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August 14, 2005 - Raising Questions

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Late last Sunday on the web log in a discussion of how to define this war on terror (GWOT) you would find this pull from the Associated Press, Sunday, August 7:


The mother of a fallen U.S. soldier who is holding a roadside peace vigil near President Bush's ranch shares the same grief as relatives mourning the deaths of Ohio Marines, yet their views about the war differ.

"I'm angry. I want the troops home," Cindy Sheehan, 48, of Vacaville, Calif., who staged a protest that she vowed on Sunday to continue until she can personally ask Bush: "Why did you kill my son? What did my son die for?"


Followed by this comment:


Well, he died in the Iraq subset of the larger war against a loose, stateless confederation very angry people who feel they have been wronged, and may have been, and also may be quite crazy and know nothing of how the world really works, and are pretty good at acts of terrorism, and don't use submarines. How Iraq is involved in this? Let's see - no trace of WMD like we thought and no real connection to or support for the loose confederation, al Qaeda or whomever, like we thought - but now we have this general idea that a democracy there would help things, even if it turns out to be run by a group of fundamentalist Shiite guys who are all cozy with the fundamentalist Shiite Iraq bad guys....

I'm not sure she'd be happy with that.


She has not had any answer, and she's still there, and still unhappy. And the story built during the week.

The view from the outside:

Bush rejects mother's Iraq plea
President George Bush has said he "sympathised" with the mother of a US soldier killed in Iraq but refused to heed her call to pull out the troops.
BBC World Service, Thursday, 11 August 2005, 22:22 GMT 23:22 UK


Speaking from his Texas ranch where Cindy Sheehan has been holding a roadside protest, Mr Bush said withdrawing would be a "mistake".

Ms Sheehan is vowing to remain until she gets to speak to the president about his justification for the war.

Dozens of well-wishers have turned out to join her demonstration.

"Listen, I sympathize with Mrs Sheehan," Mr Bush said. "She feels strongly about her position. And she has every right in the world to say what she believes. This is America."

He said he had thought "long and hard about her position" calling for US troops to be sent home. But he had decided against it, he said.

"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," he said.

Mr Bush's remarks came after meeting with security advisors, including Vice-President Dick Cheney, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Ms Sheehan's son Casey was killed in Baghdad's Sadr City in April 2004.

The Californian has been camped outside Mr Bush's property since Saturday and has become a symbol for the US anti-war movement.

"All I want is for President Bush to take one hour out of his vacation and meet with me before another mother's son dies in Iraq," she said.

"You don't use our country's precious sons and daughters unless it's absolutely necessary to defend America."

However, some veterans and relatives have dubbed the vigil a distraction and are keen to ensure support for those serving in Iraq does not wane.

Ms Sheehan met the president once before when he visited Fort Lewis in Washington state to meet relatives of those killed in the war.


Case closed?  Hardly.

A lot was happening. According to the AP here's some of it


Bush National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and a deputy White House chief of staff talked to Sheehan on Saturday. She said the meeting, which she called "pointless," lasted 20 minutes. The White House said it lasted 45 minutes.

By Thursday, about 50 people had joined her cause, pitching tents in muddy, shallow ditches and hanging anti-war banners; two dozen others have sent flowers. Her name was among the most popular search topics Wednesday on Internet blogs.

The soft-spoken Sheehan, 48, is surprised and touched at the overwhelming response - most of which is positive, she says. But not everyone supports her. Kristinn Taylor, co-leader of the Washington, D.C., chapter of FreeRepublic.com, said Sheehan's protest is misguided and is hurting troop morale. "She has a political agenda that goes way beyond her son's death in combat," said Taylor, whose conservative group has held pro-troop rallies since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and counter-protests of anti-war demonstrations.

... Many supporters decided to go to Crawford because of rumors that Sheehan would be arrested.

But no protesters will be arrested unless they trespass on private property or block the road, said Capt. Kenneth Vanek of the McLennan County Sheriff's Office.

Trucker Craig Delaney, 53, was in Georgia on Monday when he heard numerous radio shows discussing Sheehan - some criticizing her. He altered his route to California, heading for Texas, and got to Sheehan's site Wednesday morning.

"I felt compelled to come and tell her I support her," said Delaney, a self-described hippie from Sly Park, Calif. "The way they were bad-mouthing a mother whose son was killed in the war is un-American."

Nearly 40 Democratic members of Congress have asked Bush to talk to her. On Wednesday, a coalition of anti-war groups in Washington also called on Bush to speak with Sheehan, who they say has helped to unify the peace movement.

"Cindy Sheehan has become the Rosa Parks of the anti-war movement," said Rev. Lennox Yearwood, leader of the Hip Hop Caucus, an activist group. "She's tired, fed up and she's not going to take it anymore, and so now we stand with her."


Rosa Parks?  Maybe so. 

It seemed best to leave this to the end of the week to gather the threads of what's happening. Many readers have followed all this, but putting it all in order may be of some use. If nothing else, it is sometimes nice to look back and see just what happened. And these links will all be in one place.

Tim Grieve mid-week with this:


By our way of thinking, families who have lost a loved one in Iraq get a free pass to think whatever they want to think about the war. If getting through their grief requires them to believe that Iraq had WMDs or that Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11 or that the war will spread democracy through the Middle East or that fighting "the enemy" there means we don't have to fight them here or whatever new story the president is peddling this week - well, whatever. They've paid the price of admission to think whatever it is that lets them sleep at night, and we wouldn't presume to tell them why we're right and they're wrong.

Is it too much to ask for a similar courtesy from our friends on the right?

Apparently so. Cindy Sheehan's 24-year-old son, Casey, was killed in Baghdad's Sadr City last April, and now she's making a scene down at Crawford as she tries to talk with the president about the war. We say she's entitled, and we're pretty sure we'd say that no matter what she was saying about the war. But Bill O'Reilly says Sheehan's behavior "borders on treasonous." And Michelle Malkin, the right's darling blogger and Ann Coulter-wanabe, is complaining that Sheehan has made a "public circus" out of her "private pain." Appearing on O'Reilly's show, Malkin aimed the lowest of blows at Cindy Sheehan: "I can't imagine," she said, "that Casey Sheehan would approve of such behavior."


David Brock over at Media Matters provides the details of who said what.

Cindy Sheehan's a hypocritical liar:


On August 8, Internet gossip Matt Drudge posted an item on his website, the Drudge Report, in which he falsely claimed that Sheehan "dramatically changed her account" of a meeting she had with Bush in June 2004; Drudge attempted to back up his false assertion by reproducing Sheehan quotes from a 2004 newspaper article without providing their context. After the story appeared on the Drudge Report, it gained momentum among conservative weblogs and eventually reached Fox News, where it was presented as hard news and in commentaries. ...

Drudge's August 8 item claiming that Sheehan had changed her story used quotes from a June 24, 2004, article in The Reporter of Vacaville, California, where Sheehan lives. The Reporter article described a meeting that Sheehan and 16 other families of soldiers killed in Iraq had with Bush in Fort Lewis, Washington, earlier that month. Sheehan's son, Army Spc. Casey Sheehan, was killed in Iraq in April 2004.

Drudge quoted Sheehan seemingly speaking glowingly of Bush: "'I now know [Bush is] sincere about wanting freedom for the Iraqis,' Cindy said after their meeting. 'I know he's sorry and feels some pain for our loss. And I know he's a man of faith,' " and, "For the first time in 11 weeks, they felt whole again. 'That was the gift the president gave us, the gift of happiness, of being together,' Cindy said." Drudge contrasted these quotes to Sheehan's statements on the August 7 edition of CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, in which she said, of the 2004 meeting with Bush: "We wanted to use the time for him to know that he killed an indispensable part of our family and humanity."


A part of the The Reporter story Drudge omitted?


"We haven't been happy with the way the war has been handled," Cindy said. "The president has changed his reasons for being over there every time a reason is proven false or an objective reached."

The 10 minutes of face time with the president could have given the family a chance to vent their frustrations or ask Bush some of the difficult questions they have been asking themselves, such as whether Casey's sacrifice would make the world a safer place.

But in the end, the family decided against such talk, deferring to how they believed Casey would have wanted them to act. ...


The fellow who wrote the story says Drudge got it all wrong here and the editor of the paper where the story appeared later added this - "We don't think there has been a dramatic turnaround.  Clearly, Cindy Sheehan's outrage was festering even then," Barney wrote.  "In ensuing months, she has grown more focused, more determined, more aggressive. ... We invite readers to revisit the story - in context - on our Web site and decide for themselves."  Editor and Publisher also quotes the editor of the Vacaville paper saying this: "It's important that readers see the full context of the story, instead of just selected portions.  We stand by the story as an accurate reflection of the Sheehan's take on the meeting at the time it was published."

As Media Matters notes, all that made no difference. August 8:


- Drudge posted the Sheehan item on August 8 at 10:11 am ET.

- Right-wing pundit Michelle Malkin posted the item on her weblog one hour later, at 11:22 am ET.

- At 12:40 pm ET, the Drudge story appeared on C-Log, the weblog of the conservative news and commentary website Townhall.com.

- At 2:33 pm ET, MooreWatch.com posted the story.

- At 3:23 pm ET, William Quick of DailyPundit.com posted the story.


Then Fox News picked it up on the "Political Grapevine" segment of the August 8 edition of Special Report with Brit Hume. Guest anchor and Fox News chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle:


ANGLE: Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq last year, who's now camped outside President Bush's Crawford ranch demanding to see him, said yesterday on CNN that a private meeting with President Bush last year was offensive, insisting, quote, "He acted like it was a party. He came in very jovial, like we should be happy with that. Our son died for the president's misguided policies."

But just after that 2004 meeting, she gave a very different account...


It hit O'Reilly the next day.

The lefties should be so organized.  There's much more at Media Matters.  Note this from the August 9 edition of The O'Reilly Factor -

Bill O'Reilly says we're dealing with treason here: "I think Mrs. Sheehan bears some responsibility for this [publicity] and also for the responsibility for the other American families who lost sons and daughters in Iraq who feel this kind of behavior borders on treasonous." (audio here)

His guest Michelle Malkin adds: "I can't imagine that Casey Sheehan would approve of such behavior." (audio here)

Yeah, well, they're unhappy.

Sheehan on the Bill Press show: "I didn't know Casey knew Michelle Malkin? I'm Casey's mother and I knew him better than anybody else in the world? I can't bring Casey back, but I wonder how often Michelle Malkin sobbed on his grave. Did she go to his funeral? Did she sit up with him when he was sick when he was a baby?" (audio here)

And Thursday's statement from the woman:


This is George Bush's accountability moment. That's why I'm here. 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.
There is too much at stake to worry about our own egos. When my son was killed, I had to face the fact that I was somehow also responsible for what happened. Every American that allows this to continue has, to some extent, blood on their hands. Some of us have a little bit, and some of us are soaked in it.

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?

Casey knew that the war was wrong from the beginning. But he felt it was his duty to go, that his buddies were going, and that he had no choice. The people who send our young, honorable, brave soldiers to die in this war, have no skin in the game. They don't have any loved ones in harm's way. As for people like O'Reilly and Hannity and Michelle Malkin and Rush Limbaugh and all the others who are attacking me and parroting the administration line that we must complete the mission there -- they don't have one thing at stake. They don't suffer through sleepless nights worrying about their loved ones

Before this all started, I used to think that one person couldn't make a difference... 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.

If he does, he'd better be prepared for me to hold his feet to the fire. If he starts talking about freedom and democracy -- or about how the war in Iraq is protecting America -- I'm not going to let him get away with it.

Like I said, this is George Bush's accountability moment.


Clear enough.

Drudge tries another gambit (picked up on all the same sites as above), a statement from the "Sheehan Family" condemning Cindy's "political motivations and publicity tactics" (run under a giant bold headline "Family of Fallen Soldier Pleads: Please Stop, Cindy") - to which she responds:


Still putting out the O'Reilly fires of me being a traitor and using Casey's name dishonorably, my in-laws sent out a press statement disagreeing with me in strong terms; which is totally okay with me, because they barely knew Casey. We have always been on separate sides of the fence politically and I have not spoken to them since the election when they supported the man who is responsible for Casey's death. The thing that matters to me is that our family -- Casey's dad and my other 3 kids are on the same side of the fence that I am.


So that's dying out.

Still there's this (audio and video available at the link):


During the panel segment on Thursday's Special Report with Brit Hume on FNC, Fred Barnes recalled Joe Wilson and Bill Burkett as he wondered, "is there any left-wing publicity hound who the media won't build up?" Zeroing in on Cindy Sheehan, Barnes criticized both her and the media's treatment of her: "This woman wants to go in and tell the President that the war is about oil because the President wants to pay off his buddies. She's a crackpot, and yet the press treats her as some important protestor."


No, she wants to ask questions.  He made up that thing about oil.

Michelle Malkin in full here:


I can't imagine Army Spc. Casey Sheehan would stand for his mother's crazy accusations that he was murdered by his commander-in-chief, rather than the Iraqi terrorists who ambushed his convoy. I can't imagine Army Spc. Casey Sheehan would stand for a bunch of strangers glomming onto his mother's crusade and using him to undermine the war effort as they shouted "W killed her son" in front of countless TV cameras.

Cindy Sheehan has surrounded herself with a group of anti-American, anti-military, terrorist-sympathizing agitators, including Code Pink, the Crawford Peace House, and the crackpot crowd.

It's a sad spectacle. President Bush should continue to treat Mrs. Sheehan with the same compassion and sympathy he showed her when they first met - before her heart and mind were poisoned by the professional grievance-mongers who claim to be her friends.




Maureen Dowd in the New York Times wonders about that:


It's amazing that the White House does not have the elementary shrewdness to have Mr. Bush simply walk down the driveway and hear the woman out, or invite her in for a cup of tea. But W., who has spent nearly 20 percent of his presidency at his ranch, is burrowed into his five-week vacation and two-hour daily workouts. He may be in great shape, but Iraq sure isn't.

It's hard to think of another president who lived in such meta-insulation. His rigidly controlled environment allows no chance encounters with anyone who disagrees. He never has to defend himself to anyone, and that is cognitively injurious. He's a populist who never meets people - an ordinary guy who clears brush, and brush is the only thing he talks to. Mr. Bush hails Texas as a place where he can return to his roots. But is he mixing it up there with anyone besides Vulcans, Pioneers and Rangers?

W.'s idea of consolation was to dispatch Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser, to talk to Ms. Sheehan, underscoring the inhumane humanitarianism of his foreign policy. Mr. Hadley is just a suit, one of the hard-line Unsweet Neo Cons who helped hype America into this war.

It's getting harder for the president to hide from the human consequences of his actions and to control human sentiment about the war by pulling a curtain over the 1,835 troops killed in Iraq; the more than 13,000 wounded, many shorn of limbs; and the number of slain Iraqi civilians - perhaps 25,000, or perhaps double or triple that. More people with impeccable credentials are coming forward to serve as a countervailing moral authority to challenge Mr. Bush.

Paul Hackett, a Marine major who served in Iraq and criticized the president on his conduct of the war, narrowly lost last week when he ran for Congress as a Democrat in a Republican stronghold in Cincinnati. Newt Gingrich warned that the race should "serve as a wake-up call to Republicans" about 2006.

Selectively humane, Mr. Bush justified his Iraq war by stressing the 9/11 losses. He emphasized the humanity of the Iraqis who desire freedom when his W.M.D. rationale vaporized.

But his humanitarianism will remain inhumane as long as he fails to understand that the moral authority of parents who bury children killed in Iraq is absolute.


And Friday we get this (Associated Press):


President Bush and his motorcade passed the growing camp of war protesters outside his ranch Friday without incident.

The motorcade didn't stop.

Cindy Sheehan, the California mother who started the vigil along the road leading to Bush's ranch, held a sign that read: "Why do you make time for donors and not for me?"

On Friday, Bush arrived before noon at a neighbor's ranch for a barbecue that was expected to raise at least $2 million for the Republican National Committee.

About 230 people were attending the fundraiser at Stan and Kathy Hickey's Broken Spoke Ranch, a 478-acre spread next to Bush's ranch. All have contributed at least $25,000 to the RNC, and many are "rangers," an honorary campaign title bestowed on those who raised $200,000 or more for Bush, or "pioneers," those who have raised $100,000 or more.


And so the week ends.

What to make of all this? As the week ends, Digby over at Hullabaloo asks the question:


I've been wondering what it is about Cindy Sheehan that's gotten under people's skin. Her loss is horrible and everyone can see that she is deeply pained. (Only the lowest, cretinous gasbags are crude enough to attack her in her grief.) She's a very articulate person and she's incredibly sincere. But she's touched a deeper nerve than just the personal one.


Yep, she finally asked the question clearly. What was the noble cause that her son died in - because that's what he said the other day when those fourteen marines were killed.  He did say their families could rest assured that their sons and daughters died for a noble cause.  And she asked, "What is that noble cause?"

Good question.



It is not an academic exercise for her. She lost her son - and she'd like to know why. Nobody can explain to her - or to any of us - why we invaded Iraq and why people are dying. They said it was to protect us - but it wasn't a threat. Then they said it was to liberate the Iraqi people, but Saddam and his government are a memory and yet the Iraqi people are still fighting us and each other. Our invasion of Iraq has inspired more terrorism, not less. Oil prices are higher than they've ever been. The country is swimming in debt. People are being killed and maimed with the regularity of the tides.

And everybody knows this. Deep inside they know that something has gone terribly wrong. We were either lied to or our leaders are verging on the insanely incompetent. That's why when Cindy Sheehan says that she wants to ask the president why her son died - in those simple terms - it makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. It's not just rhetorical.

She literally doesn't know why her son had to die in Iraq. And neither do we.


Of course, there are geopolitical concerns and lots of things happening in the world that command one's attention, and this may be more a curiosity than an important news story.  The woman has put the president, his administration, and his supporters, on the defensive, and they may be striking out in anger - but the war will proceed, as will whatever follows it.  It seems she will not sway any of those in power.
But they know the danger - a tipping point - something that shifts the terms of all the arguments.  You cannot any longer shout WMD and have folks stand behind you, because it turns out there weren't any, as many warned.  You cannot shout, "Connection to al Qaeda and all the terrorists!" - because it turns out there wasn't any connection, as many warned.  You cannot shout "Democracy in Iraq" as they work out a new constitution there that takes away women's rights even Saddam Hussein granted and aligns the new government with the theocracy in Iran next door, the evil folks working on nuclear weapons.  You can shout out, "Remember 9/11" - and they will do that again and again - but that's wearing thin.

Lots of folks asked "the question" - why?  It seems it took the mother of a dead soldier asking it for it to seem a serious question that actually deserved more than a perfunctory answer.  Lefties and commentators and think-tank folks and ex-diplomats and foreigners asking the question won't do. This woman will do.

But don't expect any answer.

Still, she's dangerous.

Many will dismiss her as addled by grief and thus unqualified to discuss such matters, or just a tool of the left - those out to destroy Bush because they resent him - or a shameless opportunist who just loves the limelight.


Many will?  Many have.

Still, now the question is out there, plain as day, no matter what her motives.



This will be continued. Over at the National Review Kate O'Beirne, a commentator one often sees on Fox and CNN and the other talk shows, tells us Cindy Sheehan's efforts should be countered with pro-war grieving mothers: "Surely a fair number of such family members are in Texas? Let's hear from them?"  (That's here.)

At the snarky site Wonkette, this:


Is that what the debate has come to? Which side can corral the saddest crop of widows, parents, and orphans? Call it a harms race. Better: an ache-off.

We hope the grimly absurd image of two competing camps of mourners illustrates why it is we've been somewhat reluctant to weigh in on Sheehan's cause: Grief can pull a person in any direction, and whatever "moral authority" it imbues, we can't claim that Sheehan has it and those mothers who still support the war don't.
The Bush administration knows all about exploiting tragedy for its own causes, including re-election.

Whatever arguments there are against the war in Iraq, let's not make "I have more despairing mothers on my side" one of them.

The only way to win a grief contest is for more people to die.


Yep, but it's not about who grieves more sincerely.  It's about why they have to.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
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