The Times’ Dec. 16 editorial, “Bush’s shoe toss,” takes an appropriate and interesting look at the “history of footwear and politics” and the reactions by President Bush and the Iraqis immediately following the incident. The Times notes how deftly Bush ducked and made light of the “size 10" shoes hurled at him, and we read about how the shoe was “laced” with blame, insult and pent-up anger. We also read about how deeply insulting such a “shoe episode” is in the Arab world, especially when accompanied by the words “you dog.”
However, the editorial leaves out two very important points. One of them is symptomatic of Bush’s disconnect with reality and with the cultures and norms of the rest of the world. The second one is indicative of Bush’s low regard for American public opinion -- and therefor the American people.
First, Bush’s “making light of the incident” continued into several of the post-incident interviews: “It’s like going to a political rally and having people yell at you,” or, “It was bizarre. And it was an interesting way for a person to express himself,” and, “Here’s a person that obviously was longing for notoriety, and he achieved it.”
Does Bush have any clue as to the cultural significance of such an incident? The shoe thrower, an Iraqi journalist, was not longing for notoriety. This was not a political rally, and the incident was not “bizarre.” In the Arab world, throwing a show at someone’s face is one of the worst insults for a person to make to another human being. As a matter of fact, 29-year-old Muntather Zaidi was actually risking his personal safety, his freedom and conceivably even his life to let the president know that he considered him to be a “dog” and that the shoes were “from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq.”
These are not quite the adulatory deeds and words a modern-day liberator would have liked to see and hear during what was supposed to be his victory lap through the liberated territories.
According to subsequent news reports, many other Iraqis and Middle Eastern people applauded the words and deeds of this journalist and are hailing him as a national hero for Iraq. While I personally do not approve of such demonstrations of hate and disrespect toward our president, these are serious facts the president and his administration are trying to ignore or trivialize.
Second, during a post-incident interview with ABC News’ Martha Raddatz, Bush claimed that one of the major theaters in the fight against Al Qaeda turned out to be Iraq. Raddatz corrected him, “But not until after the U.S. invaded.” Bush replied, “Yeah, that’s right. So what?” Bush then went into his tired denials of the following facts: There was no Al Qaeda presence in Iraq before Bush invaded that country; Saddam Hussein viewed Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda as threats that he would have never tolerated in Iraq; and Al Qaeda’s emergence in Iraq is totally attributable to Bush’s invasion and occupation of that country.
But what is even more offensive than Bush’s attempts to ignore or deny the facts are the condescending, arrogant implications carried by those two little words, “So what?”
Most Americans remember with incredulity and disgust Vice President Dick Cheney’s similarly arrogant and condescending answer when the same ABC News correspondent asked him what he thought about polls that indicated two-thirds of Americans believed that the war in Iraq was not worth fighting and that the cost in lives was not worth the gains.
Cheney responded with one single word: “So?”
While Americans may soon forget Bush’s “size 10" shoes comments, words such as “so what” will not be easily forgotten, as they go to the very character of Bush and Cheney. History will remember these two quotes, so small in words yet so huge in implication.
Dorian de Wind is a retired major in the U.S. Air Force.