No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Why does America bother saving the ungrateful?

This weekend's news-chuckle of the moment has given some holiday cheer to the nutroots on the extreme left, discouraged as they are at Mr. Obama's relatively centrist and Clintonian appointments instead of the Noam Chomsky clones they were expecting.  It may be that an Obama administration will refuse to prosecute and imprison the outgoing Bush administration for war crimes, but at least a previously unknown Iraqi reporter had the boldness to do what millions on the left dream every night of doing: throw things at George W. "@$%#^&!" Bush.

Reuters reports:

Zaidi shouted "this is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog," at Bush in a news conference he held with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki during a farewell visit to Baghdad on Sunday.

The journalist then flung one shoe at Bush, forcing him to duck, followed by another, which sailed over Bush's head and slammed into the wall behind him. Throwing shoes at someone is the worst possible insult in the Arab world.

Zaidi was dragged struggling and screaming from the room by security guards and could be heard shouting outside while the news conference continued after momentary mayhem.

What Reuters did not see fit to report is that Mr. Bush commanded the Secret Service to deal with the newly barefoot Mr. Zaidi gently; he called them off when they were about to slam him against the wall.  While Mr. Zaidi is imprisoned, as one would expect for assaulting anyone, not merely the Leader of the Free World, the entire world is watching and it's inconceivable that he will be tortured or mistreated - though, as you'd expect, accusations are already flying.

American leftists are not the only ones enjoying this "humiliation" of President Bush.  Arab bloggers and writers are as well.  To cite just one example:

[Bush] was the laughing stock of the Middle East and well beyond I am sure.  He was insulted, shamed and dragged through the mud publicly on satellite TV.  We the Arab public, enjoyed the show tremendously and saw the footage not once but dozens and dozens of times throughout the day because it was continuously repeated everywhere.

Al Zaidi told Bush "This is a good-bye kiss from the Iraqi people you dog!" but believe me, Zaidi was speaking for much more than himself and the Iraqi people. This was a goodbye kiss from the entire Near East.

If there is any truth to global opinion polls, this writer is not just expressing his own biases.  The overwhelming majority of the Middle East does indeed hate the American operation in Iraq in general and George W. Bush in particular.  As far as Europe... well, let's just say that there's already a Flash game out where you, too, can chuck a shoe at the President.

What's amazing is how stark the contrast is between reality and beliefs on the ground.  Saddam Hussein was a vicious mass murderer, guilty of the death by torture of (at the very least) hundreds of thousands of his own people, and millions if you include those killed in formal wars.

The American invasion was not entirely unblemished, as the words "Abu Ghraib" will recall, but a handful of prisoners subjected to inhumane indignities - or even murdered, as a few allegations have had it - are an infinitesimally tiny fraction compared to the wholesale slaughter under the last guy to run Iraq.  Anybody with an ounce of sense would recognize a tremendous, awe-inspiring, history-making improvement in the life expectancy of the average Iraqi under government investigation.

Now, a great many more Iraqis have been killed by their fellow Iraqis in extra-judicial revenge killings; is this the fault of Bush?  Or is it the fault of Hussein who created so many causes for revenge?

We find a similar discontinuity economically.  The cry of the left was "No blood for oil!"  The fervent belief of the Arab street was that we were invading Iraq only for the purpose of pumping it dry.  It's true that Iraq's oil is indeed flowing into our tanks; but far from just taking it, as traditionally would be the right of a conqueror, we are paying for it in cash - so much so that our leftist media complain that Iraq is making too much money, and that they should be able to afford to carry on without our help.  Meanwhile, the Arab street still believe that we're stealing Iraq's oil, even though that is demonstrably untrue.

Which raises a very worthy question.  We have freed Iraq from an evil tyrant, and are hated for it.  We pay cash for oil that we're continually accused of stealing.

Why do we bother?

Think about it for a moment.  The world, we are told, hates America for its tyrannical and greedy actions in Iraq, killing millions to steal oil.  All of which accusations are entirely untrue, but that doesn't change a thing.

As many parents learn, if a child is going to be unjustly and repeatedly accused of wrongdoing they never committed, after a while, they're liable to decide they might just as well have the fun of doing the crime - they'll be paying the price anyway.  This well-known trait of human nature gave rise to the saying, "I might as well be hung for a sheep as a for lamb."  Years ago, people who stole lambs were killed, so it was worth stealing something more valuable because there was no worse punishment.

Will the Middle East hate us more if we decided, "The heck with founding a democracy!", and ran a true imperial outpost taking their oil for our own benefit without regard to the Iraqi people?  Would we have more dedicated terrorist attacks than we already do if we started wholesale slaughter of Muslim towns that produce terrorists?  Or might we actually have less?

No, the radicals who organize suicide bombing are already as dedicated as it is possible for them to be.  If they gladly believe hateful lies against America, for the lies to become true would make no difference.

America is the most ethical, most restrained superpower in all of human history.  We make a habit of doing what is right for other peoples even when they spit in our face.  We do this, not for their benefit really, but so that we can live with ourselves.

The trouble is, this luxury of feeling good about ourselves and our ethics is starting to get expensive.  Why should we spend countless billions protecting nations that want us out?  Germany, South Korea, Japan, Iraq, even England - all these nations have seen mass protests against American bases on their soil.  If they are so eager to go their separate ways, there will come a day when they get their wish - and indeed, why shouldn't that day come, if that's what they want?

Maybe it's time - well, not necessarily to just go and grant that wish to them, but at least to make noises as though we will.  The harsh, cold light of reality can change a lot of minds, even in the most vicious of places.

Yes, even in Iraq.  For unlike the "journalist" Zaidi, Iraq's Prime Minister al-Maliki knows full well the value of America's gift of freedom to the Iraqi people.  What's more, he knows exactly who is responsible for it.

Throwing shoes is a dire insult to an Arab, though worth no more than a laugh to an American.  Bush probably flew home chuckling about Zaidi's bad aim; he surely didn't take it as a stab to the heart the way a native Arab would.

Which makes it all the more impressive that Prime Minister al-Maliki can be seen in the video reaching out to deflect the second shoe as soon as he realized what was going on.

Al-Maliki clearly understands the truth and is willing to risk what his culture defines as a deadly insult to defend a man whom he respects highly, but he doesn't seem to be able to explain things to his own people.  You'd think this incident would force Iraqi citizens to immediately realize that they must be free - when was the last time you saw anyone chucking shoes at Saddam Hussein and living to tell the tale?  But no.

So America has brought freedom to Iraq, and Iraqis are using that freedom to insult us for the favor.  Once again, we are forced to give another thought to Dr. Ron Paul's argument that America should bring all its troops home, from all over the world.

America needs to be involved all around the world, and is the greatest force for good the world has ever seen - or rather, America should need to be involved in many places.  But countries who do not value our protection and our defending them from their enemies, at our own great cost... well, you can bite the hand that feeds you only so many times before you're kicked out on the street to go find your own food.

Be that as it may, it is an inescapable fact that Mr. Zaidi understood enough of democracy to know that he could insult President Bush without risk of harm.  One of the defining characteristics of a democracy is that politicians aren't above criticism; we'll see how the Obama administration reacts when people start throwing shoes at him.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Foreign Affairs.
Reader Comments
Who throws a shoe, anyway? Honestly!

Just had to say it... :-)
December 17, 2008 12:19 PM
Shoes aren't thrown, they drop.........
December 17, 2008 12:27 PM
Great article. It was hilarious and profound.

Pat Buchanan makes good points on the differences between isolationism and simply not getting involved. The older I get, the more right he appears.
December 17, 2008 12:34 PM
If the shoe fits....
December 17, 2008 4:36 PM
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