The Sole of a Nation
Monday, December 15, 2008; 11:53 AM
Reality made a dramatic cameo appearance when President Bush's legacy tour touched down in Baghdad yesterday and a shoe-hurling Iraqi journalist refused to go along with the charade that the invasion of his country was something to celebrate.
Bush, as part of his series of carefully choreographed farewell statements, has been making every effort to suggest that victory is around the corner in the two unfinished wars he leaves behind him (one undertaken under false pretenses, both vastly more protracted and costly than expected). The implicit message is that if anything goes wrong from this point forward, it will be Barack Obama's fault.
But yesterday, one rebellious Iraqi reporter -- and two flying items of footwear -- punctured Bush's historical revisionism and offered a powerful metaphor for the counter-argument that the war was a disastrous mistake and is far from over.
Indeed, the White House spin on Iraq falls apart under close analysis. The security situation is undoubtedly improved over two years ago, but the fact that Iraqis aren't currently engaged in a massive bloodletting is a pretty low standard for success. There are few signs of genuine political reconciliation. And despite Bush's insistence yesterday that the war "is decisively on its way to being won," if victory means a peaceful, secular, democratic and pro-Western Iraq, we aren't necessarily close at all.
There is plenty of reason to suspect, for instance, that the timetable for troop withdrawal -- which Bush, in a humiliating reversal, recently agreed to under pressure from Iraq's government -- will also serve as a timetable for the resumption of a civil war between Sunnis and Shiites, both of whom have consolidated power during the relative lull.
And let's not forget one other piece of context: According to public opinion polls, a significant majority of Americans have long believed that the Bush administration deliberately misled the American public in the run-up to war, that the war was a mistake, and that it wasn't worth it.
Steven Lee Myers and Alissa J. Rubin write in the New York Times: "President Bush made a valedictory visit on Sunday to Iraq, the country that will largely define his legacy, but the trip will more likely be remembered for the unscripted moment when an Iraqi journalist hurled his shoes at Mr. Bush's head and denounced him on live television as a 'dog' who had delivered death and sorrow here from nearly six years of war.
"The drama unfolded shortly after Mr. Bush appeared at a news conference in Baghdad with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to highlight the newly adopted security agreement between the United States and Iraq. The agreement includes a commitment to withdraw all American forces by the end of 2011.
"The Iraqi journalist, Muntader al-Zaidi, 28, a correspondent for Al Baghdadia, an independent Iraqi television station, stood up about 12 feet from Mr. Bush and shouted in Arabic: 'This is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog!' He then threw a shoe at Mr. Bush, who ducked and narrowly avoided it.
"As stunned security agents and guards, officials and journalists watched, Mr. Zaidi then threw his other shoe, shouting in Arabic, 'This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq!' That shoe also narrowly missed Mr. Bush as Prime Minister Maliki stuck a hand in front of the president's face to help shield him. . . .
"The shoe-throwing incident in Baghdad punctuated Mr. Bush's visit here -- his fourth -- in a deeply symbolic way, reflecting the conflicted views in Iraq of a man who toppled Saddam Hussein, ordered the occupation of the country and brought it freedoms unthinkable under Mr. Hussein's rule but at enormous costs.
"Hitting someone with a shoe is considered the supreme insult in Iraq. It means that the target is even lower than the shoe, which is always on the ground and dirty. Crowds hurled their shoes at the giant statue of Mr. Hussein that stood in Baghdad's Firdos Square before helping American marines pull it down on April 9, 2003, the day the capital fell. More recently in the same square, a far bigger crowd composed of Iraqis who had opposed the security agreement flung their shoes at an effigy of Mr. Bush before burning it."