Here’s my take, a few days late, on the shoe-throwing incident in Iraq. Because I’m short on time, I’ll keep it simple.
The coverage of this bizarre turn of events has been interesting. The mainstream press has had no problem discussing how the throwing of shoes is the ultimate insult in the Middle East, how this journalist is now being viewed as a hero of sorts (to Bush-hating Iraqis and American journalists alike, I presume), and how the shoe-mania is spreading across the Muslim world. What I haven’t heard from the mainstream press, however, is why this man was permitted to throw his shoes at the American president in the first place.
No, I’m not asking why in the sense that President Bush’s Secret Service detail allowed a man to shout ominous insults–something along the lines of “this is a farewell kiss, you dog!”–and manage to throw not one but two loafers, but rather in the sense that, but for the man at the podium, but for the target of the tossed leather, that Iraqi journalist would not have been able to throw his shoes in disgust at a press conference — at least not allowed to do so without consequence.
Throw a shoe or two at Saddam Hussein and, if he did make it out of the press room alive, that journalist certainly wouldn’t ever be able to wear shoes again.
I know that the Iraq war was started under questionable circumstances. I know that it was mismanaged from the time that Saddam’s statue fell–and was beaten with shoes!–to the time that the Bush/Petraeus surge put more boots on the ground. I know it hasn’t been perfect. Men, women and children have died. Families and communities have been divided and ruined. A country with a rich history went from a stable oppressive dictatorship to a chaotic fledgling democracy.
However, the very freedom which allowed that Iraqi journalist to hurl his size 10s at President George W. Bush without serious consequences was afforded to him by President George W. Bush, a man who stuck with his principles and his hope for democracy and freedom to usurp tyranny, by all accounts a deliberative man of great faith.
I hope, in vain, that this angle is not lost on the many who looked at this story as a humorous one. Not that humor is bad –even the president joked about it later–but that it can, in some cases, cloud the real issues at hand. This incident was a testament to the changes we’ve seen in Iraq. They’re not always pretty, but the fruits of the labor of our fighting men and women are quite evident in the point made so artfully–and likely so unwittingly–by that very shoe-throwing journalist.
We can throw shoes in this country. We can publicly lambaste the sitting president for making bad decisions (as Bush is about to do with regard to this automotive industry bailout). It’s a great country for that reason and more, and I am happy to see that Iraq and the Iraqi people are getting a taste of that same freedom.
(And yes, I put up the Austin Powers video on purpose — by now, everyone has seen the shoe-throwing footage, so I thought I’d mix it up a little.)