I should say at the outset that I am not particularly qualified to be offering the President Bush advice on foreign affairs.

But let's just you and me pretend that I happened to run into the president in a bar, and that we started hashing over a few things between rounds of cranberry and soda.

Our new Russian friend Vladmir Putin has been issuing warnings that we better come up with a better reason for whacking Saddam Hussein.

The reason we already have goes something like: Saddam is a bad guy. He's trying to build really nasty weapons. We think he wants to go after us because we humiliated him and because we are the biggest target on the planet.

Putin doesn't think that's enough. Evidently the Russians are doing some deals with Iraq, and don't want to see their pipelines blown up by U.S. smart bombs that might accidentally go astray.

This puts Bush in a jam. We're counting on the Russians to sell us a ton of oil so we can dump the pesky Saudis.

We used to be enemies of the Russians, but times changed. Still, our friendship is delicate. We can't have Russia already lobbing grenades at our plans to whack Saddam.

So here's how I would recommend the president deal with Putin: I'd say...

Vlad, what do you care if Saddam runs Iraq or doesn't? Look, we're going to make you filthy rich buying your oil, and we're going to keep our mouths shut when you go after those Chechens. They are, after all, a subset of the Usama bin Laden problem.

So going along with us is a stone winner for you, Vlad, and you don't want to screw it up. All you gotta do is look the other way when we put the coordinates for Saddam's living room into one of our smart bombs.

And then you gotta make sure that your complaining about his untimely demise doesn't get so loud that it causes us real problems. For instance, you don't want us to decide you're making so much noise that we have to make you irrelevant… like, say, France.

Vladimir, Russia is a great power, and it's good having you as a friend. We'd like to buy your oil, and we'd like to help you with your problems. But Iraq is a problem for us. So how about you just forgetting there ever was a Saddam Hussein? You'll see... everything will be fine.

That's My Word.

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