Thursday, August 18, 2005

Should it really be Bush v. Sheehan?

George W. Bush is looking more and more like Richard Nixon every day. Okay, so I can't detect any jowls or five-o-clock shadow, but the paranoia and callousness is easily discernable. Bush's decision not to meet with Cindy Sheehan, a mother who lost her son, Casey, in the Iraq War who has been waiting outside of his "ranch" in Texas with this request is sad but not surprising.

It's ironic that someone like Bush, who will stand with troops when he thinks it makes him look good will try to avoid their families members if it threatens to make him look bad. Fundamentally, if Bush had concern for the grieving families and the lost soldiers, he wouldn't care whether associating with someone who wants to know what her son died for indicted his war. In fact, maybe it would help him re-center his idea of the "mission" in Iraq.

What is so troubling about Bush though is that he doesn't seem to care about the lives he is putting on the line as Commander in Chief. It seems doubtful that he has any trouble sleeping at night. He self-centeredly said of seeing people like Sheehan,"it's important for me to be thoughtful and sensitive...it is also important for me to go on with my life."

As this article points out, Bush's investment in the Iraq War is much different than Lyndon Johnson's was in Vietnam, and though Johnson might have initially stood up to the military establishment on Vietnam--admittedly not an easy thing to do for someone who had unexpectedly become president--at least he was deeply concerned and aware that he was putting men's lives at risk:
According to Nick Kotz..."[O]ften late at night [Johnson] would go down to the White House situation room to check the casualty reports. At times, when Johnson sat with visitors in the Oval Office, he would weep openly as he read from the previous day's casualty lists."

...Bush doesn't go to funerals for our dead soldiers. Until last week, his administration had refused to release photos of the flag-draped caskets coming back to the United States. (The Pentagon caved as a result of a Freedom of Information Act suit.) When it comes to the second Iraq war, Bush displays no doubt, no anguish.
This brings me back to Nixon, whose main concern was investigating political enemies like Paul Newman and making peace activists and anti-war veterans look bad, all the while justifying continued fighting in Vietnam as the only way to ensure that America didn't look weak, never mind that thousands of people were dying for this petty reasoning.

I know there are families of Iraqi soldiers who support the war and would disagree with Sheehan (I myself am troubled by and have to strongly take issue with her linking the U.S. withdrawing Iraq to Israel leaving the Palestinian territories), but the most compelling thing about Sheehan isn't her politics, as the smear machine would have us believe, but the fact that she and countless others want an answer as to the question , why are we in Iraq?

9 comments:

Chris said...

I guess the difficulty in the situation is, she apparently wants to hear "the truth" from Bush. But she already thinks she knows what "the truth" is and has explained quite clearly what she thinks. So, really, what's the point of Bush meeting with her a **second** time, just so she can freak out in front of his face instead of a couple miles away; if he said what she wanted to hear, he'd be lying. It wouldn't do either party in this conflict any good.

The only way my little political mind could figure out how to do this, would be if some secret service agents whisked her off in the middle of the night to a part of Bush's ranch and the two met there in secret and just talked. Say this happens, and he speaks with her for however long she wants (and imagine it's an objectively good conversation) there's no guarantee that she wouldn't start making things up again once she got to press interviews.

For an alternate view of the President in these situations: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-smerconish/the-consoling-president_b_5757.html

Elaine said...

I think it's pretty disrespectful to refer to her feelings as "freak[ing] out."

Anyway, your article seems to suggest that Bush will meet with grieving families as long as they don't question him. What is so worrisome about Bush is his virtual insulation from criticism. I guess I just think it callous to treat someone who lost their son as merely a political object and thus someone to be distanced from. The fact is, only about one-third of our country thinks the war is justified right now and that Bush has been truthful about our reasons for being in Iraq, and Bush could help the country if he were to explain why people are dying so brutally and in greater numbers over there, both Iraqis and Americans, things like satisfying members of Congress's request for information on "how we evaluate the conflict in Iraq and what criteria need to be met before we consider our mission successful and can begin to withdraw American troops." (http://www.connectionnewspapers.com/article.asp?article=54496&paper=65&cat=110)

Here's how Bush handled Sheehan:
"He wouldn't look at the pictures of Casey. He didn't even know Casey's name," she told CNN Sunday. "Every time we tried to talk about Casey and how much we missed him, he would change the subject." (http://www.cnn.com/2005/POLITICS/08/07/mom.protest/)

Sheehan says she wants to meet with Bush because she realizes she didn't ask him questions that she now wants to ask him at their first meeting. I don't blame her: it is a human instinct to seek knowledge of why a loved one died an untimely death, and my view is that Bush should have the dignity to give Sheehan that much, even if he doesn't like what her views on the war are.

Chris said...

"It is a human instinct to seek knowledge of why a loved one died an untimely death."

Of course, it is, but that's no longer what she is doing. She wants the President to confirm her own views; that's not knowledge gained by any means. And instead of trying to make sense of this with her family (who undoubtedly loves her) she has become surrounded by opportunistic people who wish to take (and have taken) advantage of her for their own personal political gain (this includes everyone across the political spectrum including and especially the media).

According to her first account she said, ""That was the gift the president gave us, the gift of happiness, of being together" (http://www.thereporter.com/republished). She can, of course change her story, but that is exactly the reason why I said Bush couldn't meet with her privately because no one would no if her account afterwards would be truthful. And I know if you had to choose between believing the WH or CS, you'd choose the latter.

As for his treating people as "political objects" that's exactly what he DID'NT with the family in the story. He didn't want it to be publicized so that he would be accused of "politicizing" a grieving family.

Perhaps my characterizing her actions as "freaking out" was a tad "disrespectful" but this is yet another reason why a meeting with Bush would do absolutely nothing. Calling bush the world's biggest terrorist, demonstrates she definitely doesn't respect him; without any kind of mutual respect a conversation wouldn't be beneficial. That characterization may have been just an emotional outburst, but she's 200% emotion and no reason now and she needs to calm down before any kind of progress can come either from the President or from anyone else.
She knows why her son was killed, why he was in Iraq, why he was in the military (http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-gelernter19aug19,0,648828.story?coll=la-news-comment-opinions).

And I can't imagine what she's going through; but it's up to her and her family to help her through this. Meeting with the President will do nothing for her.

This is all kind of moot right now, though, since she's left Crawford because her mother had a stroke. I can do nothing but feel absolute compassion for her.

Elaine said...

"And I can't imagine what she's going through; but it's up to her and her family to help her through this. Meeting with the President will do nothing for her."

See, this is what gets me. Her family can only do so much; they weren't the ones who appealed to a country to go to war. Bush did. People are frustrated that Bush isn't taking responsibility for committing men and women to their possible deaths and honoring those men and women, and your suggestion that this is Sheehan and her family's issue alone seems to support that. What's troubling about Bush and others' viewpoint here is that it seems unaware of the gravity of what it means to go to war. What frustates people about this president is his inability to demonstrate that he has any responsibility. He is a man more concerned with appearing steely--saying he hasn't made any mistakes because such a response tests well with focus groups--than figuring out if what he is doing is right.

"she's 200% emotion and no reason now and she needs to calm down before any kind of progress"

She has said things that are controversial to people who support Bush, and, frankly, to me (regarding Israel), but I think it's unfair to write her off by saying that she's not being reasonable ...Also, I think emotion versus reason is kind of a false dichotomy.

Chris said...

"People are frustrated that Bush isn't taking responsibility for committing men and women to their possible deaths and honoring those men and women, and your suggestion that this is Sheehan and her family's issue alone seems to support that."

But he is, he's just not doing it in the way in which his critics want him to be doing it. Should we pull out tomorrow, we would ruin any good we have done over the past three years, and it would confirm to the skeptics that this was just a frivolous jaunt into the Middle East ordered by an imperialist dandy. That is not what this is, by any means.

The political issue is not just their issue. But handling her grief is her (and her family's issue). The two are obviously connected, but there has to be a healthier way of dealing with this. Her son served his first tour and survived; he chose his second tour. In fact, he chose to be in the army. THAT (if I can speculate) is what I think she is so upset about and projecting onto the president.

"I think it's unfair to write her off by saying that she's not being reasonable ...Also, I think emotion versus reason is kind of a false dichotomy."

It's not unfair at all; in fact, it's quite accurate. If she really wanted to meet with the president, she wouldn't be lessening her already slim chance by spouting off these crazy things. I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt by calling her remarks a product of her emotion; if they're a product of her reason, she's needs to see a psychiatrist more than I thought (and I mean completely seriously).

This isn't the best analogy, but here goes (because the situation just happened): It's almost like she's a child (she's not a child)who has hurt himself (CS's not hurt herself but she's hurting) and starts smacking his hand on the stony ground. Here's the parallel: When he finds a towel, instead of putting it on the wound to stop the blood, he starts rubbing it making it hurt even more. Then, when mom comes with the band-aid he refuses the band-aid, because he doesn't like band-aids. There's really no reason to the behavior, and the behavior results from the pain and the child's own dislike for the thing that would help. CS could deal with this reasonably, but she's chosen to go to the President (he might have helped had she not acted so irrationally so early in her protests - in fact, in the early days of this, I thought he should have met with her). What happens when this all ends and she goes home and doesn't have all the diverting activities that she had while protesting in Crawford? She hasn't done anything for her self or the memory of her son, and she'll be left with even more frustration and grief because her plan didn't work. It's just not worth it.

Elaine said...

One thing I don't understand about Republicans who still support Bush is why, for all of their criticism of "big government" they totally trust the guy who is currently in charge. I just wonder whether there is ever a shread of doubt held by Bush supporters in regards to the Iraq war.

I know you have espoused that Iraq's geography is opportune for spreading democracy, but Bush has hardly set so lofty a goal. His goal is ostensibly to get a democratic government within Iraq, though I can assure you if the government is democratic but hostile to the presence of American oil companies and other U.S. businesses, it will soon be overthrown. One also has to wonder why someone like Bush, who so criticized the Clinton administration for "nation building," is now so eager to spread democracy. Or why, way back when in 2002, his advisors were talking about imminent threats and presenting "evidence" that there were WMDs. A mission that seeks to deal with an imminent threat is very different from one that seeks to "nation build." The question is, what is the reason we're in Iraq? Was not finding the WMDs an honest mistake? Help me understand this here, because Bush is not.

In a class on International Studies that I took last quarter, we read a very interesting book on the role that truth commissions have played in countries that had suffered under regimes of terror. The book made the point that truth commissions, which allow victims and their family members to testify about the persecution they or their loved ones have endured and sometimes even question members of the regime, are healing mechanisms for individuals and whole societies. The book explained the power that the arrangement has on people, giving them a feeling that they have been heard, at long last, by their government. The point is, if the government is determining a person's fate in such a way as Bush's government is doing to Americans who have relatives or friends in Iraq, I don't blame those people for wanting to ask him why. Part of getting over grief is just being heard by the person who was its cause.

If Bush and supporters would just stop viewing people who have problems with the war as the enemy, maybe we would get somewhere, but at this point it seems not if people who are in grief or upset with the government are merely viewed as bad PR for Bush.

Chris said...

"One thing I don't understand about Republicans who still support Bush is why, for all of their criticism of "big government" they totally trust the guy who is currently in charge. I just wonder whether there is ever a shread of doubt held by Bush supporters in regards to the Iraq war."

First, your first sentence has nothing to do with this issue, but I'll answer it anyway: it's the lesser of two evils. Secondly, Bush supporters doubt just as much; however, in this game of politics, expressing doubt openly in the face of opposition gets taken advantage of to the utmost extent. It might be completely ridiculous to you, but Republicans are their own worst critics (very few actually thought Bush would win the last election, for example).

"I know you have espoused that Iraq's geography is opportune for spreading democracy, but Bush has hardly set so lofty a goal. His goal is..."

How is it you actually know what his goal is? Has the experience in Iraq not helped start reforms in Palestine, Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, Kuwait, and, dare I say, Saudi Arabia? It's only a start, though. Iran alone stands out, but no one believes in the legitimacy of the last "election".

"One also has to wonder why someone like Bush, who so criticized the Clinton administration for "nation building," is now so eager to spread democracy."

I'm ashamed you don't know the answer to this one, since it's been repeated so many many times. He believes that the only way to stop Islamist terrorism is to bring freedom and democracy to the region; it's a big picture, long-term vision, obviously more difficult than other short-term options. I could ask why Democrats who were so interested in nation-building under Clinton, despise it now; but I already know the answer.

"Or why, way back when in 2002, his advisors were talking about imminent threats and presenting "evidence" that there were WMDs. A mission that seeks to deal with an imminent threat is very different from one that seeks to "nation build.""

The characterization of "imminent threat" was given by none other than the senior Senator from Mass., NOT the administration. You can't honestly believe there was one and only one purpose to going to Iraq. Out of the multiple arguments, the one most used was that one argument, which would affect people the most - possible WMDs will convince people more than a nation-building argument. But if one is going to invade a country to rid it of its WMDs and government, institution-building is an inherent part of that. The entire world from the Washington to New York, to Londond, Paris, Berlin, Moscow, and Tehran thought that Iraq had WMDs (just like everyone thought Hitler had a nuclear bomb back in 1945...but, hmm, no one talks about that now). I'm not sure where I stand on this, but there could still be Iraqi WMDs out there since we gave Saddam so long to hide them in (underground, in other countries) our "rush" to war. So that argument goes.

"The point is, if the government is determining a person's fate in such a way as Bush's government is doing to Americans who have relatives or friends in Iraq, I don't blame those people for wanting to ask him why. Part of getting over grief is just being heard by the person who was its cause."

A person is a guardian of his own fate. I think I've said this twice already. The President, as commander in chief, bears some responsibility; but we have a VOLUNTEER army...VOLUNTEER. It is an army; an army defends its country, usually in wars; the soldiers who make up the army of this country CHOOSE to be in this army knowing, of course, than it is likely he will do what a soldier does by definition, fights. To imply that these people are "persecuted" as you do is patently ridiculous. These grieving families may never get over it, especially if they never agreed with their son's decision to join the army. They, of course, can't ask the terrorist out in Iraq why either.

"If Bush and supporters would just stop viewing people who have problems with the war as the enemy, maybe we would get somewhere, but at this point it seems not if people who are in grief or upset with the government are merely viewed as bad PR for Bush."

Most of Bush supporters don't. However, when the opposition regards Bush as the equivalent to Hitler, Satan, the world's biggest terrorist, etc. why should there be any point to reason with the unreasonable. I'm citing the extreme example, but not exactly the least prevalent. I think they're just being ignored as all other anti-war oppositions (from the Revolution to Kosovo save Vietnam) have been history in order to be left out of the history books as all of those other anti-war movements have been. That's not necissarily my view, but I see a slight bit of merit in it.

RVGROVER said...

THE ISSUE IS FAR BIGGER. JUST BECAUSE HE WANTS SOME OIL WELLS FOR HIS CRONIES OR HIS DAD'S CRONIES HE POURS INTO IRAQ HARDWARE AND HUMAN LIVES TO GET THE OILWELLS. AND LOOK WHERE THE PRICE OF A BARELL OF OIL HAS GONE EVER SINCE. FROM 30DOLLARS A BARELL TO 70DOLLARS. WHAT'S HAPENNING HERE. YANKEE WAKE UP

Elaine said...

I agree rvgrover, though I have a feeling as regards oil, Americans are being gouged. The oil companies know that there is virtually no chance of an investigation under a Republican majority Congress and probably the friendliest White House they've ever had (of many friendly White Houses), plus a tumultuous Middle East can be used as an excuse for the increasing prices. If I'm right about this (and I hope I'm not, but I fear I am) thanks to the petrol companies, we're all facing higher transport costs even if we don't drive: fare hikes from already cash-strapped mass transit systems, surcharges on cab rides...and that's just transportation. Anyway, I always find it odd that Republicans today support little business regulation, sing the praises of an ethic of making as much money as one can, and then trust that corporate heads (who are of the same mentality) aren't bilking consumers. It's a strange, agressive kind of naivete.