My trolls don’t seem to get it. The right-wing screaming heads don’t seem to get it. President Bush and his evil-genius puppet master don’t seem to get it. But the Seattle Times editorial board gets it exactly right: “Cindy Sheehan’s symbolism.”
The Times expands on a sentiment that I expressed in a comment thread yesterday, that Cindy Sheehan is a symbol — nothing more, nothing less — and as such, she and her vigil represent a nascent anti-war movement, that will surely grow in boldness and popular support.
Advisers and supporters of the president have tried to ignore Sheehan or downplay her protest as a mother’s unseemly grief. This is both wrong and a mistake.
So far, 1,853 Americans have died in Iraq. The cost of the war, in lives and dollars, will only grow. Sheehan is the human face behind the daily toll. She has become the symbol of growing frustration over the war.
America’s purpose in Iraq is over. The soldiers should be brought home. It can be done, as has been proven in Vietnam, Somalia and other places. When and how it is done is not Sheehan’s call to make, nor should it be.
In the minds of many Americans, the tide of the war has turned. Sheehan didn’t turn the tide. She is a symbol of the sea change. Expect this symbol to grow in significance and importance.
Whether Bush meets again with the mom standing sentinel in Crawford is not the point. The point is that the president must understand what this mom represents.
In focusing on Cindy Sheehan the person, rather than Cindy Sheehan the symbol, President Bush and his surrogates have missed the point entirely. Even if they could succeed in destroying Sheehan’s reputation, there are plenty of other grieving mothers ready to take her place… with Bush’s war creating more every day. What Sheehan started cannot be stopped by a mere smear campaign.
As Frank Rich brilliantly observed in the New York Times last Sunday, the war is over… and somebody should really tell the President.
A president can’t stay the course when his own citizens (let alone his own allies) won’t stay with him. The approval rate for Mr. Bush’s handling of Iraq plunged to 34 percent in last weekend’s Newsweek poll – a match for the 32 percent that approved L.B.J.’s handling of Vietnam in early March 1968. (The two presidents’ overall approval ratings have also converged: 41 percent for Johnson then, 42 percent for Bush now.) On March 31, 1968, as L.B.J.’s ratings plummeted further, he announced he wouldn’t seek re-election, commencing our long extrication from that quagmire.
But our current Texas president has even outdone his predecessor; Mr. Bush has lost not only the country but also his army. Neither bonuses nor fudged standards nor the faking of high school diplomas has solved the recruitment shortfall. Now Jake Tapper of ABC News reports that the armed forces are so eager for bodies they will flout “don’t ask, don’t tell” and hang on to gay soldiers who tell, even if they tell the press.
Gays in the military? What’s next… Jews in the Air Force Academy?
I’ve never quite understood the right’s reluctance to use the hated homosexuals as canon fodder, but as has been the case throughout the history of our nation’s military, expediency has a way of overcoming bigotry’s divisive barriers, where reasoned pleas for tolerance cannot. Still, with nearly 1,900 dead soldiers and many thousands more permanently maimed and mutilated — and with no clear mission or exit strategy coming from our “leaders” in the White House — no influx of gay recruits or high school dropouts can maintain our military at levels necessary to continue our occupation of Iraq, or our ever emptier threats against incipient nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran.
Only a draft could procure the human resources necessary to continue the Bush administration’s military misadventurism, but forced conscription would cost the President some of his most loyal supporters: the chicken hawks and yellow elephants who are willing to sacrifice everything to subdue Iraq, except their tax breaks and their lives.
The war is over in Iraq, not because of Cindy Sheehan’s vigil or Bush’s plummeting poll numbers… and certainly not because our troops have failed to perform as valiantly and courageously as circumstances allowed. The war is over because Americans have inevitably tired of a war whose endgame was always left as ill defined as its purpose.
There is little doubt that a quick American withdrawal will be as disastrous for the Iraqi people as was the initial invasion; but so would be the near-permanent occupation that seems to be the only other choice… an occupation that the American people simply do not support. As Rich bluntly concludes:
Nothing that happens on the ground in Iraq can turn around the fate of this war in America: not a shotgun constitution rushed to meet an arbitrary deadline, not another Iraqi election, not higher terrorist body counts, not another battle for Falluja (where insurgents may again regroup, The Los Angeles Times reported last week). A citizenry that was asked to accept tax cuts, not sacrifice, at the war’s inception is hardly in the mood to start sacrificing now. There will be neither the volunteers nor the money required to field the wholesale additional American troops that might bolster the security situation in Iraq.
WHAT lies ahead now in Iraq instead is not victory, which Mr. Bush has never clearly defined anyway, but an exit (or triage) strategy that may echo Johnson’s March 1968 plan for retreat from Vietnam: some kind of negotiations (in this case, with Sunni elements of the insurgency), followed by more inflated claims about the readiness of the local troops-in-training, whom we’ll then throw to the wolves. Such an outcome may lead to even greater disaster, but this administration long ago squandered the credibility needed to make the difficult case that more human and financial resources might prevent Iraq from continuing its descent into civil war and its devolution into jihad central.
Thus the president’s claim on Thursday that “no decision has been made yet” about withdrawing troops from Iraq can be taken exactly as seriously as the vice president’s preceding fantasy that the insurgency is in its “last throes.” The country has already made the decision for Mr. Bush. We’re outta there. Now comes the hard task of identifying the leaders who can pick up the pieces of the fiasco that has made us more vulnerable, not less, to the terrorists who struck us four years ago next month.
The war is over because when a President is unwilling or unable to lead the American people, the American people lead the President.