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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lemon Fizzes on the Banks of the Euphrates

The trap is sprung. The name of the game is containment. Contain the wild man, the leader with the messianic and relentless glint who is scaring the world.

Surround him, throw Lilliputian nets on him, tie him up with a lot of UN inspection demands, humor him long enough to stop him from using his weapons and blowing up the Middle East.

But this time, the object of the containment strategy is not Saddam Hussein, but George W. Bush, the president with real bombs, not the predator with plans to make them. America's European and Arab allies now act more nervous about the cowboy in the Oval Office who likes to brag about America as "the greatest nation on the face of the Earth" than the thug in the Baghdad bunker.

"We don't want another war in this region," says an adviser to the Saudi royal family. "When Afghanistan is bombed, they just hit rocks. When there's bombing in our neighborhood, they hit oil fields."

Gerhard Schr?der's campaign prospects soared when he started running against Bush. "Many Germans," wrote The New York Times' Steven Erlanger, "seem to fear American military action in Iraq more than they fear Mr. Hussein."

With assists from the rump cabinet of internationalists, including Colin Powell and Brent Scowcroft, America's allies have been engaged in a benevolent conspiracy to ensnare the president in the web of UN rules for war and diplomacy.

The Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, insists that the Iraqi threat must be taken care of without "the firing of a single shot or the loss of a single soldier." He added a big sweetener, promising that U.S. bombers could use Saudi bases if Bush would work through the UN.

Privately, Saudi officials said they are alarmed by the Bush team's military strutting, and think it would have been much better to get rid of Saddam with a covert operation. If he has nothing to lose, they worry, he might fire his chemical and biological weapons at the Saudis or the Israelis or give them to terrorists to use on the United States.

By wrapping Bush in a warm embrace, the Persian Gulf allies hope to waltz him closer to where they want him to be. Meanwhile, the Egyptians and the Jordanians pinned Saddam to the mat and told him that if he had any chance of avoiding Armageddon, he should open up his country to inspectors. Thus, in just a few days, the Iraq crisis went from Saddam having a noose around his neck to Bush being bound by multilateral macrame.

"All the reasons for an attack have been eliminated," crowed Tariq Aziz, Iraq's deputy prime minister. But the allies, and especially Aziz, should not underestimate the zeal of the Bush warriors.

Saddam can admit a legion of inspectors, but that may not stop Bush from wriggling out of the United Nations restraints and declaring the despot's compliance a sham.

The Arabs tut-tut that America should focus on rebuilding Afghanistan, getting a state for the Palestinians and pursuing the war on terror. But the Bushies have gotten a taste of empire building in Afghanistan and they like it.

Karl Rove is building a Republican empire. Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and Scooter Libby are building an ideological empire. Dick Cheney is building a unilateral empire. And Donald Rumsfeld is building a military empire. As Henry Kissinger told Newsweek, Rummy wants "to beat back the attitudes of the Vietnam generation that was focused on American imperfection and limitations."

Besides, why should former CEOs Cheney and Rummy settle for mere Jack Welch-style perks when they can have the perks of empire?

They can restore civilization to the cradle of civilization. Lemon fizzes, cribbage and cricket by the Tower of Babel. A 36-hole golf course on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates. ArabDisney in the hanging gardens of Babylon. Oil on tap at the Baghdad Hilton. Huge contracts for buddies in the defense and oil industries. Halliburton's Brown & Root construction company building a six-lane highway from Baghdad to Tel Aviv. How long can it be before the empire strikes back?

Maureen Dowd is a columnist for The New York Times, where this comment first appeared.