WASHINGTON, Dec. 15 (UPI) -- In the end, the Iraqi people did not bid farewell to U.S. President George W. Bush with gratitude or wreaths of victory. Instead an individual, unarmed Iraqi threw shoes at him, a traditional demonstration of anger and contempt.
Iraqi cameraman Muntadar al-Zaidi was frisked for any lethal weapons before entering Bush's presence Sunday, but he used his shoes -- the traditional sign of contempt throughout the Arab world -- to humiliate Bush by throwing both of them at him. The American leader who wanted to be remembered as the liberator of Baghdad from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein will instead go into history immortalized on video by ducking to avoid two shoes thrown at him with shouts of "dog." Zaidi works for the Cairo-based al-Baghdadiya television channel. Popular demonstrations have erupted all over Iraq in support of him.
Once again, Bush was taken by surprise by a form of behavior and popular attitudes toward himself that are commonplace and universal across the Arab world. People across Iraq and the Arab world have been throwing shoes at images of Bush for years. His Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has even been nicknamed Kundara -- or "shoe" -- a play on her first name.
Bush's valedictory visits to Iraq and Afghanistan were both studies in irony. He has been forced to reverse the policies he clung to for years in Iraq and leaves his successor, President-elect Barack Obama, a record of neglect, failure and a dangerously deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.
Bush was obsessed with Iraq and neglected Afghanistan for years in his efforts to build a stable, pro-American Shiite-led democracy in Iraq. Yet the first thing the democratically elected, Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad did, once it could stand on its own feet, was to push relentlessly for the United States to withdraw all its combat forces from Iraq.
Bush's last act in office was to sign a Status of Forces Agreement with the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that made official the policy the U.S. president opposed throughout the four and a half years that American forces occupied Iraq during his presidency -- getting out of the country as quickly as possible.
Bush passively presided during his last two years of office over a more successful counterinsurgency policy in Iraq masterminded by Gen. David Petraeus and strongly supported by his second secretary of defense, Robert Gates. But the key strategic assumption that propelled him to topple Saddam Hussein and occupy Iraq was proven wrong, even as the counterinsurgency policy was succeeding. The more al-Qaida and other Sunni Muslim insurgents were defeated, the more the Shiite-led Iraqi government demanded with ever more determination that U.S. forces leave their country.
After excoriating Obama during the U.S. election campaign as irresponsible and defeatist for wanting to withdraw American forces from Iraq, Bush leaves office after actually implementing the very policies he so fiercely criticized. It is, therefore, fitting that Obama is keeping Gates to implement what actually has become -- thanks to Bush -- a bipartisan policy of military withdrawal from Iraq. On his own visit to Iraq Monday, Gates warned that the "end game" of U.S. withdrawal would be complex, dangerous and uncertain. He emphasized the importance of U.S. forces for the moment retaining a presence in Iraq's cities.
Bush partisans maintain he will leave behind a democratic Iraq free of the terror of Saddam Hussein. But the government he leaves behind is far closer to neighboring Iran than Saddam ever was.
At least 300,000 Iraqis died violently in the war to topple Saddam, the chaos of Bush's bungled occupation policies, and the fierce Sunni Muslim insurgency and civil war that followed. Some estimates go well above a half-million. A total of 300,000 Iraqis died during the 24 years of Saddam's dictatorship -- a death rate only one-quarter as bad as the one that occurred under Bush's occupation and policies.
On Monday Bush flew from Iraq to Afghanistan. There was another grim, unintended symbolism to that visit, too. He had to fly by helicopter from a U.S. Army base to the capital, Kabul, because neither U.S. forces nor the Afghan government could maintain overland security.