudi Arabia is not America's ''most powerful Muslim ally in the war against Islamic terrorism,'' but the principal underwriter and fomenter of Islamic terrorism. Second, Crown Prince Abdullah is not ''pro-American,'' but, compared to the ailing King Fahd, noticeably antipathetic and uncooperative. Third, anti-government demonstrations ''sweeping'' the kingdom? A little evidence might help. Dates and places?

I'm certainly willing to believe there's a struggle going on in the House of Saud between those who are actively pro-al-Qaida and those who'd rather buy 'em off--there are no ''pro-American'' elements in any meaningful sense--but, much as I'd like it, the Saudi powder keg is not about to blow. The source for these stories was most likely Arabists in the British Foreign Office who rarely miss an opportunity to give the House of Saud the full Monica. And I wouldn't mind waging the Lawrence of Arabia fetishists got it direct from the horse owner's mouth: Prince Abdullah.

Abdullah needs a diversion to stall the Iraqi invasion. His ludicrous Palestinian ''peace plan'' did a dandy job this spring, his ''Saudi collapse imminent'' scare is designed to take care of the summer and fall. But it's not true: The House of Saud will collapse after the fall of Saddam, not before.

So here's the likely schedule: Pencil in Iraq this August, the Saudi revolution next August. How bad will the Iraqi war get? I see Bill Clinton told an audience in Toronto this week that, if Saddam's boys ever crossed the Israeli border, ''I would personally get in a ditch, grab a rifle, and fight and die.'' The Toronto crowd applauded wildly, in acknowledgment of a true knee-slapper. ''In Surprise Move, Clinton Enlists'': Now a silly-season story.

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JWR contributor Mark Steyn is Senior Contributing Editor of The National Post. Comment by clicking here.

08/02/02: Armageddon out of here
07/26/02: Enjoy the ''scandal'' while you can, lads
07/16/02: Arafat is toast; Bush knows it --- so why doesn't the rest of the world?
07/10/02: Hey, FBI: So, denial really is a river in Egypt!
06/20/02: A fight to the finish
06/11/02: Rock, royalty a good match
05/31/02: Unless we change our ways ... the world faces a future where things look pretty darn good
05/24/02: Sweet land of liberty: Britain and Europe have free governments, but only in the US are the people truly free
05/14/02: Extreme hypocrisy in the pursuit of 'peace' is ...
05/10/02: The home office of extremism
05/01/02 Slipping down the Eurinal of history: France, the joke is on you
04/23/02 It's time to snap out of Arab fantasy land
04/16/02 Mideast war exposes 'ugly Europeans'
04/09/02 Arafat has begun his countdown to oblivion. Now it's time to crush the Palestinian uprising
03/27/02 The good, the bad and the Gallic shrug
03/20/02 Grand convocation of the weird

© 2002, Mark Steyn