Is it possible that George W. Bush has been following Nixonís famous old plan all this time, pretending to be insane so as to frighten the enemy into compliance?
Possible, but not likely. Something even more disturbing seems to be going on.
When Saddam Hussein offered to let the inspectors back in yesterday, many American opponents of the coming war were relieved. Whatever Mr. Bush had been up to, it was working.
Now the president would lead his party into the fall elections not as a war profiteer desperately wagging the dog, but as a firm and wise statesman.
It was beginning to look as if the president had been right after all to reject the advice of his fatherís men, much of his own party, and of nearly every other world leader. Where his own father and Mr. Clinton had failed, it was George W. Bush who had brought Saddam to heel at last.
But no, that didn't seem to be what was going on after all. For the instant and instinctive reaction from the President was to brush aside the prospect of a peaceful victory, pressing even more urgently for war.
This was just what his father had done in the days leading up to the first war with Iraq. Saddam, finally realizing that he had made a ghastly miscalculation about his longtime American allies, was desperately knuckling under to every new dayís demands from Washington.
But each capitulation brought new demands, even more humiliating. Mr. Bush turned out only incidentally to want Iraqís withdrawal from Kuwait; much more than that, Mr. Bush wanted a man-sized war of his very own.
He got one, and he seemed to win it, and for a while he was Americaís sweetheart. But then a draft dodger barely half his age, fellow from some absurd place called Hope, ate Poppyís lunch. The present President Bush is thought to have learned an important life lesson from this.
What was the lesson, though?
I once followed the business career of a man who went to work for one of his fatherís newspapers and eventually took over the chain. The son hated his father, knowing he would never be that smart or that respected in the profession. The father was contemptuous of his son for what he was doing to the papers, cheapening them for bigger profits.
Many years before, the father had created a big city daily in the face of entrenched and powerful competition. No one thought he could make a go of it, and he didnít. The paper failed.
Some forty years later, the son mortgaged his newspaper empire to start a big city daily in the face of entrenched and powerful competition. His elderly father didnít think the son could make it, and he didnít. The new paper failed.
No outsider can know what really went on inside this family, or what goes on in any other unhappy family. What envies, what disappointments? What love bound up inextricably with hate, what festering slights, what fears of inadequacy, what secret resentment of favors rendered and of favors received?
Whatever the cause it turned out that the newspaper publisher in his secret heart didnít want to outdo his father at all. Instead he aspired to be an exact duplicate of the man who had failed in the great undertaking of his life.
It begins to look as if the president doesnít want to outdo his father, either.