I like this conversation better. I have watched too many retired colonels on my television set in recent weeks, shivered too many shivers as deadlines have been issued and bombs have been dropped. I am happy to hear how Matt Ghaffari would stick his thumb into an Iraqi's eye.
"You'd really do that?" I ask.
"Yes," Ghaffari says. "I would get inside. I would pull his beard. I would put a thumb into his eye. Anything. That is how these things go. What determines the winner usually is who can stand the most pain. The Iraqi would do the same to me."
The simple battle is easier to understand. I like to have my geopolitical conflicts distilled to human terms. The tools of civilization have to be taken away to talk about a more civilized way of settling differences.
"You have fought an Iraqi?" I ask.
"The last time was in 1989, in Turkey," Ghaffari says. "I pinned him. I dominated him. He tried to be real physical with me, but his bark was worse than his bite. I turned him and put him down. He could have been tougher. Thirty seconds and I could feel he wanted to quit. He was looking for a way to get out of there gracefully."
There are not a lot of sports in which Iraq has competed against the U.S. Of them, wrestling is easily the most intimate. Opponents breathe and grunt and have body odor. Ghaffari is 29 years old. He is 6'4" and weighs 280 pounds, a heavyweight. He is America's top prospect for a medal in Greco-Roman wrestling at the Barcelona Olympics next year. He lives in Chandler, Ariz., and he has quit his job with a car rental agency to train full-time for his shot at the Games. He was born in Teheran, Iran, but came to the U.S. at age 14 and is a naturalized American citizen. He went to high school in Paramus, N.J.
"Have you also wrestled against an Iranian?" I ask.
"Many times," he says. "I wrestled against Iranians who came to the mat with pictures of the Ayatollah Khomeini. I have heard them shout, in Farsi, 'Death to Americans!' All of that stuff. I understand the language, so I know what they're saying. There are many countries in the world, especially in the Middle East, who dress us in a black hat. They just don't know us. They think we're just rock and rollers. They think everyone drives a Cadillac and shoots guns all the time. They think we have life too easy. They don't know."
He talks about wrestling against Soviets and Cubans and Bulgarians, about how wrestling against someone who holds to a different ideology puts a different light in your eye when you go into competition. The match becomes more basic. Meaner. Ghaffari can respond to the meanness. That is part of the game, and he will play it. He says he wants to stand on a platform and see the American flag raised to the ceiling while The Star-Spangled Banner is played.