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Mark Steel: To George Bush, his critics are just lone difficult schoolboys

It's impossible for the President to acknowledge his failure in Iraq

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

If only he could have done it a week earlier, Muntazer 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 your 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, which is that 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 Muntazer 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.

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45 Comments

Yes, Risk manager, let's look at Zimbabwe if we're "making up narrative to discredit" the Iraqi war. Why aren't we in there? Surely not for the lack of oil...

Posted by Karen | 17.12.08, 13:08 GMT

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While I do not agree with President Bush's policy in Iraq I do agree with his response to the shoe incident. The best way to respond to a childish act is to treat the person as a child. While at the same time the best to way to respond to the world press and this author is to ignore them, as Bush is doing, because in the end they mean nothing to him or us.

Posted by Bill | 17.12.08, 13:06 GMT

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Nice of Bush to define the shoe-throwing as an expression of the democracy he congratulates himself on bestowing on Iraq. Not quite so nice to stand by and relish the journalist getting his jaw and/or arm broken by the police. In his place I'd have made sure the guy would be all right - mind you, if I were in Bush's place I'd have battered my own brains out with my own shoe.

Posted by Donncadh | 17.12.08, 12:56 GMT

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I reckon the US should invade Brazil now because that's where the shoe came from.

Posted by Restaurateur | 17.12.08, 12:44 GMT

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The wrist action was all wrong. Watching a natural medium-pacer trying to bowl fast using a spinner's run-up. I mean, it was never going to work, hence the full toss. If that's the best he can do against a tail-ender, Al-Zaidi clearly needs a week or two in the nets.

Posted by Mike, La Rochelle | 17.12.08, 12:43 GMT

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i couldn't agree more!!!

Posted by s hirji | 17.12.08, 12:42 GMT

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Al-Zaidi's brother says that he's been beaten in custody. Given the number of Iraqis who've been tortured and killed by occupation troops *without* having thrown shoes at Bush, I find it incredible that he's still alive.

Posted by George Hale | 17.12.08, 12:15 GMT

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Spot on Mark! Your weekly column is the highlight of our office. Keep it up!

Posted by Green Party Norwich | 17.12.08, 12:12 GMT

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Bush's Ok. He's just lacking a bit with the literacy thing, and jography.

He didn't duck lamely at that press conference either.

Posted by Restaurateur | 17.12.08, 12:11 GMT

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The two people who are the people of the years are Jo the plumber, who talked on the American Elections and the Iraq soldier whop gave the boot to the Bush regime. The wars come out of vengeances. There were times when wars were for the ladies and the families’ disputes, the pride of the state that was at the risk. However, these day it is the pride to come above the top of the others and sanity that way. This reason is the main reason we have wars. Economy precedes the vengeance and we need cash more now then anytime.
I thank you
Firozali A.Mulla

Posted by Firozali A.Mulla | 17.12.08, 12:07 GMT

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45 Comments

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