Wednesday, December 17, 2008 (SF Chronicle)
Bush's Mideast legacy - shoes
Robert Scheer, Creators Syndicate, Inc.
They hate us for our shoes. Somewhere in what passes for the deeper
regions of President Bush's mind might come that reassuring giggle of a
thought as he once again rationalizes away Iraqi ingratitude for the
benevolence he has bestowed upon them. Ever at peace with himself, despite
many obvious reasons not to be, Bush quipped, "I didn't know what the guy
said but I saw his sole." But the lame jokes no longer work.
The shoe-throwing Iraqi journalist is now a venerated celebrity throughout
the Mideast, and his words to the president - "this is the farewell kiss,
you dog" - will stand as the enduring epitaph in the region on Bush's
folly, which is the reality of his claimed legacy of success in the war on
terror. That and the shoe-thrower's devastating follow-up as he threw his
second shoe, "This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were
killed in Iraq," a reminder that we have used much deadlier force than a
shoe in the shock-and-awe invasion once celebrated in the American media
as a means of building respect for democracy.
This was more than a presidential photo-op gone wildly awry. One might
suspect that the weekend event was designed originally to draw attention
from the Friday release of the long awaited Senate Armed Services
Committee's report on Bush's torture policy. A report that unanimously
concluded that it was the White House and not a few bad apples that
"damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save
lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral
authority." The report, endorsed by all Republican senators on the
committee, including ranking minority member Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.,
cited former Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora's testimony that "the first
and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq - as judged
by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat - are,
respectively the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo."
Not only has the Bush administration subverted the image of the United
States' commitment to the rule of law and justice, but it has done similar
damage to our reputation for economic efficiency. On Sunday, the New York
Times reported on an unpublished 513-page federal history of the Iraq
reconstruction that it termed "a $100 billion failure by bureaucratic turf
wars, spiraling violence and ignorance of the basic elements of Iraqi
society and infrastructure."
This invasion, which according to then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul
Wolfowitz, was supposed to be financed by Iraqi oil money, but instead has
cost U.S. taxpayers more than $1 trillion. The results, as the Times'
account of the report put it, are abysmal: "The hard figures on basic
services and industrial production compiled for the report reveal that for
all the money spent and promises made, the rebuilding effort never did
much more than restore what was destroyed during the invasion and the
convulsive looting that followed."
No wonder then that we are perceived as blundering bullies by so many in
the region that we claimed to be interested in modernizing. That an Iraqi
journalist, whose family had been victimized by Saddam Hussein and who was
kidnapped by insurgents while attempting to work as a journalist, came to
so loathe the American president, as does much of the world, should serve
as the final grade on the Bush administration. It should also serve as a
caution to President-elect Barack Obama, as he seeks to triangulate
withdrawal from Iraq with an escalation of the far more treacherous
attempt to conquer Afghanistan.
In the end, it does not matter that our claimed intentions appear noble,
if our practice on the ground adds up to an mélange of brutal
incompetence. It is significant that increased troop deployment to
Afghanistan was recently announced by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates,
who will hold that same post in the new Administration. This is the same
Gates who in his 1996 memoir details how, as a member of the Carter
administration, he was involved in supporting the Mujahedeen Islamic
fighters against the secular government in power in Kabul six months
before the Soviet invasion.
These foreign adventures always start out so wonderfully: We will be
greeted as liberators, democracy will flourish, the West will be safer,
and instead we end up ever more scorned. The media traveling with Bush
reported it as a victory of sorts that no reporters in Kabul threw shoes
at our president during his press conference there. So much for lowered
Robert Scheer is author of a new book, "The Pornography of Power: How
Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America." To comment, e-mail him
at firstname.lastname@example.org. ------------------------------
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