Thursday, June 15, 2006

this land is our land

A cocky President Bush appeared in the Rose Garden on Wednesday to perform the final act of his week-long media circus. Bush bragged about his need to look the new Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the eyes to see if he was “committed to freedom.” (I think I just swallowed some of my own vomit.)

Bush’s famous judge of character aside (remember Putin?), I think what Bush saw in al-Maliki’s eyes was anger. As has been reported, the Prime Minister was only told that the US President was in Iraq to meet with him in person minutes before Bush walked into the room. Dexter Filkins and John Burns noted in the New York Times that al-Maliki appeared “uneasy” and “somber,” but in radio interviews, Filkins said that the Prime Minister was visibly miffed.

The Times article points out that Bush’s surprise visit represented a double-edged sword for the PM, on the one hand showing US support, but also showing al-Maliki to be for many Iraqis just another American-backed stooge. But I think al-Maliki’s consternation might stem from something slightly less nuanced.

If you are the elected leader of a supposedly sovereign nation, isn’t it up to you to decide who gets to drop in for a visit? How much power do you appear to have if some other country’s leader gets to show up unannounced and use you and your cabinet for a photo op? How large and in charge do you look to your own population if the occupying forces don’t trust you enough to give you an official heads-up?

To the Iraqi on the street—and to Iraqi leaders, for that matter—Bush’s stunt says nothing much about our commitment to freedom, but it says volumes about how we see the Iraqi people and their country. It says, “your land is our land,” and we can do what we want, when we want. It says that the US President views all of you, even your leaders, through the same lens—you are all potential terrorists and none of you can be trusted. It says you are little more than dogs and ponies in America’s big top, and George Bush is still the guy in the tall hat cracking the whip.


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