by H.D.S. Greenway
The image of shoes being thrown at George W. Bush during his tarnished legacy tour of Iraq has already entered legend. That a Saudi offered to pay $10 million for just one of the shoes attests to the power of symbolism. The Turkish cobbler who made the shoes is being inundated with new orders from around the world.
It was outrageous, and the Iraqi government may have been embarrassed, but you can count on a substantial number of Arab boys born this month being named Muntader, after Muntader al Zaidi, the thrower. He is in deep trouble in Iraq, but for much of the world he is goody-two-shoes.
In Bush's last pathetic days, with the world going broke and his administration in a moral chapter 11, he continues to misrepresent his culpability in the calamities that have befallen the country on his watch. The most egregious was his statement, when asked if he had any regrets, that he wished the intelligence on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction could have been better. Bush blithely ignored the efforts his administration went to in order to twist the intelligence to his liking. The march to war was one of the greatest frauds of our time.
Bush's legacy includes an unnecessary war in Iraq, and a mismanaged war in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, a congressional report warns that the United States is to be attacked by nuclear or biological weapons within the next few years.
Bush's legacy is one of great carelessness. Bush was careless about the way he went to war in Iraq, with no clear plan on what to do with the country once the troops reached Baghdad. There was a carelessness about Afghanistan, letting Osama bin Laden escape, and drawing away assets to fight in Iraq before Afghanistan was stabilized. To this day there is no clear policy for Afghanistan, other than more troops and more war. "That's not a policy," said the former ambassador to India, Frank Wisner, "that's a delivery system. "There was carelessness about how Bush handled the Israeli-Palestine issue, uttering noble thoughts but with no follow-up, allowing his underlings to first undermine Secretary of State Colin Powell, and then Condoleezza Rice. There was carelessness in the delegation of power to Vice President Cheney, allowing Cheney to undermine negotiations with North Korea.
There was carelessness in the way the administration handled even natural disaster, the "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job" quote being the lasting footnote on how Hurricane Katrina was met.
There was carelessness during the Bush years about the entire oversight of America's financial system, with regulators, as President-elect Barack Obama put it, "asleep at the switch" while the financial train went off the rails. The Security and Exchange Commission looked the other way while Bernard Madoff pulled off what may be the biggest Wall Street heist in history. There was "not a lot of adult supervision," said Obama.
"At least Bush kept us safe," I have heard it said, because no terrorist attack on US soil has come since 2001. But there is no escaping that 9/11 happened on Bush's watch, and there was a great carelessness in the way Bush's people refused to consider the danger from Al Qaeda, while terrorism experts, such as Richard Clarke, with his "hair on fire" from anxiety, tried to warn them.
There was more than carelessness involved in the erosion of civil liberties and unlawful activities perpetuated by the Bush administration. Nothing has so hurt America's standing in the world as the decision to allow torture. We now know that the worst of the scandals of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo can be traced up to the highest levels of Bush's administration.
A weary world would like to see the back of the Bush administration, not the least the Republican party to which Bush has done so much damage.
With a legacy of wars , water-boarding, and a cesspit of scandal and financial collapse, the Bush legacy has at least one defender. "Mr. Bush served some good purpose to the economy before he left, " said the newly prosperous Turkish shoe maker.
As for al-Zaidi's pair, they've been destroyed - perhaps to prevent idolatry.
© 2008 The Boston Globe
H.D.S. Greenway's column appears regularly in the Globe.