Living room combat

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Your scribe fully intended to compose a scintillating exposé on the impeachment vote. Alas, it was not to be. Instead, we have Operation Desert Fox to appraise, not as a political or military exercise , mind you, but as a media event.

What is initially striking about the images of CNN, delivered in the incandescent green glow of a nightscope, is that they look to come from the window of a posh hotel room right in Baghdad. Christiane Amanpour, looking suspiciously too well-rested and crisp for a veteran foreign correspondent, offers almost blithe commentary now and again to the command control center in Atlanta. So relaxed is the mood of the reportage that one listens closely for the telltale clinking of ice in a glass or the muffled voice of someone yammering into a phone, "Two kebabs, a shwarma plate and a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black. Chop, chop."

The camera, actually working from atop the Ministry of Information, focuses on a busy intersection, which in itself is notable. One would think that with bombs raining down on the city, people would be hunkered down in basements or behind barricades in their souks. But no: In a nearby apartment complex, all the lights are on. Cars whiz through the intersection as if heading off for a night out at the disco. It would seem that Iraqis know that Saddam, not they, are the targets of the onslaught. Who knows, the champagne might even be on ice, waiting for the word that the despot has met his Peacemaker.

This eerie vibration of the mundane resonates outward to the satellite photos that the Pentagon has released. They show just how exact and deadly the technology of cruise missiles has become. The images are shockingly clear, better than what some disposable cameras can deliver. Anyone who has seen the recent film Enemy of the State will instantly recognize the aesthetic, already familiar to us from the media blitz of the Gulf War seven years ago. The mind boggles and then it blows. To think that 20 years ago the tropes of nightscope vision and satellite imagery were available only to military personnel and Soldier of Fortune weirdoes. Now we are all conversant with them, perhaps too much for our own good.

For death and destruction are paradoxically more distant to us than ever before. The visceral footage of field combat in Vietnam, replicated in the Vietnam films of the '80s (such as Platoon, 1986) and now echoed in revisionist World War II pictures (Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line), takes us right into the green, torrid maw of death. We can feel it, smell it, fear it, halfway around the world. Yet today we watch war as if we were watching the kiddies play Nintendo. How dark is the irony that on Boxing Day in Canada, one may well be able to step out of a screening of The Thin Red Line and into a bar where a smart bomb attack is under way, in all its video-game glory.

Onward to Washington, where Republicans yet again are leading the charge of Bill Clinton wagging the dog, hoping the wags will in turn dog the President. Bad move. The Ghost of Hypocrisies Past remembers fondly when Ronald Reagan invaded Grenada after the Beirut bombing to divert attention away from bad foreign policy. The Republicans say they have an obligation to the Constitution to proceed. It would seem they also have an obligation to make themselves a laughingstock to the rest of the world. Few things warm the heart more than watching jowly zealots continue to parade their righteous indignation in front of the cameras, knowing that when the chickens come home to roost, it will be to the glass house that Bob Livingston built.

They forget that there are really two Bill Clintons, the domestic pantyman and the foreign statesman. Indeed, when Clinton moves beyond the freak show contained within the United States' borders, he's golden, held in the highest esteem by many world leaders. What is happening or is about to happen to him in the Congress seems absolutely ridiculous to those who have seen him broker peace in North Ireland and the Middle East and, now, launch timely strikes against a bratty shit who's had it coming for some time.

And, yes, whither Saddam Hussein? Perhaps he's fiddling while Baghdad burns. Or perhaps he's down in a shelter, deep below the desert, ambling about aimlessly from room to room, like Hitler (Anthony Hopkins) in The Bunker (1981). Every time a report arrives that another presidential palace has bitten the dust, Saddam heads over to the model of his empire, gives one last longing look and swats it away. Finally, when all is lost, he heads off into a private room with his hairdresser lover and puts himself out of our misery. Wishful thinking, I know, but we need all the fantasy we can get, because the absurdity of our reality renders fiction almost a pointless endeavor.

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