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21 Dec, 2008

Sole of Despair: The “Shoeting” of George W. Bush

Originally Published: 21 Dec 2008

It was truly an act of amazing sole-searching – the “shoeting” of the most powerful man on the planet by an Iraqi TV journalist who decided that his footwear could be a more lethal instrument than the pen in expressing an editorial opinion.

When, in a fitting finale to the eight years of the wretched Bush presidency, and a truly historic event in the annals of journalism and Middle East affairs, Muntazer al-Zaidi hurled his shoes at Bush, he was attempting to strike not just Bush the individual but the office of the presidency and the United States as a nation.

Those shoes carried with them the seething frustration, anger and bitterness of the common people of the Arab and Islamic worlds – at the death and destruction caused by the lies over the weapons of mass destruction, the continued killings of civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the empty promises made to deliver on a Palestinian state and the continued attempts to tarnish the name of Islam as part of the “war on terror.”

Never has a US president been attacked by the press in such a brazen way. Neither the US presidency nor press conferences will ever be the same again.

The “shoeting” on Dec 14 came almost exactly a year since the UN climate change conference in Bali where the US government was the target of a verbal shoe hurled by the Papua New Guinea delegate on Dec 15, 2007.

Remember that shoe, the subject of my final column of 2007?

The US delegation was hissed and jeered at the Bali conference, and then told in unequivocal terms by Kevin Conrad, Ambassador of Environment and Climate Change for PNG and Executive Director of the 30-strong Coalition for Rainforest Nations:

“There is an old saying that ‘if you are not willing to lead, then get out of the way’. And I would ask the United States, we ask for your leadership, we seek your leadership, but if for some reason you are not willing to lead, leave it to the rest of us. Please get out of the way.”

Here’s what I wrote then: “A fitting finale to yet another epochal year, Arnold’s rallying cry will resonate widely in this final year of the Bush administration, when the world will wait in suspense to see whether it exits gracefully, or leaves behind more environmental and geopolitical disasters.”

As the end of the first decade of the 21st century nears, and with it the Bush presidency, the global economy is looking like just as much a war zone as all the other hot-spots of military conflict the Bush presidency is leaving behind.

In the past year, hundreds more have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US is spending billions of dollars on those wars, piling up a monumental debt burden for future generations.

Global warming and terrorism remain serious problems. Globalisation is in tatters as once famous brand-name multinationals ignominiously bite the dust.

The big three US automobile companies are on life support. Billions are being spent on bailouts of the same companies which just a few years ago were advising us in Asia on how to get our act together and eradicate the cronyism, corruption and nepotism in our ranks.

Companies like Lehman Brothers are history. Just last week, another alleged scam was exposed, the Madoff Foundation, run by the Jewish-American “investor” Bernard Madoff.

Reported the Washington Post, “It was all one big lie.” Yes, just like the non-existent WMDs in Iraq, lies that were crafted by the likes of Paul Wolfowitz and uttered in the highest forum of global diplomacy, the United Nations, by the then US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Commented the Washington Post, “It may be the largest fraud in the history of Wall Street, authorities said. Madoff is charged with stealing as much as $50 billion, in part to cover a pattern of massive losses, even as he cultivated a reputation as a financial mastermind and prominent philanthropist.”

“Cultivated a reputation?” How so? Who organised the spin-doctoring? The public relations, advertising and brand-building companies and their cohorts in the gullible mainstream media? Will they be held accountable? How many more scams are still waiting to be popped?

We know all about “prominent philanthropists” in Asia. Currency speculator George Soros is also described as being one, the guy who attacked the baht in 1997.

The only US companies that will never require a bailout are in the defence and aerospace sectors – the so-called “merchants of death”. No shortage of business and profits in that department.

There is one silver lining, however. Democracy has really come to the Middle East. Clearly, that is major triumph for Bush whose revised objective, after the WMD claim turned out to be a non-starter, was to “spread freedom and democracy” throughout the Middle East.

The freedom to pelt a shoe at a US president should be the ultimate indicator of success of that policy. Yet, what happened to the hapless reporter? He got beaten up.

No doubt other Middle East leaders are also now in fear of facing a similar “shoeting”, especially those who have betrayed their own people and the Palestinians.

Indeed, just about every president, prime minister and head of state in the world would have pondered the prospects of being struck by flying footwear.

I wonder what Barack Obama thought when he saw the images on TV. Probably something alone the lines of: “Would I want to suffer a similar fate at the end of my presidency?”

And what was the Bush family thinking? What a tragic humiliation for his wife and children to see Bush being given the same treatment as Saddam Hussein’s statue after it was toppled from grace in 2003.

The Bush presidency has set the US on track to becoming a failed state, and the consequences will be deep, broad and long-lasting.

Happy New Year, anyway!