The Mother of All Diversions

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BAGHDAD: "There's going to be a war" the prediction of former Clinton campaign guru James Carville Sunday. He meant, of course, a war in Washington to protect Clinton's political reputation. But for Iraqis, who fear the other kind, the solution to the Lewinsky crisis could not have been put more succinctly.

"We are taking these threats seriously and are mobilizing millions of Iraqis in preparation," said Monday's front-page editorial in the Baath paper Al-Thawra. Saddam won't have seen "Wag the Dog" yet, but he already knows what a welcome distraction bombing raids on his country provide for the White House.

The presence of that movie and its message is actually part of the problem for Clinton. Wag the Dog "wouldn't affect whether to go ahead with a strike, but it could affect the type of strike," says TIME's reporter at the U.N., William Dowell. In other words, if the President carpet-bombs Baghdad, he looks like he's trying too hard.

That said, the "sensitive site"stand-off, more or less continuous since October, is set to reach a point where a military strike is the easiest solution: Ramadan ends this week, and the French doves on Iraqi affairs step down from the presidency of the Security Council. "If Saddam has any sense," says Dowell, "he will make a concession." For Clinton, the hardest part of an attack would be convincing his allies that it has nothing to do with his personal life.