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Toby Barlow Headshot

Strange But True: The Ishtar and Iraq Coincidences

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Just over twenty years ago - while George Bush was up to his ears in dodgy stock deals over at Harken - Elaine May, Warren Beatty, and Dustin Hoffman went off to the desert to make a movie called Ishtar.

Little did they realize that they were embarking on an eerie foreshadowing of what would occur under President Bush.

In fact, the comparisons between Ishtar and The War in Iraq, rank up there right alongside the bizarre similarities between Lincoln and Kennedy's deaths and the strange parallels between Scooter Libby and Lil' Kim .

The curious coincidences:

• Like George Bush, the filmmaker and the stars were at the height of their popularity going in.

• Both had a hot female sidekick whose name is kind of hard to spell. George Bush had Condoleezza Rice, Warren Beatty had Isabelle Adjani.

• Both were very expensive productions involving shooting in the sand.

• Both were critical disasters with the media and both were flops with the public.

Ishtar lost 42 million dollars. With the War in Iraq, America has lost roughly 500 billion dollars, or more simply put, half a trillion dollars.

• Despite initial high hopes and great enthusiasm at the outset, both have just tiny cult followings today. The War in Iraq has Bill Kristol; Ishtar has, um, me. (Because to be fair, it's actually a pretty great movie. If it's ever released on DVD you'll see what I mean. Vincent Canby even put it amongst his best films that year.)

• In the end, all the filmmakers wanted was to make a nice, little road picture, like those old ones with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.

• All Bush wanted was to have a nice, little war, like those old ones with James Baker and Norman Schwarzkopf.

• Warren Beatty's mega-superstar-career pretty much died with Ishtar, but of course that's just a figure of speech. Meanwhile, 80,000 American soldiers, coalition soldiers, and Iraqi men, women and children have quite literally died in the course of this war.

• For a comeback, Dustin Hoffman starred Rain Man, ultimately winning an Oscar for his famous depiction of Raymond, a classic idiot savant.

As for George Bush, well, we're still waiting for the savant part.