The afternoon session with Aziz was a bit more hopeful. He outlined his proposal for a referendum. He said that he was confident that the Kuwaitis were his brothers and would choose to reintegrate with their home country as they had in 1938. And he reiterated the basic Iraqi position that they would not fully settle the Kuwaiti problem until the West addressed the Palestinian problem. Issam, who we had warned about the Al-Farazdaq division, asked whether they would be allowed to vote. Tariq handled the session better than Baker and was unfazed by the question.
“They should be excluded?” he asked. “The Al-Farazdaq division is largely the reason we are here. They are our brothers who came to us to restore their home, to join hands with us in a better country, a better Kuwait and a better Iraq. Your leaders, Issam, have turned over your country to expatriates, Kuwaitis are only a plurality in their own country. You didn’t think some would object? And you don’t think they should be allowed a voice? I put it to you, Issam, do you really wish to exclude your own from a chance to direct their own destiny?”
The one thing that emerged from the two sessions was that Aziz was a smooth and practiced diplomat while Baker was almost a stereotypical, blunt and somewhat crude American. I had no doubt that the Iraqi contingent would report it that way. Which is why the evening session, broken up into two separate interviews, forced Greg and Pete to join them on Baker. This left us with Issam and his reporter to continue on Aziz. That was where I decided to make my pitch to Tariq.
“My friend,” I said, “I can’t really give you any good news. You are dealing from an incredibly weak position whether you know it or not. Your army may be the equal of the coalition in conventional terms. But you are not facing a conventional army. Since we last talked we’ve been home to California, where our son and his friends create science fiction games that they have translated into very non-fictional weapons. I can’t give you any clues to them without making a traitor of myself. However, let me assure you that the difference between the Iraqi army and the one building in the desert is as great as an army facing machine guns with sword and buckler. No verse from the Koran adorning your soldier’s rifles will save them. Saddam may believe he holds a superior position, conventional military thought would give that to a battle-hardened army in a solid defensive position. But he is wrong. The weapons arriving daily across the border in the Arabian desert can rip apart the greatest and best equipped armies ever assembled. You’re facing an army that, in the end, is controlled by young men sitting before computer screens, as far away as California.
“And consider your opponent. Americans founded their country by crossing a frozen river to attack on Christmas. Who fire bombed Dresden before they had nuclear weapons and destroyed both Hiroshima and Nagasaki when they did. You’re facing the World’s pinnacle of technologically developed weapons wielded by one of history’s most ruthless people.
“Make peace Tariq, no matter the cost, because the alternative is untenable.”
“And what about you Issam?” asked Aziz.
“What do you expect me to say? The Americans will resist making peace, and yet what seems to be being said is that if the two of you can’t prevent it my home will end up a burnt-out hulk. Your country has stolen my newspaper, my life’s work, I am an exile. You can’t win Tariq. And I think we will rush home to see your dissidents lose any referendum, I just hope your defeat doesn’t destroy everything Kuwait has built.”
It was past midnight when I invited Issam and his reporter back to my suite for a nightcap.
“If you still had an outlet Issam, what would you say?” I posited.
“From everything I’ve heard, I’d chance the referendum.”
“Even facing the dissidents?”
“I think Saddam, and even Tariq overstate their importance, and their numbers.”
“Tomorrow, write it, then Tori will translate it along with you. Confidential will be your outlet.”
I looked at Tori. “What time is it in New York?”
“One sixteen should be seven sixteen.”
“Can you get Gwen?”
“Should be able to.”
It was harder to navigate the hotel’s phones than it was to reach New York. Gwen was on the phone in a little over five minutes.
“So, what do you need?” she asked.
“How much is slated for my article on the fourteenth?”
“You should know you blocked it out.”
“Then just verify it for me.”
“Twenty-five hundred words.”
“And, the sidebar?”
“The rest is in the can?”
“Waiting for Dee’s first piece on the Winchester thing, and Rick’s reportage on the results there.”
“Okay, Tomorrow Issam Mallah will write the twenty-five hundred. I’ll do the thousand or Tori will. She’ll do the preliminary translation, and Issam will check her. You have enough on Issam to credit him?”
“You have to ask?”
I turned to Issam. “You heard?”
“I did. Thank you. Now I know why Tariq wanted you.”
We went to work on the morning of the ninth, just as Baker and Aziz were beginning their sessions. Checking and cross-checking Tori and Issam had twenty-one hundred and I had eight hundred by early afternoon.
The diplomats lasted seven hours. We were notified and met them as they came out of the meeting room. Tariq shook his head at us. Tori walked over to him, embraced him and kissed his cheek. She said, in Parsi to limit it to the three of us, “Be safe, my friend.”
I hadn’t covered the Palestinian question at all, Issam mentioned it, and came close to validating that the Palestinian question held the key to any lasting peace in the Middle East. His sentiments gave me a great deal of pause. Saddam Hussein had invaded his country, made him an exile, and still he parroted an Iraqi point. If the Iraqi counter attack came against Israel, which way would the Arabs jump? By six that evening, we both finished and faxed the articles to New York, as well as to Rick in Riyadh.
I ordered three more bottles of Kat’s wine. Issam, his reporter, Tori and I had it with our dinner. As I had previously, I sent the other two to Baker and Tariq.
We left early on the tenth, following the sun we would arrive in the early afternoon. Pete and Greg went to work to meet their deadline, leaving us with Baker. Tori was stone-faced, and I knew she was barely holding it all in.
“I didn’t have an alternative,” said Baker eventually. “But it wasn’t the referendum that broke the bank. It was the insistence on an Arab resolution to the Palestinian question. That was the point on which neither of us could move.”
“We may pay a heavy price for that eventually,” I observed
“What do you mean?”
“It makes Hussein a champion of the Arab cause, win or lose. Currently, if he launches his counter attack at the Israelis and not the coalition, that position could shatter the coalition. Who will the Arabs abandon, us or the Palestinians if the Israeli retaliate against that?
“In the long run which Arab leader sacrificed the most for the Arab cause? Which Arab leader put the Arab cause ahead of his own? When the next confrontation comes with Israel, which Arab leader will the Arabs look to?”
“I really didn’t have an alternative,” said Baker.
“I’d have looked real hard for one. You may yet manage to win a war and lose a peace, if you try hard enough,” I said.
It was at that point that Tori finally lost it. Her face was bathed in tears and they were falling on the table.
“Are you all right?” Baker asked as inanely as most men when faced with a crying member of the opposite sex.
“No James, I am definitely not all right. Do you even have a clue what you’ve done? I have friends in Iraq. People whose children have played with mine. Young boys who my daughter baby sat. Where are they now, James? Shivering in the heat of the desert in uniforms, waiting to be ripped apart by the weapons my son helped design. Maybe you can compartmentalize it. I can’t. They aren’t the Iraqi army to me. They are Amahl and Jamil who I took to Disneyland, and the girls who wait for them. They are Ejaz, Faizail, and Rachid Amari who Kat babysat for, watched over while Nick and I covered the Iran/Iraq war with their parents. If only people like you could stop looking at the ‘big picture’ and start collecting the snap shots. In every country, in every war there are good and bad people on both sides. And there a lot more good people than there are bad ones. Every war you fight, you kill a lot more good people than bad. Just how many times can you throw the baby out with the bath water before you run out of babies?
“Oh no James, I am definitely not all right. Just stop and consider what this might do to my son, knowing his invention killed his friend, blew up someone’s home. The magazine has a whole study with the University of Santa Clara to help determine that. It’s called the Winchester Delusion, after the lady who built a mansion for the spirits of the people killed by Winchester rifles. You just loosed a horrible evil into this World, and right now I’m trying to decide whether I’m crying for them or for myself. All right? All right? A great many people aren’t and won’t be for a very long time, some of them, not ever.”
I started to embrace her, but she just backed away, looked at me and said, “Shark Park.”
I got up and walked forward to the bar setup. A young man in an air force uniform stood behind it.
“You stock Armagnac?” I asked.
“Delord, next to the Cognac,” said Baker coming up behind me. “Make it two.”
When we had our snifters he asked, “What’s Shark Park?”
“We were surfing a very dangerous and rocky ride on the Central coast called Shark Park. She wiped out and I dove in to ‘save’ her. We almost died and she always claimed she’d have been fine if I hadn’t tried to help. Over the years it’s become a sort of code when she wanted to be left alone.”
“This may be harder, what did she say to Aziz, and in what language?”
“What? You think she’s passing secrets? The language is Parsi, a Zoroastrian dialect of Farsi. Tori and I had some classes in it and used it to converse privately when in a crowd. When we were covering the Iraq/Iran war, Tariq heard us. He knew the language from somewhere, he never said. In any case, it was rather useful for all three of us to have a semi-private language. Eventually we used it whenever we got together, to practice. All she said to him was: ‘be safe, my friend.’
“You have to take us with a grain of salt where war is concerned. We started on the foreign desk. Between us we have almost fifty years traveling the World making contacts, making friends. It hits her harder because she’s the researcher, what she does depends on her contacts, her ‘friends’. There is scarcely a place in the World where a war doesn’t involve people we know, people we consider ‘friends’. You heard her. We don’t have ‘big pictures’. We carry snapshots and what we know of any country, any place in the World is what we are told by those snap shots.”