Most commentators took the shoe-throwing incident that happened over the weekend as a bit of grotesque political slapstick. The Iraqi television reporter who threw his shoes at President Bush apparently considered himself a martyr, according to a note he passed to a colleague on the spot. No doubt he anticipated some extremely cruel reprisal for his symbolic protest. It's up in the air what will happen to Muntadar al-Zeidi. The fact that he became an instant hero in the Arab street carries small significance in the West, since that tinder box doesn't need even a spark to ignite it.
We continually fail, it seems, to view our Middle Eastern disaster through global eyes. A momentary insult hurled at America -- or at Mr. Bush personally, if that was the primary intent -- is a minuscule rebuke for the countless insults the rest of the world has had to bear. The unilateral invasion of Iraq was an insult to our allies, who had been naive enough to trust in six decades of cooperation through NATO and the UN. The distortion and outright lying about Saddam's imminent threat to the United States was an insult to everyone's intelligence. The placing of responsibility for 9/11 on Saddam's shoulders was an insult to the truth.
As he makes the rounds of exit interviews, Mr. Bush continues to throw shoes at us. His "So what?" attitude toward the disaster he created is the first shoe, the second is his blind assertion that the war in Iraq is close to victory. Informed Middle East experts, the very sort he ignored at the outset of his military adventures, point to a fragile peace that could be shattered at any moment. The Sunni population of Baghdad has been ethnically cleansed. Sadr City remains a powder keg. Half of the country's two million Christians have been wiped out or forced into exile. Civilian casualties since the invasion, counting the losses in sectarian attacks, amount to 150,000 at the very least and could be over 600,000 -- no one knows.
For Mr. Bush to ignore these brutal facts and try to paper them over with slogans about democracy and victory must have something to do with the shoes hurled at him. It's heartbreaking to think of the pent-up rage and sorrow that lie behind the act. Those feelings are far from being quelled. Should Iraq turn into a Shiite theocracy with anti-American leanings, a fate that seems to be in the offing, Mr. Bush will have another thing to say "So what?" about, but at least he'll be doing it in private.