A young man with press credentials hurls a pair of shoes at President George Bush in Baghdad, prompting a feeding frenzy from the most hardened Bush-haters out there: the western press corps that covers the Middle East. They misclassify the man as a fellow “journalist” and dub the channel he works for an “independent satellite station.” Figuring out the “who, what and why” of the story would ruin all the fun: who is this guy, what is his journalistic record and who funds the station, are inconveniences these other journalists covering him would rather work around. What is most relevant is how audiences they already know to be sympathetic to anyone humiliating Bush are reacting to the imagery, imagery which is admittedly very newsy stuff. But mining for sound-bites from a predictable crowd means that the news cycle is a vacuous loop, one stage accentuating another to give a hyped version of the truth: Bush is hated, and that’s all, folks.
Even so, I find it odd that quoting passers-by in Sadrist strong-holds or demonstrators in ex-insurgent hotbeds saying how much they admire the shoe-throwing journalist is somehow newsy. Did these journalists so feverishly putting words to print not stop to think that it would make sense that population groups that had harbored fighters whose business was to kill Americans may not think highly of America’s president?
Or maybe a combination of Bush-hatred and writing Iraq stories in the passive tense - “a bomb exploded” or “civilians were mowed down”- without identifying the possible culprits had finally left the reporters in Baghdad is a hallucinatory daze. Surely, there was never a Saddam, and Saddam’s minions had nothing to do with the insurgency. There was no Zarqawi, he was dreamed up by the neocons, who are, as we all know, the root of all evil. Only a myopic and jaundiced world-view would justify quoting a Sadrist leader by name badmouthing Bush without identifying an affiliation; an “oversight” courtesy of the New York Times.
Does a bomb wake up one day and decide to latch itself on a jihadist, steer said jihadist to a market place, and then proceed to detonate itself? Does a second bomb wire itself up to a car and then drive down to the scene of the mayhem to go off among those who rushed to help the torn, the dying, the burning, and the wounded? Reading the Times, or watching the nightly news, may have left some with that illusion.
Did a mass grave fill itself up? Did meat hooks scoop down and ensnare dissidents? Did chemical weapons rain down from the sky by an act of volition? There are court documents that say otherwise, if only the press would deign to report such facts.
A few days ago, an Iraqi court handed out sentences against those were suppressed the 1991 Uprising in southern Iraq. Tens of thousands of innocents perished within weeks as the Saddam regime unleashed its true and tested mass-control measures, leveling cities and towns, congesting mass graves - one, near Hillah, made the news: some 15,000 corpses were found there. Another President Bush, the elder one, had called on the Iraqi people to rise up, and to America’s shame, the rebels and their sympathizers, millions of them, were left to face Saddam’s meager mercies alone. This historic trial, not granted the most gripping TV, was barely mentioned in a smattering of wire reports here and there. The reporters and their editors watching Iraq decided that the reading and viewing public had no need for this information, maybe because it was not something they could blame on Bush.
I don’t know how many Iraqis are grateful for President Bush. I know I am. The Florida recount was never our fight; what Saddam did to our people - not just the numbers, but how - that was always our fight. I have been thinking that at some point in the future, the Iraqi people may turn out to be the foremost beneficiaries of Bush’s eight years. A friend is fond of saying, “a miracle comes along for a nation every millennium or so; Iraq’s miracle happened when Holocaust survivors in Florida mistakenly voted for Pat Buchanan.” A darker shade of humor, but true nonetheless.
To me, Saddam was very real. I have spent enough time with the meticulous archive of Saddam’s horrors - records of which even the Gestapo would have been proud - to know that that is true. And the miracle of Bush’s decision to liberate Iraq was the rupture in the fabric of misery that needed to happen to bring hope back to Iraq.
Of course, many connived to kill the miracle, but hey, what is a Ba’athist, or a jihadist, or a despotic neighboring tyrant to do? It was the press corps that distorted the crimes and made them seem to be Bush’s doing, masking the trail of blood, smudging the clearest of evidence.
I find solace in knowing that it took decades before the world acknowledged the horrors of the Holocaust. Thankfully, it is now considered impolite, even among the most cynical of reporters, to make light of what happened. America was a decisive force of good in destroying Nazism; one day, after a museum of Saddam’s crimes is built in Washington, maybe future generations of Americans will realize that what their president and the soldiers at his command did for Iraq was as honorable as the fight that smashed the Third Reich. History’s judgment does not stop at venal writer’s byline, nor does history’s arc trace the trajectory of a flying shoe.
As for future generations in Iraq, the very fact that they will be left to consider Bush’s place in history on their own is the miracle that I will continue to cherish. The soon-to-be -former president can look forward to waking up every day knowing that every time an Iraqi yells out his or her grievances against a real or perceived injustice without ending up in a mass grave or on a meat hook, then that is his gift to a nation. There may not be a George Bush Boulevard in Baghdad yet, but I won’t rule it out sometime in the future. Those victims, unearthed in mass graves, have plenty of loved ones that were left seething. I am sure we can get a petition together among them, when the fog of media disinformation has cleared, for a show of gratitude to the man who avenged their deaths.