What if Baghdad Bob was right all along?

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Remember Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf? He was the former Iraqi information minister who became a folk hero in the West because of his unintentionally hilarious daily briefings even as coalition forces tightened the noose around the regime's neck.

Nicknamed "Baghdad Bob" by a credulous American press corps all too willing to parrot Bush administration propaganda, the Iraqi bureaucrat had a talent for lurid prose that hinted at a poetic sensibility beneath the nonsense.

Among my favorites were: "God will roast their stomachs in hell at the hands of the Iraqis"; "The midget Bush and Rumsfeld deserve only to be beaten with shoes by freedom-loving people everywhere"; "Washington has thrown their soldiers on the fire"; and "I speak better English than this villain Bush."

Baghdad Bob made his final prophetic utterance on April 7, 2003, before disappearing into the obscurity of occupied Iraq: "This invasion will end in failure."

Three years into a war that has gone worse than expected for America and its coalition allies, it would be hard to find anyone in Washington -- with the notable exception of Mr. Bush -- who doesn't agree with him now.

It wasn't the first time old Baghdad Bob said something prescient. Even buffoons are capable of connecting the dots in ways that would put our current president to shame.

"I would like to clarify a simple fact here," Baghdad Bob said in a lucid moment when he wasn't comparing the U.S. military to a headless snake twisting in burning quicksand.

"How can you lay siege to a whole country? Who is really under siege now? Baghdad cannot be besieged. Al-Nasiriyah cannot be besieged. Basra cannot be besieged."

When not caught in the suffocating grip of his rhetorical flourishes, Baghdad Bob made a lot of sense.

Unfortunately, his was the only voice of dissent countering Mr. Bush's on the world stage for a while.

Democrats in Congress were institutionally AWOL, afraid that even the mildest criticism of the war would result in a loss of precious political clout.

The U.S. media rolled over for Bush months before the military campaign even began. Organized protests against the invasion of Iraq were dismissed by editorial pages and beltway pundits as naive and short-sighted.

Once American news operations agreed to the onerous conditions that were part of the military embedding process, all pretense of objectivity went out the window. The press became just another cog in the military-industrial complex.

Remember Pentagon-sponsored tall tales about Pvt. Jessica Lynch, the wounded supply clerk from West Virginia who allegedly killed several Iraqi soldiers before she was captured and held prisoner for several weeks?

That hokum was only slightly more outrageous than the stage-managed pull-down of Saddam's statue in Baghdad's Fardus Square.

Since then, Mr. Bush's "Top Gun" moment on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in May 2003 has become the supreme symbol of his administration's willingness to air-brush reality. The "Mission Accomplished" banner that served as the backdrop has become the most ironic moment of his presidency.

Back in the good old days when Americans didn't give a damn about the war as long as we were "winning," Mr. Bush even enshrined a former dictator's pistol in a corner of the White House.

The gun was a souvenir from a night three Christmas shopping seasons ago when U.S. soldiers pulled Saddam Hussein, dishevelled and lice-infected, from an underground lair near Tikrit.

Saddam was packing heat at the time. His sidearm was taken from him and given to his mortal enemy in the White House.

It was promptly mounted and stashed in an Oval Office study where Mr. Bush can make goo-goo eyes at it whenever he feels the need to pretend he's a big, bad Christian warlord.

Now that the flush of war fever has dissipated and American and Iraqi casualties mount daily by the dozens, Mr. Bush probably understands that his cheesy trophy is more a curse than a symbol of his military acumen.

"The shock has backfired on them," Baghdad Bob said in one of his rants shortly after the war began. "They are shocked because of what they have seen. No one received them with roses. They were received with bombs, shoes and bullets. Now the game has been exposed."

Lord help us, but Baghdad Bob was right.

Tony Norman can be reached at: tnorman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1631.


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