Monday, December 15, 2008
It's come to this: President George Bush, in Iraq for the last time as president, comes under fire for the first time in his visits there. It was hostile fire that was more symbolic than literal, and it distills everything there is to be distilled about Iraq, the United States and the tragic American misadventure we might as well start calling the Bush II Iraq War.
On Sunday, Bush arrived in Baghdad for a surprise visit to celebrate the signing of the Status of Forces Agreement, which makes sure U.S. defense contractors can maintain their cash flow from the U.S. government until 2011. Bush appeared at a news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Moments after Bush shook hands with Maliki, TV reporter Muntazer al-Zaidi, a Shiite reporter for independent al-Baghdadiya television, stood and shouted "this is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog," as he threw two! shoes at Bush, narrowly missing him both times.
Zaidi is said to have nursed a deep resentment of Bush for the thousands of Iraqis who died after the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion. He also reportedly was briefly kidnapped by gunmen in 2007, and mistakenly detained by U.S. forces.
Exposing the sole of one’s shoe is a serious insult in Iraqi culture; throwing a shoe is worse. Think back to when Saddam's statue was pulled down in that square in April 2003. Iraqis expressed their outrage with Saddam by paddling the remnants of the statue with their shoes as it was dragged through the city's streets.
(Imagine if Zaidi had a bucket of shoes at his disposal; the sight of an Iraqi citizen continuing this airborne Florsheim attack on the President of the United States — like target practice at the county fair — would have been YouTube irresistible.)
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But leave it to Bush to underscore this minor international incident with the flippancy he seems to think it deserves.
"I thought it was interesting," Bush told CBS a little later, "I thought it was weird to have a guy throw a show at you." It was a statement that, with all its painful and incurious honesty, reflected the disconnect between Bush and the heritage and the culture of the people his invasion purported to rescue.
A more sensitive leader would have realized that, given what's happened to Iraq in the last five years, there was nothing weird about that response at all.
Considering the Iraqi civilian dead (perhaps in the hundreds of thousands), a battered infrastructure and the enduring ignominy of being occupied by a foreign power, Iraqi citizens would probably be inclined to making the same gesture to President Bush themselves, if they could. In the greater scheme of things, Zaidi’s response to the events of his country’s decline was a model of restraint.
By intention or by accident, Zaidi symbolized the frustration of the Iraqi people. His shoe-banging moment may go down in Iraqi circles as their Enough Moment, the equivalent of when Army chief counsel Joseph Welch called the question of rabid anti-Communist crusader Sen. Joseph McCarthy in June 1954: “Have you no sense of decency, at long last?”
That may be why Zaidi’s action has resonated positively around the Arab world. The reporter is under arrest, standing accused by the Iraqi government of having done a "barbaric act." Maliki media adviser, Yasin Majeed said Zaidi would stand trial for insulting the Iraqi state.
But his employer, al-Baghdadiya, demanded his release and demonstrators by the thousands rallied on his behalf in Baghdad's Sadr City, in the Shi'ite enclave of Basra and the holy city of Najaf.
"Thanks be to God, Muntazer's act fills Iraqi hearts with pride," his brother, Udai al-Zaidi, told Reuters Television. "I'm sure many Iraqis want to do what Muntazer did. Muntazer used to say all the orphans whose fathers were killed are because of Bush."
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At least one toiler in the video fields took note of something potentially more ominous: KataVideo, on YouTube, features the shoe-throwing incident and notes that it took a full six seconds between the last shoe being thrown and the time it took the Secret Service to protectively respond. Six seconds.
We can therefore be real glad the only attack on Bush on Iraqi soil was from a size 10, rather than something with a more lethal throw weight. It's a good thing we know where Richard Reid is. And now with George Bush safely out of Iraqi air space, we're spared any risk of Bush's international image being accidentally martyred by well-aimed footwear. All respect to Muntazer Zaidi, but applying shoe leather to the president of the United States is our job.
He officially gets the boot from us on Jan. 20 at noon.
Image credit: Top image: Pool camera image via The Huffington Post. Zaidi: Evan Vucci, Associated Press.
Posted by Michael E. Ross at 6:31 PM