Is it just my

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October 22, 2002 1:28 a.m.

Is it just my imagination or when Bill Kristol read this quote from the President, didn’t he pretty much have to press his hands to his temples and shake his head disconsolately?

If [Saddam] were to meet all the conditions of the United Nations, the conditions that I’ve described very clearly in terms that everybody can understand, that in itself will signal the regime has changed …

Whatever Kristol did, I couldn’t help laughing. And perhaps that says something about my not getting out quite often enough that I would find this so amusing. But, honestly, this is about thirty-times more audacious a massaging of the English language than that little number the former president pulled about what the meaning of ‘is‘ is.

If the regime will just change then you don’t have to change the regime. And if the regime changes isn’t that regime change? So what’s the problem?

I’ve rolled this one over in my head a few times and as nearly as I can figure the key is that the president prized apart the words in that wonderful phrase and took ‘regime’ which was supposed to be the object of the verb ‘change,’ as in ‘change the regime’ and made it the subject, as in ‘the regime changes.’ That is to say, the ‘regime’ was mean and now it’s nice. I grant you, this grammar and syntax chopping may not do full justice to the utter discombobulation of this phrase. You can just see the chief regime-changers hearing this and breaking out with the frantic ‘wait, wait, waits…’

In any case, approaching the matter at that level may miss the point. Could anybody but this president have managed to get away with uttering such a quote? What we’re seeing here is a grey glimmer of that undiscovered country where verbal goofballism meets the honed edge of grand strategy. Sort of Gomer Pyle meets Forrest Gump meets Klemens von Metternich.

Now, I’m not sure the underlying change of policy here is wrong-headed, at least as far as it goes, or even that it represents a change. But how much must those report writers at Heritage and AEI be pulling out their hair out over this. (And a lot of them don’t have a lot to spare. So it’s serious.) I mean, if only the phrase ‘regime change’ had come with an instruction manual or a rulebook perhaps this chicanery would never have been possible.

Now do you doubt that Colin Powell is calling the shots?

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