Monday, December 15, 2008

Shooing away sole-less insults

It’s taken nearly six years, but events in Iraq have finally proven the beloved Baghdad Bob prophetic.

If you recall, Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf, aka Baghdad Bob, was the over-the-top Iraqi spokesman who told so many grandiloquent lies that he became the breakout star of the early war all those years ago.

A still-functioning website,, became a must-read for those interested in following his boastful declarations that war would be swift, his side would prevail, and history would vindicate the wily leaders.

Sure, those were exactly the same sort of things bullet-headed Bush spokesman Ari Fleisher said, but, oh, Baghdad Bob said them with such stirring panache and baroque grandeur.

Here’s a sampler.

• "I can say, and I am responsible for what I am saying, that the infidels have started to commit suicide under the walls of Baghdad. We will encourage them to commit more suicides quickly.

• "We have destroyed 2 tanks, fighter planes, 2 helicopters and their shovels.”

• "Even those who live on another planet, if there are such people, would have condemned this action before it started."

Then there was this: “We will welcome them with bullets and shoes.”

I heard this in 2003 and thought the war could be won by eager squads of Kevlar-chested and barefoot women leading the invasion. Women, my wife included, often seem to have a reverence for a really good shoe that elevates even heel-less footwear above the men they date or marry.

But no, Baghdad Bob wasn’t promising stylish bargains. In fact, he was issuing one of the worst insults an Arab person could conjure. It was like that devastating put-down artist Vinnie Barbarino telling Mr. Kotter “Up your nose with a rubber hose.”

I’m persistently mystified by the whole shoe-as-insult thing. I remember when U.S. soldiers tore down the statue of Saddam Hussein many of his persecuted countrymen went up and began beating the inanimate object with their scruffy sandals. It seemed the oddest sort of retribution from people so long oppressed. Classrooms full of imaginative American fourth graders withheld from their morning potty breaks could have been more creative.

And I haven’t checked, but I’ll bet some well-heeled (and you knew that was coming) American is probably right now paying to have his or her backs whacked with sandals in some pricey spa or raunchy bondage club.

So when journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi, stood up and hurled his footwear at the comically ducking Bush I kind of felt pity that it was the best he could do. Certainly, as someone who as a young newspaper reporter seized press conference opportunities to infuriate presidents and other powerful figures, I could have offered some suggestions for better and more cunning ways to insult Bush.

And the best is perfectly non-violent.

I’d just wait until he called on me and asked, “Mr. President, if a train leaves Baghdad going 120 mph and another train leaves Tikrit going 80 mph . . .”

Then spice up the puzzler with facts like wind speed, train weight and camel-crossing delays and, guaranteed, Bush would have been at the podium nodding in befuddlement like a chicken in the rain.

I’d outwit him. I’d prove to the entire world that I was smarter than the man I detested for what he’d done to my beloved homeland. I would unmask him as an idiot.

Then the world would revel in my genius and Bush would be forever rendered -- because of me -- a dunce of historic proportions.

And if that didn’t work, I’d reach into my briefcase and launch a foul fusillade of disgusting goo balloons straight for the podium.

We Americans understand that the insult arena offers little wiggle room for dainty subtleties.

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