Saddam is on trial, and Osama is enjoying the fifth year of his involuntary south Asian spelunking holiday. So it was only a matter of time before a new boogeyman emerged, a boogeyman whose apocalyptic speechifying and filthy mustache would fill the spider hole in our hearts, minds and cable TV schedules the way Saddam and Osama used to.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran is the new boogeyman. And he's more than just new. He's improved! He combines the best of the worst qualities of Saddam and Osama. Like Osama bin Laden, he's a religious fanatic who gives the impression that he actually welcomes the idea of a military confrontation with the United States. Like Saddam Hussein, he's got a nation and its military covering his behind (a nation that, unlike Iraq in 2003, actually has a nuclear weapons program).
Plus, Ahmadinejad has that creepier-than-creepy smirk, the kind that only people with bodyguards can afford. The only foreign boogeyman, past or present, whose smirk creeps me out as much as Ahmadinejad's is the one that used to reside on the face of late Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. Amin didn't just look insane when he was smirking, though. He looked insane 24/7. In fact, he probably was insane. Several credible reports allege that Amin was driven mad by a long-untreated case of syphilis.
If Ahmadinejad or any of his supporters read this column (a boy can dream!), they likely would be mighty offended that I'd compare Ahmadinejad to a diseased mass murderer like Amin. I can understand their anger.
The two men really don't have much in common. For example, Ahmadinejad says that he doubts the Holocaust ever happened. Amin was sure the Holocaust happened; he thought it was a good idea.
Anyway, because he's the fanatical, Jew-hating head of a soon-to-be nuclear, already terrorism-sponsoring, oil-rich Middle Eastern state, Ahmadinejad will likely be a media fixture for the foreseeable future. Therefore, we should probably make an effort to get to know him a bit. In service of that objective, I have assembled a list of facts about Ahmadinejad that one seldom, if ever, hears about in the mainstream media.
1) I'll begin with the most important fact of all. Ahmadinejad doesn't rule Iran, nor does he control its foreign or military policy. The man in charge of all that is Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Iran is a theocracy, and Khamenei is the theocrat-in-chief. To give you an idea of where Ahmadinejad lies in Iran's political hierarchy, note that no one can even run for the presidency in the first place without the approval of Khamenei and the Guardian Council, a group of six clerics and six conservative jurists that are selected by Khamenei.
Ahmadinejad does have some influence over foreign policy, but he doesn't steer it. None of his kooky pronouncements should be mistaken for policy statements.
2) During the Iran-Iraq War, Ahmadinejad belonged to the Basij Mostazafan, a large militia group best known for using large formations of children as human minesweepers. Ahmadinejad has three children of his own. I suspect they were not participants.
Today, there are millions of Basiji. Illiterate, backward and drunk on their apocalyptic interpretation of Shi'a Islam, they are Ahmadinejad's political base. Basiji have a habit of forming human chains in front of important buildings to demonstrate their willingness to die in service to Iran -- a sort of Hands Across America for sociopaths.
3) The Web site Iranian.com, operated by Iranians living in the United States, is loaded with political cartoons making fun of Ahmadinejad for his backwardness. My favorite shows a donkey labeled "Ahmadinejad's Air Force One."
4) Ahmadinejad has a Ph.D. in civil engineering and is a founding member of the Iran Tunnel Society. That affiliation may come in handy if, as Seymour Hersh reported in a recent New Yorker article, America is preparing to use bunker-busting nukes against Iran.
5) If you have any questions for President Ahmadinejad, or if you just wanna drop him a note asking him to stop inching the world toward nuclear war, you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can do what I did and sign him up for gay-porn spam.