Tuesday, December 16, 2008
The Defining Moment
Our now legacy-conscious president made what should be his final surprise visit to Iraq this weekend, and lo and behold, left us with what I predict will be the defining moment of his presidency. As he was giving a talk side by side with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki, an Iraqi journalist named Muntazer al-Zaidi threw first one shoe, and then the other at the “leader of the free world.” As he did so, he shouted,
“It is the farewell kiss, you dog.”
Though both shoes missed the U.S. president—he ducked the first, and Maliki deflected the second—the report of the double insult rocketed around the world. For the reporter had not only called Iraq’s self-proclaimed liberator a “dog,” itself an insult, but threw his shoes in a culture where such an act is considered the ultimate insult. Or rather, the soles of shoes are the ultimate insult; after Saddam Hussein’s statue was torn down in Baghdad, some Iraqis slapped its severed head with the soles of their shoes.
President Bush, of course, was quick to dismiss the incident as bizarre and limited, saying “I don’t think you can take one guy throwing shoes and say, this represents a broad movement in Iraq.” But the damage has been done. Bush has taken the reputation of the United States to such abysmal depths that even a common reporter, one from a country we are told should be grateful for the sacrifice of U.S. lives and U.S. treasure, dares to hurl public insults at its most exalted figure.
In short, though one must worry about what is even now being hurled at this amazingly courageous reporter, it is clear that his act stands as THE defining moment of the Bush presidency. It is more emblematic of what this President has wrought than the Mission Accomplished fiasco, where Bush, in full flight regalia, strutted across the deck of an aircraft carrier after landing in a jet, to assure the assembled sailors and the world that the United States had prevailed in Iraq when, in truth, the most vicious part of the battle was just beginning; more memorable than the “heckuva job Brownie” moment, when Bush praised his head of FEMA for performing so well in the New Orleans drowning, even as New Orleans residents by the thousands were gasping for help.
Yes, this moment tops them all. It is more delicious than an assassination attempt, for a Bush attacker could be characterized as a fanatic or a madman. It is more satisfying than an impeachment, for right wing zealots could easily attribute that to “partisan politics.” This attack, by contrast, came from an Iraqi, a journalist who could be expected to know the score. An Iraqi who should have been bowing down in gratitude to his, and the world’s ‘savior,’ the world’s ‘liberator,’ the world’s ‘messenger of freedom and democracy.’ And instead, the man threw his shoe, both shoes. Called the President a “dog.” In full view of the entire world. And while the President may have been right when he said al-Zaidi doesn’t represent a movement, what he did not say, and would be determined not to recognize, is the overarching truth of this moment. For here, for all time, is the historical judgment on Bush’s doomed Iraqi venture, the burial ceremony of his entire Middle Eastern policy, indeed of his entire presidency: Iraqi shoes thrown as a farewell kiss for a “dog;” a dog who has attacked a country without cause, on false pretenses, imposing on its millions of people the kind of suffering that not even a dog should have to endure.
Could it be any richer? Any more ironic? Remembering that the torture (called enhanced interrogation) that the Bush Administration sanctioned for its prisoners, featured snarling dogs to exploit the Arab fear they incite. Remembering all the metaphors of America’s imperial footprint, and boots on the ground, and the famous shoes of America’s first Iraqi Proconsul, L. Paul Bremer. Remembering also that instead of being welcomed by the garlands and kisses promised to American “liberators” in the runup to the war, the leader of the world’s most powerful nation can now count on being greeted with a pelting of shoes, or rotten fruit, or god knows what else. All of which poses the humiliating question: can the United States still consider itself the world’s sole superpower, the most admired empire in history? It hardly seems so. Its economy is in a shambles. Its public figures have become clowns. Its foreign policy a disaster. Its reputation a joke.
And it is all symbolized, perfectly, by this defining moment: Two shoes hurled at the most powerful man in the world, the “farewell kiss to a dog.” How strange is the eruption of truth. How satisfying and unpredictable the eruption of poetic justice. And how accurate was the prediction of Gore Vidal, eight years ago upon Bush’s ascension to, or rather theft of, the presidency. “He will leave in disgrace,” said Vidal. Who could have imagined how thorough, how vivid, how global that disgrace would be?