Man Bites Dog: Bush Comparisons Offensive to Fido

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by Jack Random
hen I first heard the story of Iraqi journalist Muntathar al Zaidi yelling, “This is a goodbye kiss, you dog!” while throwing a pair of shoes at our beloved president I was incensed. I have lived long enough to know there are no bad dogs, only bad human masters.  Therefore, what was meant as a supreme insult to our lame duck president was in fact an insult against all members of the canine species. The more I considered it, however, the more I came to understand how appropriate the insult might have been.  It is a question for historians to decide:  Was George W. Bush truly responsible for the catastrophic policy blunders of his presidency or was he simply a victim of greedy and power hungry masters?

Muntathar al Zaidi did for the Iraqi people, particularly the dead and dispossessed, what rapper Kanye West did for the African American community and the people of New Orleans.  He spoke for those who cannot speak, who have no forum or cannot risk losing what little they have for themselves or their families. For those who say Zaidi’s impassioned protest was an act of cowardice, think again. 

While I do not know his circumstance or that of his family, he holds a privileged position.  He is an international journalist.  Whether he will continue in that capacity depends on how this story plays out.  As it stands now, days after the event and with the story fading from American media attention, he remains in the custody of Iraqi authorities and may face years in an Iraqi prison.  What we have seen of Iraqi justice does not inspire confidence that fair and proportionate justice (in this case leniency) will be administered.  Zaidi may be a hero on the streets of Baghdad but his life and freedom are imperiled.  

So as we consider the case of Muntathar al Zaidi we should reflect on the greater role of journalism at times of war and international conflict.  We should consider how history might have been altered had American media fulfilled its responsibilities in the buildup to the grossly immoral war and occupation of Iraq.  We should recall that nearly all American media sources were cowed by the power of the president and the ideological masters who pulled his strings.  

Whom should we hold up for greater contempt:  the journalist who violated protocol to express what vast numbers of his people feel in the depth of their souls or the journalist who fronted for White House propaganda and accepted the accolades of the profession?  

When we hear American media complain that this Iraqi journalist and those who applaud him have no appreciation for the thousands of Americans who have sacrificed life and limb, are they instructing us to disregard the hundreds of thousands or even millions of Iraqis who have given life and limb to this cause?  

Would they feel the same if an American soldier in a moment of passion, holding the commander responsible for the needless sacrifice of his brothers and sisters, threw a combat boot in the direction of the president?  Would it be easier to find it in our hearts to forgive the soldier than it is to forgive the journalist?  

Let us never forget that we entered in to this war under false pretenses:  weapons of mass destruction that did not exist and connections to al Qaeda that were the product of ideological fairy tales.  

We turned Iraq into our battleground in order to establish a military stronghold for the deliverance of Middle East oil.  We laid waste to the ancient cradle of civilization in order to settle an old score with a former ally.  

For what should the Iraqis be grateful?  

Even if our motives had been virtuous and pure (which they decidedly were not), we took it upon ourselves to decide the appropriate price of deposing a dictator.  That is not a decision that should ever belong to a foreign power.  On the one hand, it is reminiscent of Madeleine Albright’s infamous reply when asked about a half million Iraqi children lost to the American sponsored sanctions:  “We think the price is worth it.”  On the other, it recalls the sentiment of Bishop Desmond Tutu when asked to compare the plight of pre-war Iraq to that of pre-liberation South Africa: “We suffered in South Africa and we were liberated, we were not bombed into liberation” (Interview on CBC News, Toronto).  

It is apparent that Americans have short attention spans.  Given the trauma of September 11, 2001, the sponsors of the Bush foreign policy and the creators of the Bush Doctrine were confident that we had forgotten the lessons of Vietnam – and they were right.  

We are neither the world’s master nor the world’s police force.  We have no right to impose our will on nations that pose no threat no matter how valuable their resources.  We have no right to depose leaders that do not support us or to decide who shall lead and what form of government shall be imposed.  

Beyond morality, we have failed to learn the limits of military power.  We have followed in the footsteps of fallen empires – most notably the British and French.  We believed that if we devoted enough of our resources to weaponry we could achieve what our predecessors failed to achieve.  By refining our methods, we believed we could overcome the problem of alienation that naturally occurs in populations subjected to invasion and occupation.  

The difficulty is:  Both information and weapons of resistance are readily available in the modern world.  When you are an occupying power bent on securing a precious resource, you cannot fool the people into thinking you are a liberator.  

We failed to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people just as we failed in Vietnam.  If we continue to pursue these policies, even as the world slides toward global depression, we will fail again and the cost will be even greater.  

The age of empire is over.  What remains is to resolve existing conflicts that are often the legacy of past empires.  The way forward is clear:  An international consensus on just diplomacy as a means of resolving international conflict and an unequivocal rejection of war.  

Unfortunately, even as it appears that we have reached agreement on the end of the Iraqi occupation, Afghanistan looms as a test case for the future of American foreign policy.  

While clearly superior to the bellicose policies of his Republican opponent, we cannot be encouraged by the promise of President-elect Barack Obama to increase troops in Afghanistan.  The people of Afghanistan are tired of war and sickened by the prospect of American escalation.  The path forward in Afghanistan is no different than in Iraq or Kashmir or Palestine:  All parties must be brought to the table for reasoned diplomacy.  The Taliban was not our enemy before September 11, 2001, and they need not have become our enemy.  If invited to the table, we will find that they are willing to make the necessary concessions to join Afghanistan’s political process.  

Our legitimate interest in Afghanistan is limited:  Closing down Al Qaeda and bringing Osama bin Laden to justice.  It is not a cause of war.  It is exactly what the Bush administration told us it was not:  A cause for a coordinated police action that must draw upon all regional and international intelligence resources.  

If we continue to believe that we can “win” such conflicts through military conquest, we will find ourselves in the same recurring nightmare that we found in Vietnam and Iraq.  Military might can never overcome the power of hearts and minds.  

All over the world, under the leadership of George W. Bush, we have lost the battle for hearts and minds.  By electing Barack Obama, we have gained an opportunity for a second chance.  If we do not change policies and decry the abuse of military power, we will have squandered that chance.  

In the spirit of contrition, as symbols of real change, may the new president ask the Iraqi government to pardon Muntathar al Zaidi, may he close Guantanamo Bay, and may he at long last pardon political prisoner Leonard Peltier.  

That would be change we can believe in.  



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