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December 16, 2008

Whistling in the Dark

Roy Meachum

Among all presidents, George W. Bush appears the champion; he whistles in the dark best. The old expression may not be used much these days; it means making noises to scare possible boogey men away.


When he pronounced, at a Baghdad news conference, "The war is not is decisively on its way to being won," an Iraqi journalist threw both shoes at the lame-duck politician, shouting: "This is a farewell kiss, you dog. This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq."


Immediately, Iraqi security forces wrestled the man to the ground, hauled him off to jail and the interrogations began; his shoes were confiscated as "evidence" in an assault that took place in the world's living rooms – courtesy of video cameras. Showing soles to a Muslim is the worst possible insult and dogs are, at best, unclean animals.


His name is Muntadhar al-Zeidi; the TV reporter was kidnapped two years ago by Shiites, and released three days later. His television station is owned by Baghdadis but based in Cairo, which makes it safe from U.S. and Iraqi control. Within hours, the Egyptian-based transmitters broadcast pleas for his release. The pictures switched to a series of explosions, accompanied by music that denounced the U.S. in Iraq, prompting thousands of Arabs in the streets, including Baghdad.


A 42-year-old Jordanian businessman was quoted: "Al-Zeidi is the man. He did what Arab leaders failed to do." At least not out-loud in public as did the Iraqi journalist. They frequently look the other way when their citizens criticize and mock Washington, which goes on all the time.


Although Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak pockets Washington's billions, he's not about to do anything that unsettles his pan-Arab leadership posture. Indeed, despite words and actions against U.S. interests, both President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice go out of their way to pour praise at Mr. Mubarak's feet.


Indeed, Ms. Rice earns no more respect among Arabs than her boss. As a sidebar to the Baghdad story, Palestinian journalists were depicted as wondering how they could pull an al-Zeidi on the secretary to embarrass her.


Whatever his feeling when the first shoe whizzed toward him, Mr. Bush later told reporters he found the incident funny; he did not mean peculiar, the word's other use. He communicated, as the U.S. president, the tossing of the shoes was amusing. The Secret Service would disagree. The man in the White House and his protectors should be thankful the Iraqi journalist did not heave a weapon more destructive.


Whether "funny," or something much worse, the president and all his men (and women) should not have been surprised at a demonstration. They got off lucky. Traveling to Iraq and Afghanistan a little more than a month before leaving the Oval Office was not only dangerous but outright dumb.


As demonstrated by his remarks, Mr. Bush seriously hoped the visit would resonate with good vibrations as did his appearance on a moored aircraft carrier off California's coast. It's a different world. The only crowd that approved was military in Afghanistan, following orders.


His only real hope of drastically changing his personal and official image was assassination. And that was not really in the cards. Subconsciously the thought may have been there but vetoed by his conscious state. Furthermore, his civilian and military protectors would have been totally disgraced; they couldn't let it happen.


Despite tiny lapses in security, such as the shoe tossing revealed, he returned home Sunday night, nothing changed. As January 20 approaches, George W. Bush's presence diminishes day by day.


Denying the president-elect early space in the Blair House – in order for the family to be on hand when the daughters start a new school – was unworthy of the office but typical of the administration. Whoever was booked should have made way for the next president of the United States. For all his assumed accent, Mr. Bush never learned the essence of Texas' manners and courtesy.


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