Before the United States decides how to handle diplomatic defeat - whether it is still interested in a new United Nations resolution, in extending the ultimatum to Iraq, in accepting the Blair plan, or simply embarking on the offensive immediately - there is still some time to examine one of the conditions Britain posed to Iraq for avoiding war. This is a strange condition, the first in a series of tests for Saddam Hussein, according to which he must announce to to the Iraqi public, in Arabic and via Iraqi television, that he lied to the world, stockpiled weapons of mass destruction, and that he intends to destroy them.
If Saddam passes this test (and five additional tests), Britain will agree to view this as a strategic change on Saddam's part, vis-a-vis the inspections, and even extend the deadline, by months perhaps, for the completion of the inspections and destruction of the illegal weapons.
What is the real purpose of this condition, which has nothing to do with the destruction of weapons of mass destruction?
A simple interpretation of this condition is this: if Saddam acknowledges to his people that he is a liar, we will believe and recognize this as a turning point in his attitude. There can be no greater Christian forgiveness than this. At least 12 years of lying will be erased from the accounts between Britain and Iraq, and the Iraqi leader who declares that he lied will automatically be absolved and become worthy of trust.
There is, however, another minor detail in this forgiving condition, a demand that Israel also used to pose to Palestinian Chairman Yasser Arafat. It demands that the Arab leader address his people in their native tongue, on the national media - if he is to be believed. Not in the language of the West but of the local people. Not on the BBC or CNN but on local television. After all, Saddam and Arafat are others, not like us, and when the use "our" language, they are only trying to flatter and please us. The Arab needs to speak Arabic, in the language with which he makes his plans. We will know how to judge whether he said what we told him to say or whether he diverted from our intentions. Indeed, we know his language better than him. When he speaks the language of the West, he cannot possibly mean what he is saying.
In order to clarify the point further, here is a little exercise: Who should we believe more? Sharon when he is promising "painful concessions" in English, or Sharon when he makes the same promise in Hebrew? Neither, but in the English version, we know that he does not really refer to "us" making concessions.
And there is one more thing. When some of Saddam's or Arafat's advisers speak English at the United Nations, they sound good. Their English is so fluent that it is near impossible to detect any accent, thus capturing the sympathy of their audience. We prefer Arafat himself or Muhammad al-Duri, the Iraqi ambassador to the UN, when they speak English, because they do not sound credible. Those who cannot properly pronounce the letter "p," those whose English syntax is poor, cannot seriously undertake the destruction of illegal weapons and do not really intend to cease using terrorism.
What is the point of this demand that Saddam commit himself to the Iraqis over local television? This is the same television, and the same language in which Saddam lied to his people for 30 years. This is the language in which he ordered executions. Will he be unable to lie again when he announces the British terms in Arabic?
This is an unimportant, pathetic condition, that does not provide any further guarantee that Saddam's policy will change. But this is the symbol of those with the right sort of culture: you speak in your language and do not lie to me in mine. And if you do lie, we can always say, you cheated your people, but not us.
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