Will the Real Monkey Please Stand Up? Please Stand Up?
Yesterday President George Bush made his first public appearance since the start of the war, speaking to service personnel at the MacDill airforce base in Tampa in an obvious bid to reassure Americans and boost the morale of the armed forces. But how do we know this is the real George Bush?
Later in the day a man who looked and sounded like Mr Bush appeared alongside Tony Blair at Camp David, leaving intelligence experts to ponder whether a lookalike had been used, and whether the same lookalike had been deployed on both occasions.
It has long been suspected that Mr Bush employs a string of lookalikes for difficult or dangerous speaking engagements, some of whom may have had their ears specially enlarged for the task.
Most of those who regularly monitor Mr Bush's speech patterns believe that it was the genuine article who spoke at Central Command HQ in Florida yesterday, pointing to a characteristic tendency toward quasi-biblical phrasing - "There will be a day of reckoning for the Iraqi regime, and that day is drawing in near" - and an almost total absence of words of more than three syllables.
Other experts disagree, pointing out that these consistencies originate with speech writers rather then the president himself, and that Bush's main vocal technique - the bewildered pause - is only too easy to imitate.
Several observers noted that the president's eyes seemed too close together; others believed them to be too far apart (when viewed on a 21in TV screen, you shouldn't be able to fit a pound coin between them, according to one rule of thumb). It is telling, they say, that Mr Bush made his first appearance in front of combat service personnel, none of whom are likely to have known him closely during his days with the Texas National Guard.
So if it's not him, who is it? Some experts suspect that this might be a heretofore unknown Bush brother, a family sleeper who has been groomed to step in at times of crisis, or even George Bush Sr on his first outing following a recent toupee fitting and a course of Botox injections.
Yesterday's appearance has also given fresh credence to outlandish claims that Mr Bush's public outings have long been undertaken by an animatronic puppet especially built for Dick Cheney in the mid-1990s.
If this is true, then where is the real George Bush? Has he been killed or kidnapped, or is he just sitting at home talking back to the television?
It has been pointed out by several observers that Tony Blair, who has become close to Mr Bush over the course of many private meetings, would never be fooled by any sort of stand-in. It remains a distinct possibility, however, that Mr Blair has only ever met a particular lookalike, perhaps one who has been specially trained to appear committed to peace and international stability.
For now, Bush-watchers are refusing to say publicly whether or not this is the real president of the United States or a clever, surgically-altered lookalike.
Privately, however, they have carefully observed this confused-looking man, with his stiff, empty gestures and false gravitas.
They have noted his peculiar phrasing, which gives little indication that he understands the content of what he is saying.
They have examined his every doomsday platitude, scrutinised his baffled expression and noted that he seems uncomfortable and completely lost whenever the teleprompter is switched off.
And they have concluded that it must really be him.
from today's "Guardian" www.guardian.co.uk