Bush ducks flying shoes in Iraq

A Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President Bush has become a folk hero in Iraq. But did he inadvertently do President Bush a favor?

President Bush’s surprise, valedictory trip to Iraq and Afghanistan this week was overshadowed by a bizarre incident during a Baghdad press conference, when an Iraqi journalist hurled his shoes at Bush—a profound insult in Arabic culture. Bush was touting Iraq’s “hopeful gains” when TV journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi launched his shoes at Bush’s head while shouting, “This is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog.” Bush dodged the projectiles, and al-Zaidi was tackled by Iraqi security.

Prior to the incident, Bush virtually declared victory in Iraq, saying the war “is decidedly on its way to being won.” Bush later visited Kabul, where he acknowledged the resurgence of the Taliban and said the U.S. would not abandon Afghanistan. Al-Zaidi, meanwhile, quickly became a folk hero in Iraq, as thousands rallied, demanding his release from custody.

“Al-Zaidi obviously doesn’t deserve a Pulitzer,” said Tony Norman in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. But it’s not surprising that he is being lionized by his countrymen. A new U.S. report on Iraq’s reconstruction found that America has done far more to enrich contractors than to help Iraqis recover from the U.S. invasion and subsequent chaos. A new Senate report, meanwhile, lays the blame for the abuses at Abu Ghraib directly on former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other top White House officials. So in his crude way, al-Zaidi was doing the journalist’s proper job: “Speaking truth to power.”

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In that case, the attack backfired, said John Dickerson in Slate.com. Instead of being forced to address his failures, Bush was handed an opportunity to play the likable regular guy, joking that he saw the attacker’s “sole.” Indeed, the shoe incident “may be the best thing that has happened to Bush in months.” Americans may not like Bush, but they also don’t appreciate the sight of an American leader being insulted. “You can’t throw shoes at our president,” many Americans are now thinking. “Only we can throw shoes at our president.”

Imagine if someone had dared throw a shoe at Saddam Hussein, said Ralph Peters in the New York Post. That al-Zaidi knew he could pull this stunt without being tortured and killed proves “what a great thing has been accomplished in Iraq.” Thanks to Bush, Iraq is probably the only country in the Middle East besides Israel that doesn’t consider vibrant displays of democracy a capital offense.

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