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Saturday, July 22, 2006

Headbutt Diplomacy


Click to Send PostcardNothing captured the world's attention quite like the World Cup which culminated in a dramatic clash between Italy and France in which French captain, the gifted Zinedine Zidane, better known as Zizou by those in the know, head-butted Italy's white trash, trouble maker, Marco Materazzi, in the chest after he called Zizou "the son of a terrorist whore" according to published reports, albeit speculative.

As the realities of an Israeli incursion into Lebanon threaten to ignite the already volatile Middle East, the nationalism inspired by World Cup fervor suggests that in sports, like diplomacy, there is only one thing that counts. Winning.

The United States' embarrassing 2-1 loss to Ghana in the first round demonstrated, perhaps metaphorically, how little influence the United States seems to wield these days, and the irony of France making it to the finals could not have been lost on hawks and doves alike, especially the macho, beef-chomping, Bud-swigging chumps who see the French as cowardly, foie gras-nibbling, Champaign-sipping appeasers.

The World Cup seemed to have been plagued by high sakes drama, from questionable calls from referees that sent Australia back home where they belonged, to a preponderance of "diving" where players melodramatize legitimate tackles in the hopes of gaining a foul against the tackler.

Britain's UK tabloid, The Sun, went on a homophobic hissy fit after Portugal's youthful upstart, Cristiano Ronaldo, remonstrated with referee Horacio Elizondo in a foul against Ricardo Carvalho resulting in Wayne Rooney being sent off. Calling Ronaldo a "nancy boy," The Sun quoted Rooney ridiculing Ronaldo as a "pretty boy," insinuating he is gay simply because he's good looking. Assuming Ronaldo is gay, and by all accounts including privacy violating photos, he's not, it would have been the fag that scored the winning goal against England in the Quarter Final.

Never mind that Rooney, the discipline-deficit-disordered (DDD), gambling, prostitute habitué deliberately kicked Carvalho in the balls, it was Ronaldo's indignation (followed by a wink to the Portuguese bench) that made him as popular in England as Osama bin Laden following the attacks on July 7th. So much so that Manchester United, the English team of which both Rooney and Ronaldo are stars, was warned that it might be unsafe for Ronaldo to continue playing for them (or for any team in England's FA Premier League).

Meanwhile, as all attention focused on Zizou's display of violence, no one seemed to remember that a doping scandal involving Juventus team physician, Riccardo Agricola, and Italy's captain, the pin-up perfect Fabio Cannavaro, uncovered a broader Italian soccer scandal involving Juventus, AC Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio, match-fixing charges, and half of Azzurri -- the Italian national soccer team.

Luciano Moggi, the since-retired general manager of Juventus, had conversations with several people in Italian football that reveal illegal match fixing, gambling, and falsifying financial accounts. In what appears like a mirror of the Bush Administration, magistrates in Naples are formally investigating 41 people and are looking into 19 Serie A matches from the 2004-05 season and 14 Serie A matches from the 2005-06 season. Prosecutors in Turin are examining Juventus chairman Antonio Giraudo while prosecutors in Parma are investigating national team goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, Enzo Maresca and retired players Antonio Chimenti and Mark Iuliano for suspected gambling on Serie A matches.

At first many thought the incident between Zidane and Materazzi had to do with a rivalry between Italy and France, accentuated by the decidedly different approaches to the Bush Administration's War on Terror. Former Italian Prime Minster Silvio Berlusconi's unequivocal support for Bush as opposed to France's Jacques Chirac's more measured response which resulted in the immature renaming of french fries by the United States House of Representatives.

Yet if one is to believe the whispers, or the lip reader hired by England's Daily Mail, Materazzi grabbed Zidane and said, "hold on, wait, that one's not for a nigger like you," and as they walked, "'We all know you are the son of a terrorist whore." The New Republic (hardly renowned for their journalistic excellence) claimed Materazzi called Zidane's father a 'harki' - the Arabic term for Algerians who fought for France against Algeria during the occupation.

The not-so-sub subtext mirrors the increasingly adversarial relationship between Europeans and immigrants. Although Zidane is a self-described non-practicing Muslim, the hurling of racist insults based on his Arab roots is perhaps more despicable than Zidane's violent response.

Materazzi, in an interview given to Italian sports daily, Gazzetta dello Sport denied insulting Zidane's mother or sister. "I said nothing to him about race, religion or politics. I did not talk about his mother either…I lost my mother when I was 15 and it still upsets me to talk about it. Of course I didn't know that his mother was in hospital. I send her my best wishes."

Kind of like Karl Rove giving his best wishes to Valerie Plame, the CIA operative whose career he destroyed and whose life he endangered by outing her to journalists. (And who she recently sued, along with Vice President Cheney and Scooter Libby). Maybe something got lost in the translation, but Materazzi's sincerity is about as convincing as Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen's apology for calling Chicago Sun-Times reporter Jay Mariotti a "piece of shit" and a "fucking fag" in front of about twenty journalists. Fucking idiot.

As the world still obsesses as to what Materazzi could have said to provoke the supposedly cool and gentlemanly Zidane to end his eighteen year career on such a foul note, commentators and pundits globally referred to the "vicious" head-butt as the defining moment of Zidane's illustrious career. The pious French sports daily L'Equipe wrote: "This morning, Zinedine, what do we tell our children, and all those for whom you were the living role model for all times?" Its front-page, over-the-top headline: "Eternal Regrets."

How about telling them that Zidane, like most on the planet, is only human, and that the extent to which we rely on others to be role models without flaws only sets everyone up for disappointment?

Yes, it would have been great had Zidane ignored Materazzi's taunting, and on penalty kicks, won the World cup for France, capping his career with a stunning, Hollywood-scripted swan song as the captain of the greatest soccer team in the world, returning victorious to a delirious France.

Instead, unpredictably, but no less interestingly, he chose to defend the honor of his sick mother, end his career being sent off as captain in the final moments of a World Cup final and returned to France more human than anyone could have imagined. Despite the global play of his head butt to Materazzi, and the endless ink and airwaves dedicated to it, none of it takes away from the brilliant career of a young man who defied the odds, and rose above his humble beginning in Taguemoune, Algeria to become one of the finest soccer players the world has known.

As Condoleezza Rice finally makes her way to the Middle East for a "peace conference" -- having been rebuffed by Cairo, and re-routed to World Cup champion Italy - to pretend to broker a "sustainable ceasefire" (despite the disclosure of an expedited delivery by the United Sates of precision-guided bombs to Israel), and amidst rapidly waning support the world over, her belated pseudo-intervention is seen for exactly what it is. Buying time and giving a tacit green light to Israel to bomb with impunity. The only people buying anything related to the sincerity of her visit are journalists at Fox News.

The rise of the so-called Shiite crescent is a direct result of the Bush Administration's failed Middle East policy. The Palestian elections, urged by Washington, brought the militant Islamic group Hamas to power - a reality and a group that the United States refuses to deal with. And last year, the United States withdrew its ambassador to Syria, leaving them with not only zero leverage, but no one to talk to.

Ms. Rice, who remember, responding to the 911 Commission about allegations of having ignored a memo that warned of Bin Laden's intentions stated: "But I can also tell you that there was nothing in this memo that suggested that an attack was coming on New York or Washington, D.C. There was nothing in this memo as to time, place, how or where." For someone who requires and demands such clarity in messages that she deemed the title of the memo "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States," inadequate, her message to Syria on the eve of her belated visit to the Middle East: "Syria knows what it needs to do."

As the Middle East explodes into chaos, the President seems blissfully unaware of the extent to which the prosecution of his war in Iraq has left America with less credibility and influence in the region than Yasser Arafat had - post the Bush Administration snub. George W, Bush's arrogance is superseded only by his ignorance. His lack of curiosity is not simply embarrassing to Americans the world over, but critically dangerous.

Yes, he was caught on video at the G8 Summit in St. Petersburg, mouth full of dinner roll, telling British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to tell Kofi Anan to get Hezbollah to "stop this shit," (one can only shudder at the thought of the manners this culture maven might display at a tea with the Queen at Buckingham Palace), but far worse is his inability to recognize how ineffective marketing campaigns disguised as policies play overseas.

Impressing world leaders with sophisticated insights - "Russia's big and so is China" - the President proceeded to give German Chancellor Angela Merkel an unsolicited shoulder massage that looked about as warmly received as a Materazzi visit to Zidane in Marseilles.

Adding fuel, albeit high priced, to the fire, the robotic Condoleezza Rice's efforts will be undermined even further by the bellicose bully, United States ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton.

As allies drop like flies, (including even Britain, who issued a powerful condemnation of Israel's bombing campaign in Lebanon), innocent Lebanese civilians are slaughtered, Beirut and southern Lebanon are flattened and northern Israel is showered with Katyusha rockets the only thing left for Condoleezza Rice to do on her trip to Jerusalem is to turn around and headbutt Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the chest.

It may have lost the World Cup for France, but it certainly characterizes the bull-in-a-china-shop style of American diplomacy, and is the only thing left that might restore her credibility.


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