Bob Hope has been entertaining American combat troops for nearly 50 years, but he never made a road trip like the one this year. Not only are reporters forbidden to report the location of his Operation Desert Shield shows; they are forbidden to report all his jokes. It is said that his brand of humor ("This is Bob -- '110 in the shade and no beer allowed' -- Hope, and I wanna tell yah. . .") might offend or insult deeply religious Saudi Arabians -- and be used by Iraqi propagandists to create Arab resentment of the United States and of our Arab allies.
We find this censorship strange. For one thing, NBC is taping the shows and will broadcast a special on Jan. 12. For another, some of Mr. Hope's famous gags rely on such a very special American decoding of his sly and brilliant combination of leer, wink, whistle, shrug, mock innocence, double take and double entendre that the best cryptanalysts in Baghdad wouldn't even know that local mores were being mocked.
The Hope tour was also forbidden to take scantily clad female singers and dancers into the Arabian desert. This restriction is understandable, since Saudi women must be veiled and their bodies covered in public. It is probably a harmless restriction, too, since no power on earth can keep Bob Hope from communicating the idea of the pinup to the imagination of GIs.
We mean, of course, male GIs. There are plenty of female GIs in combat areas in the region and in Bob Hope's audiences. "Your mother wears combat boots" used to be an insult, but no longer. We assume Mr. Hope has a routine for them, too. We wonder -- we guess we'll find out on Jan. 12 -- if he took along any hunks in bikinis for them. Saudis don't forbid bare male limbs.
The Hope tour began Christmas Eve and has several more stops -- in parts of the Gulf more willing to let Americans be Americans. Good thing, too. Americans are divided on whether there can be a war without a congressional declaration, but we are 100 percent behind the idea that you can't have one without the real Bob Hope.