The tragedies behind the Bush Victory Lap of the Middle East

The Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at George W. Bush has refocused attention on the plight of an occupied people

There’s something rather ugly in this week’s George W. Bush Memorial Victory Lap of countries he has invaded. There’s also something quite tragic in seeing a man who is supposed to be the so-called Leader of the Free World regaling assembled soldiers with fairy tales about how close we all are to “victory” in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The ugliness and the tragedy grow exponentially with each resulting unnecessary death – be it of a US or coalition soldier, or an Afghan or Iraqi soldier or citizen. The Bush assertion is brazen and smacks of the kind of desperation that comes as W may finally realize he has the anti-Midas touch. Everything has turned to the proverbial and his stamp is all over it.

Sure Iraq may be free of its tyrannical leader but it is a disaster zone with at the very least tens of thousands dead. Afghanistan, according to all but W is a deteriorating mess, fast on its way to official failed state status.

Instead of acknowledgement of such, Bush has insisted on telling the world that these places are so much safer and better off now he’s had six years of meddling with them. It's like some Grade One level learn-to-read tale. See George. George goes to dangerous places. George leaves the Green Zone. Nasty journalist chucks shoes at George. George ducks. George is clever. George jokes about shoe size. George is funny. Brave George.

Next George goes in secret to a second dangerous place. George tells soldiers fairy tales. George knows victory is a-l-m-o-s-t there. Only George knows this. George is clever. Brave George.

The utterly surprising aspect of the shoe tossing is that it hasn’t been done before, but then George has only ever been within the protective enclosure of a US airbase on his previous ‘missions’ to Ee-rak.

Bush’s reaction to having had a couple of size tens hurled at him was to make light of it. Treat it as a bit of a prank. Had he been more savvy about the culture of the country he was in at the time he might have tied it all together with the significance of shoes as a weapon.

It would be unfair to expect he would know the full history of shoes in the Middle East, but damn it man, don’t you remember how the Iraqis took off their shoes and used them to beat their frustrations on the statues of Saddam the US soldiers pulled down in Baghdad? Shoes are never worn in mosques – they are not worthy. Shoes are lowly and to be under the shoe is the status of the vanquished.

But even more than that, what Bush couldn’t grasp was that a journalist who has been reporting on this war for years had finally had a gutsful of the jaunty nature of Bush’s brink-of-victory address.

Nowhere in the speech nor the delivery by the USCommander in Chief was there remorse for the dead and injured Iraqis – innocent under Hussein, innocent under foreign occupation. So a journalist finally boiled over and, as his shoes took flight towards Bush, he yelled his attack was for the widows and orphans of those killed in the war. Muntadhar al Zaidi told Bush the shoes were a “farewell kiss, you dog”.

Journalists as a rule should not become the story anymore than they should let their own feelings or prejudices interfere in the story they are telling. Nor should they abuse the subjects of their story, so this is no mitigation on the Iraqi’s part. Equally this is no normal situation.

At the time of the press conference the political world was abuzz with the New York Times scoop on the massive blunders that have seen billions of dollars literally poured down the gutter as infighting and lack of accountability has dominated what is officially known as rebuilding Iraq.

The Times published details from a previously secret 513-page federal report which “depicts an effort crippled before the invasion by Pentagon planners who were hostile to the idea of rebuilding a foreign country, and then moulded into a $100 billion failure by bureaucratic turf wars, spiralling violence and ignorance of the basic elements of Iraqi society and infrastructure”.

The report even goes so far as accusing the Pentagon of “inflating” the progress being made on rebuilding to cover up the disasters. For example, then Secretary of State Colin Powell is quoted on the invention of numbers of Iraqi Security forces – “the number would jump 20,000 a week! We now have 80,000, we now have 100,000, we now have 120,000”.

It is a poignant example because at the same time we can all remember the troops on the ground being bewildered at such numbers supposedly ready, willing and able to assist and “step up as we (America) step down”. Despite the obvious surplus of shoes in Iraq there’s not a hell of a lot of stepping up going on and now we know why.

But wait there’s more.

As if to throw mace in the eyes of the Iraqis, Muntadhar al Zaidi included, Vice President Dick Cheney has conceded that America would have gone into Iraq even if they “knew” there were no weapons of mass destruction.

The world, he says, is better off without Saddam Hussein, and despite the intelligence the Bush administration was given being wrong or “off” in its “major judgements”, the war was the right thing to do.

The trouble for Cheney is that very, very recently his boss, also on ABC, had been making sorrowful noises and regrets about the level of intelligence that had provided the evidence for the warmongers to set sail. Bush described this as a “do-over” he couldn’t do.

To go back to the theme of ugliness and tragedy, they are in the lies the world was told. The war was sold on the basis of there being a real nuclear threat to the US. It was Condi Rice who talked mushroom clouds.

There were nuclear inspectors who said they couldn’t find any nuclear weapons but they were brushed aside in favour of dragging up the tale of how Hussein killed his own Kurdish people with poisoned gas. Forget that such a massacre of his own had happened before Bush 1 fought the first Gulf War.

It was an inconvenient truth then but in W's White House it was still worth plucking off the shelf and refashioning to try and prop up a fallacy.

Now the two top architects – Bush W and Cheney – seem to think they can save their tarnished reputations. They deserve nothing more than to limp off the stage and remain haunted by the lives they have cost.

They have proven to be the mortal threat. They have provided the weapons of mass destruction, only it is the destruction of a country other than the US. It is thanks to a journalist in Iraq who had finally had enough of the hypocrisy because he lives the reality on a minute-by-minute basis, that the focus has again turned to the fate of an occupied people. His defiance has made him a hero on the Arab streets. His family, however, fears for his physical safety.

It is supposed to be the season of goodwill to all men, but it seems more appropriate to speak in terms of “if the shoe fits”. Bush has his shoevenir video to remember his follies by. In terms of an actual Christmas present, he should be praying that his assailant is merely prosecuted, not tortured or harmed, otherwise wouldn’t that make a complete mockery of his Memorial Victory lap and the freedom he has brought to the people of Iraq?

After all, "A shoe in the hand is worth two at the Bush."