Time For The Grand Finale

In London, Abedi launched the Third World Foundation in 1979, giving $100,000 prizes each year to such luminaries as the former West German chancellor, Willy Brandt, and then-president Julius Nyerere of Tanzania. One year, the awards were presented by Princess Anne.

-The Washington Post

A couple of years ago people were talking gravely about something called "the end of history." I didn't believe in that (more truthfully, I didn't know what it was), but I do believe in what I have come to regard as the finale of politics. Unlike the end of history there is nothing abstruse or philosophical about the finale of politics. It will not tax your brain. As I envision and yearn for it, the finale of politics will occur on a given day at a given time in a given opera house, probably the Met. At that ineffable moment, everything will at last come clear and everyone will come clean. All those government creeps and pomposities, all those marginal characters and duped celebrities and misbehaving personages that dart in and out of the news and whose disparate, far-flung lives, seem, unaccountably, to keep intertwining, will at last march out on the stage and sing forth in a mighty chorus an operatic explanation of what it was all about. They may or may not be in 19th -century garb, but I do see some of them with Valkyrie horns on.

I have been harboring this invincible fantasy since more or less the days of the ITT scandal, a couple of decades ago. The ITT scandal was populated by the improbable cast of characters that has become all too familiar since then: between-jobs sleuths, spooks and troublemakers, big-shot financial figures, a genuinely eccentric female or two, government appointees with terminally bland expressions and (one had thought until one learned of there villainy) minds to match, political leaders who should have known better--all in all, your basic scandal package.

No one ever quite explained how they had all come together, but, importantly, some of them turned up again in the Watergate scandal, which you will recall then turned out to have intertwining with the Daniel Ellsberg case (some of the miscreants had broken into his psychiatrist's office). Trace elements of all of the above appeared as well in Iran-contra and both the Panamanian and Shah of Iran side shoots. And now: BCCI. I don't want to overstate the case, but I think BCCI could be it.

Only consider: Any scandal that has mixed up among its innocents and guilties and in-betweens Manuel Noriega, Abu Nidal, Clark Clifford, Bert Lance, the Mafia, the Colombian drug cartels, the CIA and, in a stunning walk-on part, Princess Anne, is coming about as close as we are ever going to get to the Grand Finale. And of course there are characters involved in this one who took part in some of the infamous others. I think I am not working on a conspiracy theory here, at least not in the classic sense. That is because, so far as I can tell, not everybody who was in it, was in on it, which is a different thing. And I do think there are some explanations of a motivational kind that help clarify much of the involvement, fully witting and, as was true of a number of big shots, half witted.

In the paper the other day, for example, a senior official at an American bank was quoted as saying of the central figure in the scandal. Agha Hasan Abedi, and his close pals, "I just don't know how they wormed their way until the hearts and souls of high levels of government the way they did..." But nothing could be clearer. Perle Mesta once said you could attract any Washington grandee to your house by simply hanging a lamb chop in the window. The BCCI bunch simply hung a bag of bucks there: Money, money, and money were perhaps the first three enticements into the web.

The reason this all strikes me more as an opera than, say a thriller, is that it has so much more in common with operatic presentation, mainly a gigantic cast of characters you can never keep straight, all of whom are hiding something and at least half of whom are in disguise most of the time. In our world it is laundered money, the hidden bank accounts, the camouflaged ownerships and involvements. These are not so different from the endless deceptions that the characters in operas are perpetrating on each other and the audience most of the time. And, as in that art form, it is also the case in modern political reality that bizarre, unexpected connections among the unconnected (or so it had seemed) keep turning up.

None of this has worked to promote American confidence in the rectitude or occasionally even the sanity of our leaders. And the ends are always let loose. At some point the statement is uttered that these leaders didn't know what was going on but they will admit some sort of "mistakes in judgement" and the whole thing passes--until the next out break when some of the same lowlifes and the same issues reappear in (always) an enormously enlarged cast. What we never know, and what that great last scene onstage could tell us, is exactly what has been going on all these years and how all these seemingly unrelated folks got so weirdly and incriminatingly entangled with one another.

Now it is true that even with the purported explanation, either in orotund song onstage or the impenetrable printed narrative of the program, the effort at clarification does not always clarify: "Released from his pledge, Mandolfo finally tells Marianne that Pharbineus is not really a hunter who lives in the nearby forest, but the Duke of Agnew in disguise who was abducted by a swan as a small child and indentured as an apprentice to the shoemaker dwarf Abedi and his beautiful half-daughter Princess Anne...." And I don't suppose the 1990's American political finale with all of them tromping onto the stage and some Duke figure explaining what it was all about will be a whole lot more helpful. But at least we would have a fighting chance to understand. And at least it would be over--that is the key point.

This opera has been going on too long. Journalism would suffer horribly were it to end and were we to have no more loose ends to pursue or absolutely surreal revelations to make. But it's a price I for one would be willing to pay. From ITT to BCCI what the hell has been going on? Tell us. Get it over with, whoever you may be. I think we's all be grateful to be done with it and never hear from you again. I think we might even offer amnesty.