Point Austin: A Few More Shoes

An Iraqi journalist waves goodbye to the Bush era

Point Austin
For my last column of 2008 – next week brings our ever-anticipated Top 10s – I couldn't imagine a better farewell to the year than that offered by Muntader al-Zaidi, the brave Iraqi TV journalist who finally had enough of American imperial arrogance and greeted occupying U.S. President George W. Bush with a pair of thrown shoes and a valediction: "This is a farewell kiss, you dog. This is from the widows, the orphans, and those who were killed in Iraq."

While I hardly recommend shoe-throwing as a regular reportorial practice – among its professional drawbacks, afterward it's nearly impossible to run away – the obstreperous al-Zaidi not only delivered a morale boost to the entire planet but provided what will certainly become the most enduring international image of the lamentable Bush regime. In recent weeks, Bush and his surrogates (abetted by the media) have been musing primly about the administration's eventual "legacy." Let it be this – Dubya dodging al-Zaidi's shoes and then ignoring the merciless beating that quickly followed. A final disgrace added to the disgraceful ledger.

Of course, our journalistic betters, who in eight years couldn't manage to throw even tough questions at El Presidente, are now tsk-tsking at al-Zaidi's breaking of professional decorum. My favorite reproof appeared in the Canadian Globe and Mail, where the editors intoned, "The moment world leaders think they will be the target of projectiles thrown by reporters is the moment that the privileged access will end, not just for Mr. Zaidi, but for other journalists as well, harming the vital work of a free press." That's what these guys value in their bones – "privileged access" – and therefore they never do or say anything that might endanger that privilege. For a single example, they might have asked the Supreme Leader why he is so despised throughout Iraq and the Middle East that he has to sneak by night into a country that his army "liberated" years ago.

Government by Decree

Al-Zaidi's spectacular impertinence served to remind us forcibly that the great crimes of the Bush regime were not well-meaning "mistakes" but policies considered and enacted in full expectation of deliberate outcomes. The devastating war on Iraq, for which there is no forgiveness, is of course the greatest of these, and virtually the entire U.S. political class, of all parties (President-elect Obama the most notable exception), participated in that outrage. Part and parcel with that largest war crime were others, most notably the official adoption of torture as a military and intelligence tactic, the abolition of due process for those accused of "terrorism," and the use of illegal surveillance, including wholesale unwarranted wiretaps of U.S. citizens.

Not only does the administration not fear retribution for these crimes, but like the terrorists they claim to despise, they proudly take credit for them. In recent weeks, Vice President Dick Cheney has not only bragged of all these violations; he's justified them by claiming they have prevented terrorist attacks – despite ample evidence that the war and its related crimes have instead recruited thousands more anti-U.S. militants. A few days ago, when Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday asked him, "If the president during war decides to do something to protect the country, is it legal?" Cheney gave Nixon's classic tyrannical response: "General proposition, I'd say yes."

Happy Days Return

This is how far we have come to a government of ruthless men, instead of one of laws. I would be perfectly happy never to have to type the words "George W. Bush" ever again. Yet in 2009, it would be only justice to report that war crimes prosecutions, or at a bare minimum congressional investigations or a truth commission, would be organized to review the long list of derelictions perpetrated over the last decade, with some hope that the thought of punishment or disgrace might deter future officials from similar crimes. It appears there is little hope of any such pursuits. The brazen Bushites are persuaded that under long U.S. tradition, explicit federal crimes as well as unconstitutional practices are in retrospect treated as nothing more than "policy disputes." Moreover, and this is likely telling, there were sufficient numbers of high Democratic officials privy to practices like torture and illegal wiretapping who would at least be embarrassed, if not directly implicated, should any such investigations go forward.

And so it goes, into another era of the empire. When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Austin in July for Netroots, she punted any responsibility for investigations to Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers. We'll see. It goes almost without saying that the Washington press corps, a diminishing but voluble mob (especially on cable TV bull fests) is much more interested in "looking forward" than considering the accumulated crimes of the Bush administration. That means the tin-pot scandal of the week, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, and the celebrity appointment of the month, would-be New York Sen. Caroline Kennedy, take precedence over any reruns of old news, such as war crimes and constitutional violations. No thrown shoes, or even harsh reflections, for these folks. Salon's Glenn Greenwald quotes The Washington Post's Ruth Marcus for the peculiar shortsightedness of the Beltway crowd: "[W]hat's most crucial here is ensuring that these mistakes are not repeated."

And the best way to do that, of course, is to pretend they never happened.

God rest ye, merry gentlefolk, and the happiest of new years.

"Point Austin" returns Jan. 9, when we welcome those charming official denizens of the Texas Capitol. Stay warm, have fun, drive carefully, and send news tips to mking@austinchronicle.com.

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Muntader al-Zaidi, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Nancy Pelosi, Glenn Greenwald

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