The conquest of this country, in the military equivalent of a hostile takeover, reached its flood tide with the triumphant tour of occupied Iraq by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, the war’s policy theorist, and the (over)killing of Saddam Hussein’s two mad sons, Uday and Qusay, by Special Operations forces and units of the 101st Airborne Division. Only when their father himself is killed will the coalition warriors be more exultant. “Among Iraqis,” said Sa’ad Al-Izzi, an experienced interpreter who once reluctantly translated American movies for Uday, “that is when you’ll see even more grieving and rejoicing.”
The Wolfowitz visit, unlike the stakeout in Mosul that gunned and missiled and rocketed the Hussein brothers into eternity, was marked by discretion and stealth. No bugles, no drums, no motorcade, not even a full-scale press conference.
As we traveled around the deserts of his country, more or less going where Wolfowitz went, though a good deal more slowly and to a number of other places as well, Izzi told me how daunting and time-intensive the American task here will be. “We are a recent country but an ancient culture,” he said, “and we change at the pace of a snail’s grandfather.” An impatient country ourselves, with what the political scientist Ray Salvatore Jennings calls attention-deficit disorder with respect to foreign affairs, the United States faces the prospect (assuming it can’t bring itself to ask the United Nations to take over) of either remaining in Iraq for an indefinite number of years or else admitting failure and returning home, leaving behind a swath of destruction, chaos and anarchy that could make Attila look like Gandhi. Or further else: declaring Mission Accomplished as soon as we vaporize Saddam Hussein, and supporting the re-accession of his own Baath Party (shined up with a new name) as we rush off to the next imperial project.
Izzi, a 29-year-old Baghdadi who has been the man in his family since the age of 10, when his father died of natural causes (a necessary modification in Iraq), might best be called a skeptical optimist. Like my own first journalistic guide, who was also named Izzy, the Iraqi Izzi does not trust the pronouncements of leaders, and he is predisposed against power regardless of who wields it. My earlier Izzy told me that a lot of journalists in Washington knew many things he didn’t know, because they lunched with high officials. “The only problem,” he said, “is that a lot of what they know isn’t true.”