Bush Iraq Trip: Hit by Shoes, Cheered by Troops
President Bush made a surprise farewell visit to Iraq and Afghanistan, suffering the indignity of having an Iraqi journalist hurl his shoes at him but being greeted warmly by American troops.
Sudarsan Raghavan and Dan Eggen for WaPo:
In Iraq, Bush said the conflict “has not been easy” but was necessary for U.S. security, Iraqi stability and “world peace.” He hailed a recently signed but still controversial security pact as a sign of impending victory. “There is still more work to be done. The war is not over,” Bush said, with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki next to him. “But with the conclusion of this agreement . . . it is decidedly on its way to being won.”
Just after Bush finished his remarks and said “Thank you” in Arabic, an Iraqi journalist took off his shoes and threw them at Bush, one after the other. Throwing a shoe at someone is considered the worst possible insult in Iraq and is meant to show extreme disrespect and contempt. When U.S. forces helped topple a statue of Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein after rolling into Baghdad in April 2003, jubilant Iraqis beat the statue’s face with their shoes.
Bush was not injured and joked about the incident minutes later: “If you want the facts, it’s a size 10 shoe that he threw. Thank you for your concern; do not worry about it.”
He fared a bit better in his visit to the 18th Airborne Corps (via Jim Hoft):
It’s an odd juxtaposition. The shoe thrower, “identified as Muntadar al-Zaidi, a reporter with the Cairo-based al-Baghdadia television network” was, according to colleagues, “kidnapped by Shiite militiamen last year and later released.” His resentment over the war, then, is understandable; the degree to which it’s representative of Iraqi public opinion is unclear.
American troops, especially those deployed into a hostile fire zone, are going to be thrilled to see their commander-in-chief and their enthusiasm is to be expected. Their unanimity is also, of course, a function of the chain of command, so one shouldn’t read too much into their vote of approval.
It’ll be interesting to see which attitude is more prevalent, say, ten years from now. While falling far short of its original objectives of creating a shining Arab democracy that would create a chain reaction throughout the region, we’re on a path to pull back much of our troop presence and turn security over to the Iraqis. It’s not inconceivable that Bush will be considered a heroic figure at some point in time, despite an invasion which spawned a bloody conflict.
It’s much less likely that Bush’s image will be rehabilitated at home. It’s quite likely that, contrary to what most of us expected even a few months ago, that Iraq will be a footnote to his legacy and the financial crisis — which happened on his watch even if it’s not his fault — will be what he’s remembered for.