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April 30, 2003

Beyond the Bubble

By Kathryn M. Welling

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I've given a few presentations recently to Securities Analysts groups in the Midwest. This is an updated, condensed version of those recent remarks.

Sayonara, Saddam, wherever you are. You'll be missed.

Not, don't misunderstand, that you weren't an utterly despicable despot; a merchant of mass destruction; a blight on your people, all of the Mideast and the world. It's just, now that the stock market is no longer trapped between Iraq and a hard place, that Wall Street will have to find another excuse for the beastly behavior of the indices, the ennui of the investing classes.

Preferrably, one that distracts the clientele from the harsh reality that the walls have come tumbling down on the Babyboomers' Generational Bull Market-just as, evidently, they finally did on the ruthless Iraqi strongman.

Oh well, two more illusions bite the dust. We should be getting used to it. The last several years have seen the death of many other cherished illusions - about personal and national security, the ever-upward march of high-tech earnings, the ethics of accountants, investment bankers, securities analysts and corporate managements. Anxiety levels are way up, uncertainty the order of the day. Shell-shock, not uncommon. Not without reason. The world has changed dramatically.

Consider this bit of Internet wisdom a very old friend e-mailed to me last week:

You know the world has gone mad when:

The best rapper is a White guy,

The best golfer is a Black guy,

The tallest guy in the NBA is Chinese,

The Swiss hold the America's Cup,

France is accusing the USA of arrogance,

And Germans don't want to go to war!"

But it's no joke. Our nation has been at war. Yes, against a "thug" and dictator who - for all the Weapons of Mass Destruction he undoubtedly hid under Iraq's shifting sands - clearly never had a prayer against our vastly superior armed forces. But that doesn't mean things still might not get very ugly as we try to win the peace. Or that we won't find that bringing peace, democracy, order, social and economic justice to the Mideast-not to mention the rest of the globe's hot spots - won't prove far more challenging than bombing bunkers and rolling tanks into the center of Baghdad.

Most obviously, of course, that's because there still are Iraqi troops, secret police, Saddam's Fedayheen, Muslim mercenaries and terrorist volunteers sniping, skulking and sulking in Iraq's cities and deserts; zealots unable or unwilling to accept the ramifications of regime change. Against our military, they stand not a chance. But that doesn't mean Saddam's thugs won't continue to capture the hearts and minds in the Arab Street, as the talking heads like to refer to the Muslim masses; or that everyday Arabs might not find delusions of past, insular glory preferrable to facing the hard work of building even a semblance of a modern, democratic nation out of Saddam's ruins.