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August 28, 2005 - Some thoughts on 'Disagreeing Sensibly'

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Personal Note: I've been trading emails with my nephew, the Major in Baghdad deeply involved in events there. Without revealing too much, he's in the Green Zone with the senior commanders, tracking events and planning. I know he starts his day before seven and sometimes finishes up sometimes as late as ten in the evening. Still he has time to write a note here and there. A lot of what we discuss is non-political, as in our recent back-and-forth about cars (yes, the whole Jeep product line is underpowered, expect for the new Hemi Grand Cherokee). But we have discussed this war and its possible outcomes. Some of his comments have been posted in these pages - in Chatting With Baghdad, for example. He and I disagree a whole lot, as you can imagine, but as I said to him, we can talk like sensible people. That's one of the many things I like about him. He calls that "disagreeing sensibly." As he puts it - "One of the things I've have learned is that if you are not smart enough to speak sensibly to get your point across, you probably don't have a point."

Indeed. And he admits he sometimes has a problem with being tied emotionally to many of his arguments. Of course. It's a war, he's lost good friends, and he's in the middle of it right now. On this end, this child of the sixties, this idealist with a decade of teaching and trying to save the world, plugged in to the news, has a similar problem.

Our sort loves this country in our own way - we love the concept of it. We old farts long ago bought into all the stuff about liberty, equality, justice, tolerance and basic rights. As kids we watched the whole Civil Rights thing explode and heard King's 1963 Washington speech in real time, or on the evening news that August night, a month before we started tenth grade. Then John Kennedy was taken out, then King, then Bobby. In 1968 we followed what the people in the streets were doing from Chicago to Paris - and watched the news as the Russian tanks moved into Prague and stopped whatever pleasant freedom was growing there. We watched the Vietnam War go sour and end badly (and a good friend, a Frenchwoman I know, was on the last Air France flight out that day) - we all faced the draft in the late sixties, and then some of us won the draft lottery and didn't face the hard choice. Lots of things - Johnson walking away from a second term - Kent State - Nixon resigning. And you want things to be better. Things can be better. You get tied up emotionally, or some do.

The Major in Baghdad and I have been trading notes on Muslim fundamentalism, and he tells me his crew had a great briefing this week on Jihadism from someone from Johns Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). It may have been Katrine Petkova - he didn't say. But he did say this: "She enlightened many of the totalitarians in the crowd. I will see if I can get a copy of the brief to send to you." Cool. Perhaps more on that later.

The Major and I can talk. And we should. He knows lots of things not just from the war, but from his year in Istanbul at their General Staff College, from commanding a platoon of tanks in the first Gulf War, from his deep education at West Point, from his time at Fort Irwin leading parts of the opposition forces in the war games there, being one of the bad guys.

Why wouldn't I listen to him? He listens to me. Fair is fair.

This is why this from Editor and Publisher is so disheartening.

The non-personal part?  From August 24, 2005 4:20 PM ET –


The American Legion, which has 2.7 million members, has declared war on antiwar protestors, and the media could be next. Speaking at its national convention in Honolulu, the group's national commander called for an end to all "public protests" and "media events" against the war, even though they are protected by the Bill of Rights.

"The American Legion will stand against anyone and any group that would demoralize our troops, or worse, endanger their lives by encouraging terrorists to continue their cowardly attacks against freedom-loving peoples," Thomas Cadmus, national commander, told delegates at the group's national convention in Honolulu.
The delegates voted to use whatever means necessary to "ensure the united backing of the American people to support our troops and the global war on terrorism."


Whatever means necessary? The media is next?

Wait. That's not what the Major is fighting for. But in the American Legion speech you get this:


"It would be tragic if the freedoms our veterans fought so valiantly to protect would be used against their successors today as they battle terrorists bent on our destruction."

"No one respects the right to protest more than one who has fought for it, but we hope that Americans will present their views in correspondence to their elected officials rather than by public media events guaranteed to be picked up and used as tools of encouragement by our enemies."


As the folks at Editor and Publisher point out, this is saying that our freedoms "are worth dying for but not exercising."


So much for "disagreeing sensibly."

On Cindy Sheehan, but not mentioning her name:


"For many of us, the visions of Jane Fonda glibly spouting anti-American messages with the North Vietnamese and protestors denouncing our own forces four decades ago is forever etched in our memories. We must never let that happen again....

"We had hoped that the lessons learned from the Vietnam War would be clear to our fellow citizens. Public protests against the war here at home while our young men and women are in harm's way on the other side of the globe only provide aid and comfort to our enemies."


Jane Fonda was, and still is, a second-rate actress with a tin ear, politically. She's an embarrassment to the left and to the right - and an embarrassment on screen too. (Barbarella? Give me a break.)

Why do folks listen to celebrities? But they believe what that high school dropout Tom Cruise has to say about psychiatry. Some on the left listen to Barbara Streisand and her political statements. Heck, her singing is irritating enough. Sean Penn is now reporting from Iran for the San Francisco Chronicle. Say what?

What do these people bring to the table? Cindy Sheehan lost her son in this war. You make think her a fool and unhinged - but she brings something to the table. Disagree with her if you will, but she's been there and done that, so to speak. She's not Jane Fonda. In fact, "disagreeing sensibly" might be in order. On the issues.

"Oh, her husband is divorcing her!" Heck, Ronald Reagan - somehow now the father of the conservative right - was a divorced man, the first president who ever was. So what?

What about the issues? The American Legion says they shouldn't be discussed. The Major and I should stop - or at least I shouldn't post here what he says I can post?

Wednesday, August 24, Cindy Sheehan returned to Crawford, Texas with this statement:


I'm coming back to Crawford for my son. As long as the president, who sent him to die in a senseless war, is in Crawford, that is where I belong. I came here two and a half weeks ago for one reason, to try and see the president and get an answer to a very simple question: What is the noble cause that he says my son died for?

The answer to that question will not bring my son back. But it may stop more meaningless deaths. Because every death is now a meaningless one. And the vast majority of our country knows this. So why do more young men and women have to die? And why do more parents have to lose their children and live the rest of their lives with this unbearable grief?

The presidency is not bigger than the people's will.

And when the people speak out, it's the president's responsibility to listen. He is there to serve us, not the other way around.

This isn't about politics. It's about what is good for America and what's best for our security and how far this president has taken us away from both.

I'm coming back to Crawford because - now and forever - this is my duty for my son, for my other children, for other parents, and for my country.


The issues?

What is the "noble cause?"  Please define more clearly.

Questions.  Has it been defined clearly enough?  Polls show the answer is no, it hasn't, and more than half the country thinks we were lied to.  So, clarify.

Secondary question. "When the people speak out, it's the president's responsibility to listen. He is there to serve us, not the other way around."  True or false, and then explain your answer.

The Major in Baghdad would be glad to deal with the questions.  He has, to some extent, done just that in these pages.  These are the kind of things we write back and forth.  And when his leave comes up we may discuss them again, over cognac with ice water back, which is our little tradition.

What about "disagreeing sensibly" on the big question of the day at the national level?

The president gave a speech on Monday the 22nd to the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the former White House speechwriter, David Frum, that expatriate Canadian who thought up the term "Axis of Evil," called it another lost opportunity - "By now it should be clear that President Bush's words on the subject of Iraq have ceased connecting with the American public." His contention is that that you can't announce a big speech and then say the same old thing over and over again.

No kidding.

Over at the Washington Monthly Kevin Drum posts a small item called Taking War Seriously


I suppose it's only natural that a speechwriter would focus more on what Bush says than what he does, but even so it's telling that Frum seems to have no substantive advice for his former boss. Do conservatives really buy their own propaganda that things are going swimmingly in Iraq and it's only the liberal media that's making it look bad? Or do they genuinely not have any ideas?

Well, I've got some ideas to run up the flagpole:

- Make the Pentagon's goals for training Iraqi security forces public. "My fellow citizens, we're going to provide monthly reports on how we're doing against these goals. You can hold us to them."

- Encourage enlistment in the Army and Marines. "To today's youth I say, 'You can become our country's greatest generation.' Join up now and help us in our greatest struggle: ridding the world of terrorist killers and the people who support them."

- Get rid of the military's ban on gay soldiers. "We're at war, and that means we need everyone who's willing and able to fight. Gay or straight, black or white, male or female, if you're willing to enlist, our military opens its arms to you."

- Propose a genuine energy independence plan. "We need more efficient cars. We need new sources of energy to power them. We need a tax on oil use. We need better mass transit. I'll be submitting a bill to Congress next week."


Well, they're ideas, but Drum admits they pose problems, like "a tacit admission that things in Iraq aren't progressing as well as Bush has been claiming" - and they all offend some interest group or other.

Yes, "being held accountable might make the Pentagon look bad. Asking for enlistments might embarrass hawks who prefer not to interrupt their rise up the corporate ladder. Welcoming gays into the military would enrage the Christian right. And energy independence would piss off a whole array of corporate interests that Bush depends on."

So?  As least they're ideas.

I kind of wish the Major in Baghdad were president.  He'd address the issues.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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