I Wonder if the President Could See his Sole?

01/15/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It was certainly a far cry from when President Bush famously stated that he could look into Vladimir Putin's eyes and see his soul. But I couldn't help reminiscing on that moment when the president looked into the eyes of the Iraqi journalist, on his farewell tour of Iraq; I suspect he could also see his sole, which prompted him to duck.

The dexterity that the president exhibited in not being struck prompted a friend to opine, "The president has some skills."

Seriously, what should we make of the Iraqi journalist shoe-hurling escapade at President Bush? I'm certainly glad the president was not harmed.

I'm quite sure the last sentence will raise the dander of some yahoo who will ignorantly claim I possess some admiration for the president's war policies even though I have written an entire book to the contrary.

In a cultural context, hurling shoes is an insult of the highest order. The president is the most famous person in Iraq to have a shoe hurled at him since the legion of Iraqis heaved their les chasseur at the fallen statue of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein. It's on par with a Western tradition that allegedly began in 1415.

The legend claims the British, after their upset victory in the Battle of Agincourt, were waving their middle finger in the air to the defeated French saying "See, we can still pluck you!"
How one feels about the shoe hurling may depend on how they feel about the president. But the incident raises more questions than the few seconds of YouTube footage can answer.

The shoe-hurling scene becomes the exclamation point on the issue that the president staked his legacy. The spin will be this is what can happen when people are free. But the shoes were not thrown because people are free: they were thrown because people are dead, wounded, and displaced, untold numbers of Iraqis that most Americans have been systematically shielding from confronting.

Between March 17, 2003 and December 14, 2008 America's global respect has declined greatly under the weight of bad intelligence, torture, and the ignoring of the Geneva Conventions as well as our own Constitution.

As much as supporters of the president wish to argue to the contrary, it does matter when our commander-in-chief is loathed globally, especially when the reasons were self-inflicted and completely avoidable.

Maybe the president is right, history will vindicate him. It seems that Herculean task will require significant revision of the facts.

We can start by suggesting on President Bush's last trip to Iraq, there was a journalist, so excited to be in the presence of the man who removed Saddam from office that he took off his shoes and launched them in gratitude because anyone who has studied the history of Mesopotamia knows that such gestures are a derivative of the whirling dervish in a 21st century attempt to reach religious ecstasy.

Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist. He is the author of Strip Mall Patriotism: Moral Reflections of the Iraq War. E-mail him at or visit his website