Monday, August 29, 2005


At first I thought of Cindy Sheehan as a grieving mom, deserving of some attention and who the president probably should invite in for a heart-to-heart about Iraq and her son's sacrifice there. But after a month of her antics, my patience has worn thin. Ms. Sheehan's "movement" now seems little more than a media circus, and some of her more outrageous statements have transformed her from a sympathetic figure into a little more than a shrill extremist.

Sheehan has seriously undermined any contributions she might have made to a meaningful discussion about the war in Iraq by resorting to nothing more than name-calling and hateful rhetoric, without expressing a willingness to enter into a real dialogue about the future. When pressed to defend her views, as she was today on NPR's "Talk of the Nation" (you can listen here) Ms. Sheehan almost immediately goes on the defensive, and today she suddenly announced a very premature end to her NPR interview when the host asked her questions that she didn't seem to feel like answering. A few more interviews like this and the media may grow as tired of her as I am.

One of the most interesting questions that came up in the few minutes of today's interview dealt with the fact that Ms. Sheehan's son volunteered to join the Army. Host Neal Conan asked if Ms. Sheehan knew why her son had joined up; she said that he was lied to by his recruiter. Conan then asked if she'd tried to talk her son out of enlisting, and Sheehan answered:

Sheehan: "Well we didn't have a chance, because he joined before he talked to us."
Conan: "Before he talked .... So, he made a choice of his own."
Sheehan: "Right."
Conan: "Um, no, um ... You were ..."
Sheehan: "Does that have to do with him being sent to a war that's illegal and immoral to kill people and get killed in a country that was no harm or threat to the United States of America?"
Conan: [Pausing]. "Um, no, but uh, he wasn't drafted. He made a choice of free will."
Sheehan: "Yeah and if we give our children to the government to serve our country we should make sure they're only used if it's absolutely necessary to defend the United States of America."

Ms. Sheehan misses a crucial point there. She didn't "give" her child to the government to serve our country. Casey Sheehan made the choice to enlist in the United States Army of his own volition, for reasons entirely his own, whatever they were. Ms. Sheehan has every right to grieve; she has as much right as anyone else to question the conduct of the war and its aftermath. But she needs to recognize the fact that her son joined the Army, knowing full well the risks involved. He first enlisted in 2000, when, it could be said, we were at peace. But he signed up again in 2004, long after the war in Iraq had already begun, and apparently understanding that he would likely be asked to serve in that region.

Casey Sheehan served our country nobly, heroically. I admire him and his sacrifice greatly. As regular readers know, I have long had serious concerns about how the president and the Pentagon have conducted the war and its aftermath, and I have expressed countless times my desire for some straight talk from President Bush and his Administration about the real state of affairs in Iraq and for the announcement of a success strategy, complete with benchmarks that will trigger the eventual withdrawal of coalition troops.

I hope that all those brave young men and women who, like Casey Sheehan, signed up for service in the armed forces, will soon be able to return home in triumph. I hope that the president and his Administration will stop offering the American people "more of the same," more than "stay the course." And I hope that Cindy Sheehan will, instead of continuing to sideline herself through extreme and unproductive rhetoric, will abandon those tactics and join the serious discussion about the war that some of us are trying to get started.

And above all, I hope that it is not too late for any of those things to occur.


At 8:52 PM, Blogger Phil S said...

You rightfully title your piece: "Patience". That is what we need as we see this anti-war movement grow from a few voices to something that may yet change the direction of this war.
While her rhetoric has, as you correctly point out, become sometimes "unproductive", I think overall she has raised the issue of Iraq to a level no one else was able to do. We must also remember that she is not a professional talking head; mistakes will be made. That said,
I too, hope that "it is not too late" to have some "serious discussion about the war".

At 11:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think its accurate that she has raised debate to any level it either has been or would have been. I'm at a loss of what answers she seeks that have not been given many times.

At 11:43 PM, Blogger pacatrue said...

Those were my thoughts exactly, Phil, so thanks for saying it better than I could. It is intriguing that she is simultaneously naive about running a political movement and yet capable of starting one that has gotten a lot more notice than anything from "wiser" heads to date.

At 7:28 AM, Blogger JBD said...

Phil - I agree, in general. But I don't think we can just push aside her "mistakes" by saying well she's naive - she has made herself into a professional talking head by putting herself in the position she now holds.

My main issue with her is the extremist rhetoric - I don't think she's gaining any converts to her cause among those who are conflicted about the war (as I am). Maybe that's not her goal. As much as I disagree with the way the war/aftermath has been conducted, I don't believe the president is "the biggest terrorist," nor do I believe (as I've said repeatedly) that our troops can safely be withdrawn from Iraq immediately. That would be an incredibly bad move both for the security of the United States and the security of the Iraqi state.

I certainly believe we need a success strategy and yes, benchmarks complete with timetables so that the American people are able to gauge that success, and so that our troops can come home. But immediate pullout, I just don't think that'll work.

Ms. Sheehan had great potential to offer a new voice about the war, and you and paca are both right in saying she has gotten lots of attention. But it's not attention that's resulting in productive dialogue - it's attention that's resulting in people shouting at each other. Without Cindy Sheehan, we'd still be hearing from Chuck Hagel, Russ Feingold and Wes Clark, among others, I suspect - all of whom are offering productive discussion points and suggestions.

Like I said in the post, I hope Ms. Sheehan will drop the extremist talk and join a meaningful debate about the war - but somehow I'm guessing that will happen on the same day Bush comes out and admits mistakes, fires Rummy and gets the country back on the right track.

At 9:23 AM, Blogger Jessica said...

But we are still hearing from those people, but it's not making any news (especially right now). The Libertarian Party has also released an exit strategy from Iraq. I think more than anything, people realize that bringing the troops home right this second will not be possible. I think many realize that it will take some time, but at this point, our administration hasn't even offered a plan, a timeline, a goal for success, nor have they adequately defined what success will be. The bar continues to change, and the answers and reasons do too, and as a parent of a soldier, I can only imagine how frustrating that is, when it's your child who gave their lives, or are currently giving their time. We have soldiers entering third deployments and we still don't know what we are trying to do there, and there is now serious doubt that it will ever be possible...

At 2:56 PM, Blogger pacatrue said...

This discussion brings up one of the great debates I have been having with myself lately about exactly how to have an impact in a national political dialogue. I have been opposed to the war since the get-go, but have never wanted to join the anti-war movement that I know of, because it seems either ineffective or counter-productive. An example is a poster we had here from the Not in Our Name - Hawaii group. The poster had a US tank being driven by pigs with guns running over Iraqi children. While I have always thought that our government does not take innocent deaths in wars seriously enough when they make the decision to go or not go, this sort of poster is hopelessly wrong-headed. For a movement to have an effect, we need thousands upon thousands of typical Hawaiians making their voice heard. How in hell is a poster demonizing our military going to find broad support in a state with the number of military families here? The entire Pacific Armed Forces are run out of these islands. At the same time, what I am good at - sitting in a room or on a blog debating issues in a meaningful, understanding manner - has no effect either. I loved Wesley Clark's letter that you provided to us. It made me wonder if I wanted to start, or join, a Clark 2008 campaign. But we who care about reasoned letters in a newspaper are in the huge minority. We aren't mass movements. I have not yet discovered how to bridge this gap.


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