George Bush ducks his critics

December 19, 2008

He can't acknowledge U.S. failure in Iraq, so George Bush responds as if he's been confronted by a lone difficult schoolboy who was "just trying to draw attention to himself."

IF ONLY he could have done it a week earlier, Muntader al-Zaidi's display of hurling shoes at George Bush would have been unbeatable in the vote for Overseas Sports Personality of the Year.

It was especially brilliant given that one of the ways international security has tightened at potential targets is to check for explosives hidden in people's shoes. Now in Baghdad, the security forces will grabbing people and saying, "Can I look inside your bag of semtex to check you're not using it to conceal a pair of sandals."

Film of the incident is the most popular clip in the world, and confirms Bush's presidency as ending in humiliation, as if he's some foul old relative that's round for Christmas, and all of America is muttering, "How much bloody longer is he staying? Another five weeks? Can't we drive out to Alaska and leave him with a pack of seals? Surely that can't be unconstitutional."

To reinforce his image, his response to the thrown shoes was to suggest that Mr. al-Zaidi was "just trying to draw attention to himself." Yes, that's it. He might say it was a protest about the war and occupation, but really, he's an exhibitionist who was turned down for Iraq's Got Talent, so he threw the shoes as a desperate attempt to get on the telly.

But in a sense what else can Bush say or think? He believed he'd be welcomed as a liberator, but after five years is despised to the point where a man throwing shoes at him has become an instant national hero. He can't acknowledge this failure, so Bush responds as if he's been confronted by a lone difficult schoolboy.

If he saw a suicide bomber drive into a convoy and blow up half the barracks, he'd say, "Honestly, it's your own time you're wasting you know." Maybe that's why the occupation's been more awkward than he thought--the whole place has Attention Deficit Disorder, or they've been eating too many Cheesy Wotsits.

The attention-seeking al-Zaidi has been charged with a "barbaric and ignominious act." Which could be considered ironic, given that his complaint is that Bush has caused a million deaths, ethnic cleansing and swiped the bulk of the country's resources. Whereas al-Zaidi threw shoes and called Bush a "dog." It's like if Josef Fritzl's daughter said, "You've been a pig to me Dad," and he replied, "Oh, how barbaric. I know we've had our differences but there's no need for language like that."

But in one sense, Bush can be forgiven for his surprise at being disliked in Baghdad. Like all politicians to visit the place, he only sees the absurdly protected bit in one surreal corner. Then, from behind billions of dollars' worth of security, they pronounce everything's going nicely. They're like someone going to a holiday complex in Tangiers and saying, "Well I've been to Africa, and I can tell you all this stuff about some of them starving is complete nonsense."

They're so protected from genuine opinion that when they accidentally encounter the wrath that so many feel for them, they have to write it off as a piece of nonsense. Hated rulers throughout history have behaved like this, from Louis XVI to Ceausescu in Romania, believing that the people screaming at them are a handful of unrepresentative idiots. When Mussolini was being strung up, he probably thought, "Let them get this out of their system and I'll be back to normal by half past three".

Many of the same journalists now accept the line that the occupation is working because things are "getting better." But that's because the killing and ethnic cleansing unleashed by the occupation is mostly complete. You might as well say, "There's excellent news from the hospital. Grandad's not had that pain in his stomach for over a week now. They do also say that's because he's dead, but it proves he's getting better."

So Muntader al-Zaidi has been arrested and could face several years in jail, despite the fact that he's supported by vast numbers of demonstrating Sunnis and Shias, in a country that has been "given back to the Iraqis." The man should be hailed Man of the Year.

And if politicians really want to reconnect politics with the people, his example should be copied. If some tedious orchestrated press conference with Jack Straw or George Osborne was likely to end with them diving under the podium to shelter from a volley of Dr. Martins, a few more people might bother to watch.

First published in the Independent.

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