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Bush Defends War Amid Texas Protests
Los Angeles Times
By Warren Vieth
Times Staff Writer
August 21, 2005
CRAWFORD, Texas — As antiwar activists set up a second roadside tent city and scores of motorcyclists conducted a rolling counter-rally, President Bush on Saturday launched a verbal campaign to shore up support for the war in Iraq.
Bush also did a little biking of his own, taking Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong on a sweaty, two-hour trail ride on the 1,600-acre ranch where the president and First Lady Laura Bush are spending the month of August.
Supporters of peace activist Cindy Sheehan, who has been unable to persuade Bush to talk to her about her son's death in Iraq, found the contrast galling.
"I think it's shameful the way he hides here," said Jeff Rogers of Portland, Ore., referring to the president's refusal to meet with Sheehan. "I think he's handled this as poorly as he's handled everything in Iraq."
Rogers, 61, is the son of the late William P. Rogers, who was President Nixon's secretary of State during the final five years of the Vietnam War. Rogers said the letters he sent home during a 1968-1969 Navy tour in Vietnam helped convince his father that the war was a mistake. He said his father subsequently worked behind the scenes to try to extricate the U.S. from Vietnam.
Rogers said he had not been active in the Iraq antiwar movement until Sheehan drew the nation's attention by establishing Camp Casey about two miles from Bush's ranch. The camp was named after her son, 24-year-old Army Spc. Casey Sheehan, who was killed in Iraq in April 2004.
Cindy Sheehan has since left Crawford to tend to her ailing mother in Los Angeles, but indicated she might return this week to continue pressuring the president for a meeting.
On Saturday, Bush defended his foreign policy in a nationwide radio address that linked the military offensives in Iraq and Afghanistan to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"On that day, we learned that vast oceans and friendly neighbors no longer protect us from those who wish to harm our people. And since that day, we have taken the fight to the enemy," Bush said. "We're fighting the terrorists in Afghanistan, Iraq, and around the world, striking them in foreign lands before they can attack us here at home."
It was the first of several Iraq war messages the president is scheduled to deliver in coming days. On Monday, he is to speak at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Salt Lake City, and Wednesday he is scheduled to discuss the war on terrorism with National Guard members and Air Force personnel in Idaho.
In the Democratic response to Bush's radio address, former Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia said the president's policy in Iraq was unsustainable.
"We need a strategy to win in Iraq, or an exit strategy to leave," said Cleland, who was seriously wounded in Vietnam. "The present course will lead to disaster. More of the same just means more precious blood spilled in the desert."
Sheehan's supporters spent the day setting up a second tent city a few miles away from the first, on a pasture provided by a Waco landowner to appease Crawford residents who objected to the congestion and commotion at the original campsite.
Camp Casey II featured a huge canvas tent to provide shade and a stage where country-rock songwriter and antiwar activist Steve Earle was scheduled to perform Saturday night.
As the activists dined on catered food, loudspeakers blared a song by Lance Armstrong's girlfriend, Sheryl Crow. It was titled "A Change Would Do You Good." Armstrong has spoken out against the war in Iraq.
Earlier in the day, caravans of motorcyclists from Dallas, San Antonio and other Texas cities thundered into Crawford to show their support for Bush's war on terrorism and the military offensives in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The left wing is trying to politicize this to the point that they make the American people feel inferior or guilty," said James Vergauwen, a 60-year-old Vietnam veteran who rode his Harley-Davidson to Crawford from Windthorst, Texas. "That's exactly what the terrorists want to hear. They want to hear the American people denigrating the United States."
Bush backers held a rally at the Crawford community center, and small groups of supporters set up their own roadside displays near Camp Casey. "Cindy Get-A-Long Home" was the message spray-painted on a bed sheet hung from a barbed-wire fence along Prairie Chapel Road.
Some people appeared to be protesting both sides at once.
"Right now, we're under siege," said Rheadene Weber, who lives near the site of the original Camp Casey. "We have been bombarded by two groups of folks that have come out here…. We were able to tolerate the president, but this just takes the cake."
Weber and some friends set up a small encampment with a banner reading "The Plight of Prairie Chapel," hoping to draw attention — and donations — to their effort to restore the historic, two-room Prairie Chapel School down the road.
Bush's morning mountain-bike ride with Armstrong was off-limits to reporters, although a Discovery Channel crew filmed the event for a documentary to be aired this month.
White House spokesman Trent Duffy said the group consisted of Bush, Armstrong and about eight other cyclists, including Secret Service personnel and White House staffers. The president led "Peloton One" on a two-hour, 17-mile ride with a 10-minute break at the site of a waterfall on the ranch.
Although Armstrong, 34, has a quarter-century edge over Bush, 59, the president did not concede any advantage to the seven-time Tour de France winner.
"He's a good rider," Bush said of his guest as a White House photographer took their picture, Duffy said. At the end of the ride, Bush presented Armstrong and the other riders with T-shirts commemorating their "Tour de Crawford."