December 21st, 2005

A Whole New Card Game in Iraq

by Philip Baruth

In all of the hullabaloo about the President authorizing domestic spying sans warrants or judicial review, another story got suspiciously little play: US authorities in Iraq released “Dr. Germ” (Rihab Rashid Taha) and “Mrs. Anthrax” (Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash) from custody, along with six other high-profile Baathist figures.

And another 17 or so are scheduled for release soon.

Now let’s take the case of Dr. Ammash. Here was a woman touted as a high-ranking official in Saddam Hussein’s regime, with intimate knowledge of chemical weaponry. In our haste to demonize her a few years back, we not only slugged her with the Marvel-era handle “Mrs. Anthrax,” we made her the Five of Hearts in our deck of Most Wanted playing cards. rumsfeld

And when we caught her, Donald Rumsfeld trumpeted the arrest — it wasn’t like catching Hussein, or his sons, but it was a hand of cards well played.

So what does it mean when you have to start giving the cards back?

It begs the question: does anyone out there really believe that we are releasing “Mrs. Anthrax” — giving back the Five of Hearts — from a position of strength?

No, this is what’s called a “good-will gesture,” because the phrase “negotiating with terrorists” sounds so rough-edged. Tariq Aziz, the Eight of Spades, is said to be in the queue as well, and it’s clear that the Adminstration has quietly made a decision now to offer the insurgency goods they might be willing to accept.

But it’s funny how often the Administration’s seemingly inspired media ploys — Bush’s top-gun landing, the deck of most-wanted cards that almost every American newspaper ran with because it was colorful and made war seem amusing and risk-free — have come back to haunt it. Their metaphors defy their control.

Because if you make war a card game, then it matters who wins the cards — and who’s forced to give them back in the end.