Thursday, August 11, 2005

What’s a Mother to Do?

[[P O L I T I C S]] * Still crowing about his slim victory over John Kerry in last year’s presidential race, George W. Bush told The Washington Post in January 2005 that his decision to go to war against Saddam Hussein had finally been ratified at the ballot box. “Well, we had an accountability moment,” Bush declared, “and that’s called the 2004 election.” Now, Cindy Sheehan, the 48-year-old grieving mother from Vacaville, California, whose son, Casey, was killed in April 2004 while serving with the Army in Sadr City, Iraq--and who, since last Saturday, has been staging a much-publicized antiwar campout near Bush’s Crawford, Texas, show ranch--says the prez is experiencing his own accountability moment. And he deserves a failing grade. Bush still refuses to meet publicly with Sheehan, though he at least showed courage enough to send a couple of White House aides--national security advisor Stephen Hadley and deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin--to talk with this bereaved mother for less than an hour.

Sheehan writes in The Huffington Post:

The mainstream media aren’t holding him accountable. Neither is Congress. So I’m not leaving Crawford until he’s held accountable. It’s ironic, given the attacks leveled at me recently, how some in the media are so quick to scrutinize--and distort--the words and actions of a grieving mother but not the words and actions of the president of the United States.

But now it’s time for him to level with me and with the American people. I think that’s why there’s been such an outpouring of support. This is giving the 61 percent of Americans who feel that the war is wrong something to do--something that allows their voices to be heard. It’s a way for them to stand up and show that they DO want our troops home, and that they know this war IS a mistake ... a mistake they want to see corrected. It’s too late to bring back the people who are already dead, but there are tens of thousands of people still in harm’s way. ...

People have asked what it is I want to say to President Bush. Well, my message is a simple one. He’s said that my son--and the other children we’ve lost--died for a noble cause. I want to find out what that noble cause is. And I want to ask him: “If it’s such a noble cause, have you asked your daughters to enlist? Have you encouraged them to go take the place of soldiers who are on their third tour of duty?” I also want him to stop using my son’s name to justify the war. The idea that we have to “complete the mission” in Iraq to honor Casey’s sacrifice is, to me, a sacrilege to my son’s name. Besides, does the president any longer even know what “the mission” really is over there?
Bush had hoped to spend his record-setting vacation outside of Waco in relative peace, feeding reporters happy talk about the economy, the wasteful transportation bill (which he once promised to veto, but has now signed amid fanfare--so much for fiscal discipline), and his increasingly unpopular scheme to privatize Social Security. Sheehan, though, has upset those carefully laid plans. The media have swarmed about this former Catholic youth minister, some 50 sympathizers have pitched tents around hers, and more than two dozen Democratic members of Congress have encouraged Bush to address Sheehan in person. (For the record, this would be their second confab; as part of a group of bereaved military relatives, Sheehan met the prez in June 2004, but she has since called Bush’s behavior then insincere.) “Cindy Sheehan has become the Rosa Parks of the antiwar movement,” the Reverend Lennox Yearwood, leader of the activist group Hip Hop Caucus, told the Associated Press. “She’s tired, fed up, and she’s not going to take it anymore, and so now we stand with her.” As the Los Angeles Times put it, “what started out as a seemingly quixotic personal mission has become something of a phenomenon.”

On Thursday, Bush broke away from a huddle with his “war council” (that would be Dick Cheney, Condoleeza Rice, and Donald Rumsfeld) to chat with reporters on this subject. “I sympathize with Mrs. Sheehan,” Bush said. “She feels strongly about her--about her position. And I am--she has every right in the world to say what she believes. This is America. She has a right to her position. And I’ve thought long and hard about her position. I’ve heard her position from others, which is, ‘Get out of Iraq now.’ And it would be--it would be a mistake for the security of this country and the ability to lay the foundations for peace in the long-run, if we were to do so.”

But Bush, who has recently seen a severe loss of public faith in his handling of the Iraq war, continues to snub the mother from Vacaville. “The president says he feels compassion for me,” Sheehan intoned on Thursday, “but the best way to show that compassion is by meeting with me and the other mothers and families who are here. All we’re asking is that he sacrifice an hour out of his five-week vacation to talk to us, before the next mother loses her son in Iraq.” (As of Thursday afternoon, the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count site showed that 1,844 U.S. troops had died since Bush launched his attack on Iraq in March 2003.)

“Before this all started, I used to think that one person couldn’t make a difference ...,” Sheehan explains in The Huffington Post, “but now I see that one person who has the backing and support of millions of people can make a huge difference. That’s why I’m going to be out here until one of three things happens: It’s August 31st and the president’s vacation ends and he leaves Crawford. They take me away in a squad car. Or he finally agrees to speak with me.”

The vigil continues.

READ MORE:One Mother’s Stand,” William Rivers Pitt’s live blog from Crawford (TruthOut); “Cindy Watch,” daily blogging and photographs, courtesy of The Lone Star Iconoclast, in Crawford; “War Foes Intensify Texas Vigil,” by Helen Kennedy (New York Daily News); “Smearing Cindy Sheehan,” by Farhad Manjoo (Salon); “Bush Is No Nixon,” by William Rivers Pitt (TruthOut); “Cindy Sheehan Steps into the Leadership Void,” by Arianna Huffington (The Huffington Post); “No End in Sight in Iraq,” by Bob Herbert (The New York Times).

ADDENDUM: Blooger Tbogg is maintaining a running tally of how many U.S. servicemen die in Iraq while Bush is vacationing in Texas. The count as of August 15: 55.

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