For my birthday last week, I got a new chess set: crystal pieces and a glass board. Since then, my friends and I have been check- and stale-mating each other like crazy.
No doubt, chess is a game entirely appropriate for our post-9/11 world, in which the daily forecast is hazy with the fog of war. And, as you know, chess and war have been associated in the minds of strategic thinkers, players and human pawns for centuries.
I happen to own several editions of Clauswitz's classic study, "On War," one of which has a cover photo of a chess game in progress. "It is a waste ... of effort to ignore the element of brutality [in war] because of the repugnance it excites," Clauswitz wrote.
British social commentator Robert Fisk wrote recently about being "struck by the number of letters in [his] postbag from [World War II] veterans--men and women, all against this new Iraqi war, with an inalienable memory of torn limbs and suffering."
Now, I think most of us can agree that we'd all be better off if Saddam Hussein were out of power and even more better off if democracy took root in Iraq. The hawk-dove debate has really been over whether Clauswitz's repugnant brutality of war or another means is the best method for achieving that goal.
And just when you thought no options were left on the board, Troy Davis, president of the New York-based think-tank World Citizen Foundation, has spotted a possible move.
The first part of Davis's two-step proposal is to bring together all the Iraqi opposition groups to form a "Transitional Democratic Government" convention. The second step would be the convening of a second constitutional convention in Iraq once Saddam is gone.
"The creation of a Transitional Democratic Government will make it easier for President Bush to fulfill his [stated] aim of bringing democracy to Iraq ... and to turn over Iraq to the Iraqis ... It will take off the pressure that Bush feels because he is trapped by a U.N. process he believes is mere theater," Davis told me last week.
"Bush should like it because it restores moral clarity and separates the issues of disarmament and regime change, which should never have been amalgamated in the first place.
"But it's also good for those against the war, because it's probably the only chance of solving this crisis without war. The mere existence of this more legitimate Transitional Democratic Government‚ will set in motion events that will ratchet the political pressure on Saddam so much that the chances of him losing power without a preemptive war rise dramatically," Davis argues.
Think of it from a chess perspective. This transitional government would be the most legitimate entity to decide whether and how to indict Saddam for crimes against humanity, and it would avoid the humility and resentment caused by a one-sided victor's justice.
One thing the convention might decide in dealing with the humanitarian crisis that's been killing innocent children since the sanctions were imposed 11 years ago is to nationalize Iraq's lucrative oil industry, at least temporarily, to pay for the rebuilding of Iraq's infrastructure while altering the widespread perception that U.S., British, Russian and French policy planners really only care about getting their hands on Iraq's oil fields.
Davis says the success of this plan of "pre-emptive democracy" will depend heavily on the process being "very public, via a constitutional convention attended by all Iraqi opposition groups, in addition to representatives of the Iraqi diaspora, and completely open to the world's media."
Even though the idea has been presented to high-level government officials as well as top U.N. officials, Davis says the reason the United Nations has not floated the idea is because it has no mandate for democracy or regime change.
"Because of its doctrine of equal state sovereignty, dictatorships have as much standing at the U.N. as democracies ... the unfortunate dirty secret of the U.N., which liberals never dare say, but which makes Bush's U.N. stand so convincing to many people.
"If the antiwar groups and the Democrats are really smart, they will jump on this concept and ask Bush, Powell, Rumsfeld and Rice to hold true to their words that all alternatives have to be exhausted before a war," Davis said.
He added, "This process of empowering Iraqis to free their own country in legitimate ways also means that a major risk--that of Saddam Hussein unleashing weapons of mass destruction as his regime comes under full fire--is minimized."
This proposal could prove to be a nonviolent way of checkmating Saddam, or at least leaving him in stalemate.
It may be a flawed plan but the fact that the Bush administration is talking about an exiled Saddam as a possible way to avoid war provides the political opening. As the Spanish proverb has it: "When fire and water are at war, it is the fire that loses."
Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff writer and a syndicated columnist. Email him at email@example.com.