The angry guy with the shoe.
Those who have been watching the war on television are familiar with the video footage: after the US military took control of Safwan, the southern Iraqi border town, this fellow was captured on film banging on a large, partially destroyed wall portrait of Saddam Hussein with his shoe. It was the closest the world has so far come to viewing joyous Iraqis dancing in the street before their American liberators. Such images may yet arrive, validating the assurances of American and British war advocates who maintained that this military action is indeed liberation, not conquest; that Iraqis would welcome such intervention; and that the invasion and occupation would place Iraq on the road to democracy. But if the dancing does not happen soon, the war planners can expect to have a tougher time securing Iraq and creating the environment necessary for reconstruction and democratization.
Consider the celebratory heel-banging in Safwan. A few days after the shoe-heard-around-the-world smacked against Hussein’s forehead, ABC News reporter John Donvan and his crew–working unembeddedly–crossed the border into Kuwait and visited the town. They witnessed no rejoicing. Townspeople surrounded the journalists and passionately voiced their opinions of the US invasion. “We learned,” Donvan reported, “that just because the townsfolk don’t like Saddam, it doesn’t mean they like the Americans trying to take him out….They were angry at America, and said US forces had shot at people in the town. They were also angry because they needed food, water and medicine and the aid promised by President Bush had not appeared….They asked us why the United States was taking over Iraq, and whether the Americans would stay in Iraq for ever. They saw the US-led invasion as a takeover, not liberation.”
Resentment and suspicion, not gratitude and embrace. If the sentiment of these people was an accurate indicator of how other Iraqis are or will be reacting to Operation Iraqi Freedom, the coming (or so the Bush administration promises) mission to democratize and remake Iraq will face severe challenges.
Now that the war is under way–damage done–the Bush administration’s professed desire to free the repressed citizens of Iraq and introduce them to democracy and liberty ought to be supported and encouraged, and the White House’s commitment to this supposed war aim closely monitored. (“This nation never conquers, but we liberate,” Bush said. Did he forget the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, the subjugation of Native Americans and other past glories, including the invasions of Nicaragua, Honduras, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic? Oh, never mind.) But how does Bush plan to seed Iraq with democracy? He and his administration have not offered any specific plans. It may well be because they do not truly know. “I’m not sure they’ve gotten beyond platitudes and wishful thinking,” says one federally-funded democracy -development expert. But whatever their strategy may be–or end up being–it won’t mean much if the Iraqi people are not with the program.