Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Guess who's coming to town...

By Elaine Shein

None of us like surprises. Especially when an unexpected visitor pops by for a short visit, you only have a few hours to impress the guest, and your home or office might not be in the best state of affairs.

Now imagine it’s not just your home or office, but your entire country that is a mess.

And the visitor is not someone who visits often, is rather important, and isn’t the most popular guy in your country.

Imagine being Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. He had five minutes' warning today that President George W. Bush would be sitting beside him at a meeting … in Baghdad, Iraq, in one of the most fortified zones in the city.

Bush had told people and pesky reporters that he was going to be at Camp David for a couple of days, and al-Maliki had expected to just do a satellite video conference with Bush and aides from Maryland.

Five minutes before the meeting started, Bush appeared before the rather surprised foreign leader.

Really — the prime minister didn’t even have a chance to think about what to wear, ask his aides for helpful suggestions for small talk topics, or heck, even brush his teeth.

I guess rolling out the red carpet also would have not been an option at such short notice.

Good thing the prime minister is prepared to be able to handle big shocks. Iraq does that to a person.

For the rest of us who may suddenly have the American president sit down beside us at a meeting, we probably would have a bit of trouble concentrating. Plus we would have wondered, after the meeting ended, how else to entertain the president for the entire five and a half hours he was in our part of town, if he decided to stay as long as he did in Baghdad.

After all, it’s not like you can suggest a good movie, offer a great bus tour of the city, or think quickly of a nice little restaurant that had incredible food, a wonderful view and … uhm, several hundred security guards to save the president’s life if needed. Sorry, that type of place just doesn’t appear quickly in my Palm Pilot or Rolodex… (I lie. I don’t have a Palm Pilot. Or a Rolodex. It’s more of a recipe file box crammed with rumpled business cards.)

Anyway, it sounds like Bush found things to do in his extra time in Baghdad, his second visit to Iraq since the war started.

“Thought I’d stop by to say hello,” he told cheering U.S. troops he visited, according to an AP story. “I bring greetings from a grateful nation. And I thank you for your sacrifice.”

Unfortunately, he didn’t bring the turkey that shared his photo opportunity visit last time Bush visited those troops abroad, during Thanksgiving in 2003.

He didn’t even bring a rubber chicken.

Perhaps Iraq appreciated it. They’ve had enough of foul play — and much more serious matters — in the country.

But I bet Iraq’s prime minister would have appreciated even more if the president could have at least called to let him know he was on his way during that 11-hour flight.

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