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If the Shoe Fits – Throw It at the Occupier

with 3 comments

george missed the point, as usual

george missed the point, as usual

In 2003 the press made a big hoo hah about the fact that it was a deep insult in Iraq to toss ones shoes at the object of derision. It was around the time the mission was “accomplished” and a toppled statue of Saddam was being dragged around being pelted with shoes by the incensed (and relieved) citizenry. Five and a half years later, at the other end of that war, and flying shoes have once again hit the headlines in Iraq. With Saddam long gone, the proud recipient of the double shoe-toss was the man responsible for ousting aforesaid dictator. President Bush.

Shouted the size-ten shoe-tosser in Arabic, identified as Muntadar al-Zeidi, a correspondent for Al-Baghdadia television, an Iraqi-owned station based in Cairo, “This is a farewell kiss, you dog!”

That’s gratitude for ya.

You don’t get into a press conference with the President of the United States unless you’re checked for weapons, but the means to hurl an insult at POTUS isn’t removed. You can still shout one out, or toss one, or even two shoes if the mood takes you, and you don’t mind being roughed up the Secret Service. Poor George staked his entire presidency on spreading Democracy to Iraq, and what does he get for his troubles? The shoe. It might have been a shock to him (although his reflexes are more impressive than his abilities as Commander in Chief) but it shouldn’t have been. We weren’t greeted as liberators in ’03, so it’s hardly surprising our President isn’t greeted as one five years later.

But in a wider sense, there always has been something sad about the Iraqi response to America’s relieving them of a brutal dictatorship. I mean, putting aside whether we should have been there in the first place, shouldn’t the Iraqi people have been just a little bit grateful? One can understand Dick Cheney’s mistake. He was brought up on tales of the Second World War. When the peoples of Europe were liberated from the Nazis, they made sure the GIs knew how grateful they were. The flowers, the kisses, the tears, the sheer joy. But the moment the Iraqis were liberated, they went on a looting spree from which the place never recovered. And things only got worse from there. The goodwill towards American sacrifice has never been more than a glimmer of a smile, or a polite but private thank you, and to this day, any Iraqi public figure who attempts to be magnanimous towards “the occupier” is committing political suicide (and maybe the non-political kind too).

Even the term “occupation” seems odd. We “liberated” the place, but quickly became “the occupier”, suggesting that we were camped there for our own good rather than the Iraqi good. Not true. America has spent hundreds of billions to rebuild and police that fractious country, deeply denting the public purse. We’ve lost over four thousand dead, thousands more wounded, and many thousands more scarred for life by their experiences. The nation has faced scorn and insult for our unstinting dedication to that oil-rich state, but Iraqi gratitude for all that sacrifice has been grudging at best, whether the gift was candy for kids, or sewers for neighborhoods. America risks even more derision when we withdraw at the end of 2011. Regardless of what happens, there will be Jihadists, insurgents, and regular citizens in Iraq and in neighboring countries who will regard our orderly departure according to agreed guidelines as a humiliating retreat, in the same way that Saddam Hussein surmised rightly during the first Gulf War that “if I survive, I win”. And there will be those who will use the resulting power vacuum to wreak havoc, knowing “the occupier” will not return.

Clearly in the battle for “hearts and minds” the flying shoe was just the latest in the torrent of insults that show we were the profound loser in the battle of ideas. But why were we the loser? Sure, we misunderstood the Iraqi and Muslim mindset, and yes, our Arabic was rusty at best, and yes there were the occasional bad apples in our armed forces, and among our mercenary contractors, but so what? The bottom line in all this is that we helped Iraq and its people out, big time. We gave them their freedom. We put them on the road to self-determination. Where was the national thank-you?

There wasn’t one. And here, perhaps is the reason. National gratitude is only possible when the nation has a unity of identity and purpose. Iraq never has been, is not, and never will be a nation. It is a a far-away piece of colonial gerrymandering that has little cohesion. Its post-colonial fit of pique has already been going on for decades, a whole quarter-century of which was under Saddam, and it continues to rage against its frankensteinian roots. Its three constituent parts had very different responses to the ‘liberation’. A large proportion of the minority Sunnis were happy to live under the Tikriti heel as long as they were the favored minority. The Kurds had essentially been liberated after first Gulf War, and were only interested in an united Kurdistan. And as for the majority Shiites, the various religiously driven factions seeking new-found power all looked to the ‘street’ for support, trying to trump each other by feeding the myth that Great Satan was here to put the hurt on their ability to avenge their humiliation under Sunni Saddam.

The flying shoe must have been a humiliating moment for President Bush, but its roots came years before when we were not greeted as liberators. One wonders whether Dick Cheney ever asked the simple question, why? If he had, he would have realized that he and the neo-cons had made the single most awful mistake in American Foreign Policy history.

3 Responses

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  1. Consider the alternatives al-Zaidi passed up


    December 15, 2008 at 9:10 pm

  2. I understand your feelings, Janetta, but my point is that while we’ve made many mistakes in Iraq (including being there in the first place), we did do these guys a big favor. When a nation is liberated, a nation is grateful. Iraq is not grateful, ergo it is not a nation.


    December 15, 2008 at 8:21 am

  3. When will Bush ever tell the Iraqi people that he is sorry? Sorry for the loss of innocent iraqi lives. I think, that a supposingly ‘Christian’ president, he should have sympathized with the reporter that threw his shoes at him. He instead, spoke like an errogent A-hole commenting jokingly the size of the shoe thrown!
    Him and All americans have blood on our hands. Shame on him and all of us for letting this happen.

    This is My feelings as A Native American Indian.


    December 15, 2008 at 5:46 am

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