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Mother deserves meeting, and apology, from Bush
by DeWayne Wickham
C'mon George Bush, meet with Cindy Sheehan.
As president and commander in chief, you should find some time during your month-long "working vacation" in Crawford, Texas, to look this mother in the eye and say why you sent her son into harm's way in Iraq.
I know it's got to be harder for you to talk one-on-one with a loved one of the servicemen and women who have been killed in Iraq than it is to meet with a group of grieving relatives. Still, you ought to extend such a small courtesy to Sheehan, whose son gave what Abraham Lincoln called "the last full measure of devotion" to his country.
If you can't figure out what to say to ease the pain that's wracked Sheehan since her 24-year-old son, Casey, was killed in Iraq last year, I can help you muster up some words.
Begin by apologizing to her for misleading our nation into believing that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Getting rid of those phantom weapons was the excuse you used to launch the pre-emptive war in Iraq.
Sure, I understand that intelligence failures have been blamed for what you said in your 2003 State of the Union address about Saddam possessing "the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent." But as Harry Truman said in his farewell address, "The buck stops here." You misled us, and you should just flat out admit it.
Mr. President, you should gently caress Sheehan's hands and assure her that her son didn't die in Iraq because you wanted to settle an old score. Tell her the reference you made to Saddam as "the guy who tried to kill my dad" during a 2002 speech, in which you laid out the case for war with Iraq, was a meaningless coincidence.
And tell Sheehan that when you said "bring them on" the following year, as resistance to the American occupation of Iraq began to stiffen, that you didn't mean to taunt insurgents from the safety of the White House while U.S. forces in that country were left to deal with their deadly response.
Just be honest and say you lost it for a moment. I think Sheehan will understand, given the emotional roller coaster she has been on since getting word that her son was killed five days after arriving in Iraq.
If at some point Sheehan gives you a sympathetic look, use this opening to say how sorry you are that more than 90% of the nearly 1,900 U.S. servicemen and women who have been killed in Iraq died after you triumphantly proclaimed an end to "major combat operations" in that nation.
Of course, all of this compassionate talk would be meant to convince Sheehan that her son didn't die in vain. Once you get through this part of your conversation, Mr. President, you can address the larger issue she raises about pulling U.S. forces out of Iraq.
Here's where you need to tread lightly. Sheehan can be expected to press you for an exit strategy and timetable for withdrawal.
Given your often, publicly stated refusal to do this, I suggest you tell Sheehan you didn't mean it when you said during the final 2000 presidential debate that U.S. forces should be deployed abroad only when the mission is "clear," the force is "strong enough so that the mission can be accomplished" and the exit strategy is "well-defined."
Tell Sheehan that was election-year bluster. Tell her that verbal swagger was a hyperbolic appeal to your right-wing base. Say that if many conservatives can give you a pass on your failure to stick to that promise, as the polls suggest they have, that she should be as understanding.
I know it's asking a lot of a tough guy like you to show Sheehan your soft side. Even so, this woman — and the nation — is hurting. Now is the time for you to be presidential.
But if you can't bring yourself to do this, meeting Cindy Sheehan probably isn't such a good idea.
DeWayne Wickham writes weekly for USA TODAY.
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