Sole of Security

Often chided for his decisions about homeland security and furthering democracy, former President George W. Bush heard numerous disparaging remarks from the media during his eight-year presidency, only to have the last couple of months marred with a shoe-throwing incident in Baghdad.

Americans are hated and vilified for the right to speak at will and be heard, as well as the freedom to do something as silly as pull off our shoes and throw them at a head of state—though I doubt it’s ever happened in the United States.

Reporters and editors, at large, seem to think it was George Bush who opened a security breach on world terror and the war in the Middle East, but terror and strife have been a part of the Middle East since the beginning of time.

As it’s clearly stated among the troops that brought liberty to Iraq, “freedom is not free.”

Opinions vary among the locals in Iraq, yet this one stands out for me.

“I spent five years in Saddam’s jails,” said Saman Qadir, in a Dec. 17, 2008, article. Qadir is a 51-yearold mechanic who lives in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniya. “This journalist has to throw flowers on Bush, not a shoe, because Bush saved the Iraqi people from a bloody regime.”

This incident only highlights the continuing resentment harbored by some Iraqis over the U.S. security presence in their country. But isn’t that the same resentment and reasoning used by Saddam’s Bathe Party when he undertook an ethnic and religious cleansing of local Shiite followers in the early 1990s?

In spite of journalist Muntadar al-Zeidi’s opposition to the war in Iraq, his actions would never have been allowed by the previous regime. There were never news conferences where the media were given the opportunity to ask questions. Had this happened during Saddam’s years in power, we would now be reading an article about al-Zeidi’s beheading.

This incident, as President Bush indicated, is similar to political protests in the United States. However, in the Middle East, having the sole of one’s shoe shown, or in this case, thrown at you is meant to be the highest insult.

Political protests are relatively new to Iraq, but when U.S. armed forces toppled the statue of Saddam Hussein a few years ago, Iraqis pelted the downed statue with the soles of their shoes. Three months ago, crowds of Iraqis slapped the soles of their shoes on an effigy on Bush that was placed in Ferdous Square.

The odd and unexplainable part of al-Zeidi’s sole-searching attack is that he was taken captive by Shiite militiamen in 2007, though he was later released. His family had been harassed and victimized by Saddam Hussein. If anyone should know that security isn’t to be taken for granted, al-Zeidi has first-hand experience in a nation still driven by ethnic strife.

The Iraqi war defined Bush’s eight years in office, and he applauded security gains in the country (despite Mr. Obama’s pledge to withdraw troops a little over a year into his four-year term). The truth is, some troops will remain in some Iraqi cities, and numerous troops will be shifted to fight in Afghanistan. The Middle East isn’t secure; it never has been and it won’t be anytime soon.

Because security staff wasn’t able to respond quickly enough to the first shoe-throwing incident, al- Zeidi lobbed a second shoe at the president on behalf of the country’s widows and orphans and those killed in Iraq. No one anointed al-Zeidi as their spokesman, yet his action shows the frustrations endured by the Iraqis in general.

Despite this incident, some local people have agreed they are better off now than during the tyrannical years of Saddam.

al-Zeidi got his 15 minutes of fame as Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki signed the U.S.-Iraq security agreement. He also quickly found out what happens when a head of state is threatened.

It does seem odd that anyone with malicious intent would not be screened, as the president’s trip was conducted under heavy security and a cloak of secrecy. In fact, White House staff even released false travel schedules detailing activities planned for Bush.

After the incident, Bush optimistically said, “There is hope in the eyes of Iraq’s young. This is the future of what we’ve been fighting for.”

In my opinion, Bush had it right from the start. The invasion and continued fighting was a necessary action to protect the security interests in America, and it was a plausible means to fight terrorism. Bush also noted significant security gains in Iraq over what two years ago seemed impossible.

Freedom and democracy should be explained in a correct way, 40-year-old school teacher Saeed Shakir al- Sayyd said in a news article. What al-Saidi did was incorrect and, at the least, unprofessional. As a journalist, he should have used words to explain his position, rather than throwing shoes and using bad language.

A little embarrassed to be caught off guard by the shoe-throwing incident, the Secret Service said they would be their own harshest critic and make appropriate changes to security—changes undoubtedly to guard the president from someone else’s sole.

This article originally appeared in the February 2009 issue of Security Today.

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