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The Turning Tide (Part One)
By Michael Butler
Cindy Sheehan gets attention. ["How Cindy Sheehan Is Waking The Media Up," David Swanson, AfterDowningStreet.org, August 21, 2005--
The mainstream American media was hardly covering the Peace Movement at all, before Cindy Sheehan came along. The voices of literally millions around the world who had spoken out in opposition to the war had been marginalized and discredited. A majority of the American public had come to believe that the U.S. occupation in Iraq was heading ever deeper into a wrongheaded mess ["Americans Conflicted About Iraq War," Gary Langer, ABC News Poll, March 16, 2005---http://tinyurl.com/5f9dh], but the defenders of "staying the course" owned the airwaves, the editorial pages, and the electoral process. Then, like the lone protester at Tiananmen Square facing down a tank with one hopeful flower, Cindy Sheehan stood up to a bullying President, and made herself a symbol that the media could recognize.
You have to give her credit for getting noticed. No doubt, her confrontational attitude is part of the reason. "How in the world is anybody still sitting on that fence?" she asks. "If you fall on the side that is pro-George, and pro-war, you get your ass over to Iraq, and take the place of somebody who wants to come home. And if you fall on the side that is against this war and against George Bush, stand up and speak out. But whatever side you fall on, quit being on the fence." ["Address To Veterans For Peace Convention," Cindy Sheehan, August 5, 2005--http://www.truthout.org/cindy.shtml]
Profanity is her way of letting the world know that she's Goddam Angry, and you can't argue with a mother's righteous grief. So the squeaky wheel gets a little grease, as some folks like to say. Of course, it didn't happen overnight. She's an effective public speaker, and not a bad writer; and she spent a year aiming intense scorn at George Bush before her voice was heard above the din. She wrote letters to Bush and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, and to Time Magazine condemning Bush's 2004 award as Person of the Year ["Rewarding Incompetence," Cindy Sheehan, December 23, 2004--http://www.tompaine.com/articles/rewarding_incompetence.php]. She spoke at peace demonstrations and to conferences of veterans, and she founded an organization of families with members that had become casualties of the U.S. invasion. She addressed a hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives ["My Testimony for the Downing Street Memo Hearings," Cindy Sheehan, June 17, 2005--http://www.lewrockwell.com/sheehan/sheehan9.html]. But it wasn't until she went to camp out on the doorstep of the Bush vacation White House in August 2005 that she struck a raw nerve in the American psyche.
An explosion of media coverage brought her such a degree of name recognition that a Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll taken Aug. 28 to Aug. 30, 2005 [http://www.angus-reid.com/polls/index.cfm/fuseaction/viewItem/itemID/8821] was able to gauge her impact. The study shows that, paradoxically, she is a deeply sympat hetic figure who is also starkly polarizing. Ninety-one percent of Americans surveyed commiserate with her grief, but only forty-two percent support her actions. Forty-nine percent express disapproval.
Wikipedia [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cindy_Sheehan] lists dozens of articles, blog commentary and other media reports, most originating since August 2005, which indicate the conflicting viewpoints that swirl around her. Among the anti-war crowd, she is everybody's favorite cussin' lady; but to critics she is a dupe or duplicitous at best, an opportunist and a liberal traitor for the rest. Almost everyone agrees that she is a symbol who has brought focus to issues surrounding the U.S. war in Iraq; but there is plenty of disagreement about what she symbolizes.
For Frank Rich of the New York Times [The Swift Boating of Cindy Sheehan, August 21, 2005--see http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0821-20.htm] it's very straightforward. She is "the mother who symbolizes" her son Casey's story, a single heroic death among the ever-lengthening roll call that is "representative of the war's mismanagement and failure."
Joe Conason at Salon.com has a similar view [Ugly Acts Of Desperation, August 19, 2005]. To these issues he adds "the shifting rationale for the war" and the lack of a "plausible exit strategy." But as Joe points out, "For the right as much as for the left, Sheehan is a symbol." He believes that "she represents a growing threat to Republicans, who fear that they will pay a heavy electoral price next year for the unjustified and unnecessary bloodshed in Iraq."
Conason focuses on Cindy Sheehan's actions, and the meaning she herself declares; but in the background he observes that her significance derives partly because Bush has "no convincing answers" and "cannot explain" his policies. For Joe Klein at Time Magazine [The Danger of Yellow Ribbon Patriotism, Aug. 21, 2005], the perspective is inverted. It is not Cindy Sheehan's politics or ideology that strikes a chord, he observes, but she speaks to "a failure of leadership" by Bush.
According to Klein, Americans have had "a long season of sunshine patriotism." The country is ostensibly at war, yet Bush has kept a party-boy veneer to his domestic approach. Cindy Sheehan, therefore, "represents all the tears not shed when the coffins came home without public notice." Until now, the President has sidestepped "a serious...conversation about Iraq," but he needs to make "a public acknowledgment of the unutterable agony." This is the only way Klein believes we can "recommit the entire nation to the struggle," so that Americans will press on undaunted.
Klein strikes a balance toward Cindy Sheehan that seems to be an apt articulation of the mainstream feelings represented in the Gallup poll. He is sympathetic yet disapproving, dismissive yet respectful. He manages to be non-judgmental even while he identifies her viewpoint as symptomatic of national malaise.
Offering similar insights but with a different attitude, liberal pundit Tom Oliphant of the Boston Globe appeared on the PBS NewsHour on August 19 [NewsHour Political Wrap, August 19, 2005--http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/political_wrap/july-dec05/ok_8-19.html]. Oliphant summed up, "Through an odd confluence of events, Cindy Sheehan became a metaphor for America's impatience, frustration, and ambivalence about the continuing American involvement. It's much bigger than her. And I don't think it has anything to do with antiwar sentiment, per se. That's involved, but that doesn't account for the phenomena."
Even in context, Oliphant sounded strange. He was asked a specific question about the phenomenon of more than 1600 candlelight vigils across the country being held in solidarity with the Camp Casey gathering, yet he was heard declaring, "This is not an antiwar movement. It is a frustration movement." One wonders what a Peace Movement would look like, and how Tom would recognize it if he saw it. Conservative commentator Bill Kristol, on the same program, put it much less ambiguously. "If you read the liberal blogs," he said, "they are really enthused by her, she's the leader of the antiwar movement now."
Oliphant seemed to be saying, not that there is no antiwar movement, but that Cindy Sheehan's notoriety represents a means for the country to deal with other aspects of the problem. "The phenomenon has gone beyond Mrs. Sheehan," he explained, "because of what she evoked as an American reaction not to the war itself but to President Bush's problems in talking about the war, in explaining what's going on and telling us how much it's going to cost and telling us what's going to happen next. There is a disconnect in the dialogue between the government and the people on the war."
In other words, America as a whole is upset because the U.S. Army isn't winning, but that doesn't mean people really want to end the occupation. Kristol agreed with part of the premise. "The war isn't going well, and the president has troubles in Iraq, and I think he should do a better job of executing the policy, which I happen to support." But if there is a "frustration movement," Kristol refused to appoint Cindy Sheehan at the helm. "Her complaint isn't that we aren't grieving enough over these young men and women who have died; it's that President Bush isn't following her preferred policy alternative...as Mrs. Sheehan has made perfectly clear, to get the troops out of Iraq."
Whether or not that has actually been Cindy Sheehan's main objective all along, the "frustration movement" that Tom Oliphant conjures has certainly not been demonstrating for larger troop deployments and better body armor. The U.S. military's failure to properly equip its own soldiers is indeed a concern that Cindy Sheehan and others have spoken about, from candidate John Kerry to columnist Mark Shields ["Our Best Equipped Army? Baloney!" Mark Shields, Washington Post, December 17, 2004--http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A9249-2004Dec17.html]. But after a month in the Texas brushlands, the Camp Casey Movement has morphed into the Bring Them Home Now Tour, emphasizing demands to "bring the troops home, take care of them when they get here, and never again send our loved ones to war based on lies."
Oliphant's over-analyzing emptied the enormous energy behind 1600 candlelight vigils, exemplifying the power of the media to trivialize important events at the grassroots level. Reporting them with a few detached, casual words that deprived them of any message or purpose, the effect was to blunt any serious discussion of an anti-war alternative. But perhaps that was the meaning, after all: even after weeks of public standoff at the gates, no substantive dialogue about the war was taking place in any visible forum. There was polarization and emotion; but on a policy level, America was distracted by a phony debate that had moved very little.
After all the demonstrations, letters-to-the-editor, and great-hearted political failures of Dennis Kucinich, Howard Dean, Ralph Nader and others who have been outspoken in their opposition to U.S. involvement in Iraq, the voices of reason in Congress are few, and their legislative clout on this matter is paltry. Continually reaffirmed by Republican leadership, Congress has ceded all power on this issue to the White House. Regardless of the number of Americans who shared any part of Cindy Sheehan's philosophy, or the intensity with which anyone supported her views, the movement did not embody any political will.
Kristol concluded, "There will be pressure on Democratic senators and congressmen to support her position, which is withdrawal from Iraq. And I think that's a tough—I'm not sure that's a position that the leaders in the Democratic Party want to be in. We'll see what people like Senator Clinton and others, how they handle this." Like a lawyer hammering the final proof to his indictment, Oliphant seized on the point. Referring to Russ Feingold, he said, "There is exactly one Democratic Senator who is even in favor of setting a date," as far as any practical discussion of an exit strategy.
Joe Klein's essay stated the obvious. "This war...unlike Vietnam, cannot be abandoned without serious consequences." And therefore the rallying cry, "U.S. Out Of Iraq, Bring The Troops Home Now!" presents a moral abstraction that has no connection to the facts on the ground in Iraq. It does not address constitutional questions, the real needs for security in Iraqi society, or the violent predispositions of Islamic extremism. It does not take responsibility for the mess that America has created. Bush did not have to reach very far to reiterate his stance to reporters in Idaho on August 23, "I think immediate withdrawal from Iraq would be a mistake. I think those who advocate immediate withdrawal...are advocating a policy that would weaken the United States."
But as the poet Wallace Stevens observed, "Talk shifts the cycles of the scenes of kings." Whether it was George Bush who suddenly stood exposed, or Cindy Sheehan who succeeded in calling him out on his charlatan act in front of the American people—or perhaps it was the winds of Hurricane Katrina that ripped away the cover from a man whose life of privilege has seemed higher than the law—these things taken altogether have moved something tangible since August 2005, more than a wish, less than a promise.
As recently as July 21, the Pew Research Center reported [http://people-press.org/reports/pdf/251.pdf] that overall support for the U.S. war in Iraq had been stable for the previous year. Even while overwhelming numbers suspected that Bush had no idea how to conclude the mission, and a growing majority of Americans were slowly awakening to the knowledge that Osama Bin Laden has been playing rope-a-dope with the Bush administration since 9/11, still there was a certainty that the decision to go to war was in the best interests of the country, and more were in favor of maintaining troop levels than urging withdrawal. There was a firm belief in the eventual establishment of democracy. Even the minority who advised setting a timetable for departure were concerned that this would grant advantages to the insurgency.
But the cumulative comparison of many polls since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003 shows a persistent, long-term decline in support among all groups, even Republicans, coupled with rising numbers of those who express "growing concern about the war" ["Poll: USA Is Losing Patience On Iraq," Susan Page, USA TODAY, June 12, 2005--http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2005-06-12-poll_x.htm]. Rather than broad up-and-down swings, Americans' perceptions of the war reached a year-long plateau of near-equal divisions, with thin majorities affirming the President on key issues. These votes of confidence have fallen away one by one, even as Bush's approval ratings have witnessed steady erosion by degrees. In July, a majority disparaged his failure to be "honest and straightforward" ["Bush Honesty Rating Drops To Lowest Point," Mark Murray, NBC News--http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8561443].
In September, the lines converged: in one sharp spike, a turning point was crossed. "Fifty-seven percent...disapprove of the President’s performance," asserted Angus Reid, a Canadian-based global research foundation. "Public support for George W. Bush is reaching record lows in the United States," as shown by a TNS/Washington Post/ABC News Poll. "Earlier this month, Bush also registered all-time lows in surveys by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, Zogby International, Ipsos-Public Affairs/Associated Press, Newsweek, and Hart/McInturff/Wall Street Journal/NBC News." ["September Brings Bush Approval Rating Down," September 17, 2005--http://www.angus-reid.com/polls/index.cfm/fuseaction/viewItem/itemID/8992]
Summarizing all the research, columnist David Sirota pronounced, "Americans oppose the war, want an exit strategy, believe the conflict is damaging U.S. national security, and think the war is hurting the effort to win the War on Terror." As a result, "some...Democrats are becoming ever more vocal about their opposition to the war in Iraq and heightening their call to bring U.S. forces home." ["Poll Shows Americans Want Troops Brought Home; Top Dems Ignore the Public," September 15, 2005-- http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0915-35.htm]
Comments Jim Lobe ["Democrats Fumble Iraq Policy," August 26, Asia Times Online--http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Front_Page/GH26Aa02.html], "Grassroots Democrats...have been emboldened both by the polls and by the way that Cindy Sheehan, the bereaved mother of a dead US Marine who camped out most of this month outside Bush's Crawford, Texas ranch, has put the president on the defensive... Thanks to the mother of one fallen soldier," he applauds, "a serious, new antiwar movement" is developing.
Sheehan's outspokenness has become a dramatic catalyst in a wrenching process that is quickly intensifying. Her polarizing assertiveness has given hope, strength and growing impetus to a Peace Movement that is aiming head-on to confront not only Bush, but the weak-kneed, lackluster leadership of the Democratic Party. Since 9/11, by refusing to mount any meaningful objection to Bush war policies, the Democrats have been less a 'loyal opposition' than allies by cynical default.
Bush is prone to pretensions that "if you're not with us, you're against us." Defenders of the Bush agenda claim a mandate against terrorism so extreme that any dissent against the war is open to accusations of sedition; and Cindy Sheehan has been the brunt of particularly brutal defamation that somehow has not tarnished her in the mainstream view. "This kind of behavior borders on treasonous," exclaimed Fox News host Bill O'Reilly on the August 9 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor. Reilly spoke for hordes of others who went even further in their denigration of her efforts. On August 12, in his FrontPageMag.com weblog, David Horowitz called her "a disgrace to her brave son... She has betrayed his sacrifice and embraced his enemies." While she is not yet the target of an Un-American Activities Committee, this is the rhetoric that appoints vigilante action, and threatens the very fabric of a social contract that permits civilized disagreement.
But with this tendency toward sharper, harsher polarization creeping through American society is a clearer, keener definition of what is really going on outside the spin zones concocted by press mavens. On one side, there is a character of spinelessness and relativism incapable of taking a stand against evil, giving rise to leaders who lack moral authority to call a lie a lie and a thief a thief. These include Presidential hopefuls in the Democratic Party, who, because they are not against George Bush, are with him. Their strategy has been to let Bush do whatever he wants in the hope that he will fall flat on his face; and by so doing, they have betrayed their responsibility to the American people.
From another angle, there is a taut, disciplined political machine that has been hammered together by George Bush. Nowhere is it made more clear that the object of Bush's ambition is power for the sake of power than in his leadership style. He understands executive authority, but not democracy; conquest, but not governance. Like a crude imitator of Alexander the Great, or Douglas MacArthur without the intellectual depth and poetry, every issue resolves to a contest over personal loyalty; and whoever dares to cross him, be it the government of France, the Canadian ambassador, or a Senator within his own party, will always pay a price. As Robert Reich astutely dissects in "Bush Administration Paradox Explained," [San Francisco Chronicle, September 19, 2005--http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0919-25.htm], "Operatives in the CIA suspected Hussein didn't have weapons of mass destruction and personnel at the Department of State knew the plan to invade Iraq was seriously flawed, but such judgments were suppressed by a White House that made perfectly clear what it wanted and didn't want to hear. Career professionals at the CIA and the Department of State are now wary of sharing what they know with appointed officials, as are scientists and experts all over the federal government." Individual lawmakers within the Republican Congress—if not a much more extensive hierarchy that extends to many States—belong to coalitions of the possessed, kowtowing to doctrinaire marching orders that leave them very little room to exercise conscience or integrity.
Of course, there are individuals of stature and competency who choose to make a stand on principle when it matters; and there has already been a fracturing of the taboos instituted by the Bush administration—a breaking of the lockstep cadences enforced by party loyalty. In recent months, several key Republican members of the House and Senate have positioned themselves at odds with significant planks in the Bush platform; and as Jim Lobe reports ["Sailing Toward Lame Duck Land on Katrina's Waters," Inter Press Service, September 15, 2005--http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=30290], Bush's political base has been shaken by recent events and trends. "According to one poll by the Pew Research Center for People & the Press, nearly half of all respondents want to see most members of the Republican-controlled Congress voted out next year—the highest level of dissatisfaction with the country's lawmakers in the past decade." Other surveys taken since Katrina made landfall in Louisiana show that "moderate Republicans are deserting his camp and...self-described independents say they intend to vote Democratic in next year's Congressional elections by a two-to-one margin."
Falling poll numbers do not, by themselves, persuade Bush policy makers—they merely mobilize his PR armies for psy ops against the American people. It remains to be seen whether changing public opinion will encourage more individual lawmakers to take courageous stands, or if upcoming elections will empower new candidates with more effective voices.
But against this backdrop, Cindy Sheehan is the loyal opposition. She, and the movement that stands in solidarity with her, have had the temerity to say to George Bush, "We are against everything that you are, and everything that you stand for."
It is worth noting in this context who are the sponsors of the Bring Them Home Now Tour. There are four organizations that Cindy has grown up with in her development as an activist—in varying degrees, with which she has been associated since the earliest moments of her crusade. Without exception, these g roups are steeped in the culture of the American military and the ethic of national service: Veterans For Peace; Iraq Veterans Against The War; Military Families Speak Out; and the organization she founded, Gold Star Families For Peace [http://www.gsfp.org], composed of those whose members have given the ultimate sacrifice to water our tree of liberty with their blood.
They represent the values of a constituency who, perhaps more than any other Americans, possess a vital interest in holding our Chief Executive accountable for the decision to go to war. It is they who, at the hour of last resort, would put themselves—or let their children stand—in harm's way, to deliberately take a bullet so that ordinary Americans can walk free. They do not ask whether their President is a Democrat or Republican; nor do they ask the partisan affiliations of the citizens for whom their blood is shed. They are the honor of the nation itself: after the high-falutin' words, after the flag is folded, they are the most tangible symbols of belief in the greatness and goodness of American ideals.
And therefore, when Cindy Sheehan stands at the gates of the Presidential palace and says, boldly and clearly for all to hear: dear Mr. President, please tell me what is the Noble Cause for which my son gave his ultimate measure of devotion, it deserves at least an answer. It deserves, if not another meeting, at least a heartfelt public articulation of the meaning of the war, so that loyal Americans can say, this is of the highest importance, so grave that I would lay down my life for the country that I love.
Soldiers are, by nature, reflexively supportive of the institutions and leaders to which they have sworn allegiance; and Bush has won respect among them by his comfortable handling of the responsibility he carries—his willingness to make the hard choices that many people are convinced of necessity by the situation we face. Military personnel are among his most stalwart supporters. But even in polls taken when majorities of Americans could still be found for some of the purposes of the war, more than one-third of veterans could not see the value in maintaining an American presence in Iraq. From the highest-ranking former officers advising policy in think tanks, to the infantry who led a charge, there are strong misgivings about the absence of strategic understanding within the Administration.
But to those who have taken a hard look at the facts, Bush appears more than merely 'comfortable' in his role.
"The President lied, and my son died," Cindy Sheehan maintains.
The charge is not inconsequential. One might question whether a nation in the midst of a military occupation, beset by hostile forces that threaten the stability of its foundations, can afford the distraction of such a sideshow as this controversy presumes. But supposing there were substance to the allegation? It would be a supreme betrayal of trust—not misdemeanors, but acts subversive of the core principles of American independence. ["Jefferson Would Have Stood With Cindy Sheehan," Thom Hartmann, August 15, 2005--http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0815-21.htm] Perhaps it would not be the first time since the founding of the Republic that anyone in public office had ever performed such a deed; but its consequences are unparalleled. The deaths of tens, perhaps a hundred thousand innocent Iraqi civilians are on the American conscience; and the course to which the President has committed us threatens to squander all the accumulated wealth, power and virtue that we have obtained in a dozen generations—risking all that we are, and all that we have, for a disturbingly inchoate, ill-considered vision of what the world might become.
But what shred of proof is there warranting suspicion about the motives of George Bush in leading the nation to war?
The word "impeachment" does not occur in Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press reporter Charles Hanley's recent account of the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq ["Mystery Unfolds Over Hunt for WMD in Iraq," Charles J. Hanley, AP Special Correspondent, September 2, 2005--http://aolsvc.news.aol.com/news/article.adp?id=20050902143309990004]. It is a journalist's objective history, drawn from multiple sources that could not be compared and pieced together until now: United Nations deliberations, Congressional testimony, books by Hans Blix and others charged with enforcing a U.N. mandate, the declarations of David Kay and others pursuing U.S. inspections, "revelations from investigations, leaks, first-person accounts....findings of the Iraq Survey Group...from U.N., U.S., Iraqi and British documents, from Associated Press interviews and on-scene reporting," and the known actions and statements of George Bush, Dick Cheney, Tony Blair, Condoleeza Rice and others. "It's possible to reconstruct much of the "ordinary reality" of this extraordinary story, one that has changed the course of history," Hanley announces. No prosecutor could lay out a more convincing case about the troubling pattern of behavior demonstrated by the White House in the months leading up to the war—a pattern whose implications are horrifying. Taken together with the "Downing Street minutes"—the record of a Cabinet-level meeting in the U.K. between British officials and their American counterparts—as well as seven other communications sent among British war planners during the run-up to the war (available for review on the website of U.S. Congressional Representative Barbara Lee, at http://www.house.gov/lee), the portrait is damning.
The evidence deserves scrutiny by those Representatives of the American government in whom the delegated powers of the people reside. And if these disclosures resolve the validity of grounds for impeachment of Bush and Cheney, can Americans fail to uphold their ideals and principles? It will always be the best course for remaining strong against all external enemies; and perhaps it's the only means to regain any part of the admiration once felt toward America by much of the world. It would demonstrate a miraculous capacity, after stolen elections, flawed justice, and officially-sanctioned torture, that our system actually works. But unless we move to root out the influences that weaken us from within, the corruption introduced by Bush and Cheney into our national character in the name of Patriotic Anti-Terrorism will cause America to rot from the core. If America holds fast to the vision of our founders, our enemies must fall like ripe apples; but if not, the end of American power will swiftly, or eventually, but surely come.
While the Senate, therefore, has maintained an oblivious, calculated silence, a small but growing group of House Members have come to embody the only backbone that the Democratic Party has been able to muster on these issues. In January 2005, 16 Representatives delivered a letter to George Bush advising him that in view of the intractable realities in Iraq, the way to begin helping rather than hurting the situation was to commence immediate action leading to withdrawal. Thwarted by obstructive leaders and restrictive procedures from obtaining a hearing on most of their concerns, the Loyal Opposition has looked for cracks in the parliamentary facade ["House Of Representatives Announces Formation Of Out Of Iraq Caucus," Bellaciao, June 21, 2005--http://bellaciao.org/en/article.php3?id_article=6583] Denied official meeting space, Ohio Representative John Conyers chaired a panel in June on the "Downing Street Minutes" attended by several dozen Members in the Congressional basement. For the first time, questions were voiced publicly regarding whether, as David Horowitz elegantly phrased it, the Bush administration was guilty of "fabricating intelligence information to send American youth into battle to die for a lie."
In July, Representative Barbara Lee of Oakland raised these questions before the International Relations Committee, where her Resolution of Inquiry could not be dismissed without a vote unless it went to the House floor. [http://www.house.gov/lee/resolutiononinquiry.PDF] In the next two months, 66 Democrats and 1 Republican added their signatures as co-sponsors. On September 14, the Committee voted along partisan lines, defeating it 22-21, with one Republican supporting the measure and another abstaining.
On September 15, struggling "to climb out of the political basement," as Edward Epstein reported in the San Francisco Chronicle ["Anti-War House Members Press For A Withdrawal Plan," September 16, 2005--http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/09/16/MNGJUEOI9U1.DTL], about 30 members of the House crowded into an ad hoc meeting intended to address the danger, again in Horowitz' words, that "withdrawal from Iraq...would lead to a bloodbath in the region and in the United States."
Epstein noted that "the activities of Cindy Sheehan...and the efforts of other anti-war campaigners have intensified the political pressure on the President at the same time Hurricane Katrina has focused attention on unmet domestic needs." Bolstered by polls that show "a majority of Americans favor withdrawal of at least some troops from Iraq, and Bush's overall approval ratings and the public's confidence in his handling of the war are at record lows," these underground Democrats feel that "the political wind is at their backs."
Another observer, Ari Berman ["Prelude to an Exit Strategy," The Nation, September 17, 2005--http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0917-26.htm], described how a half-dozen witnesses presented "grim, realistic and precise" testimony at the proceedings chaired by California Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey. "There were calls for an international peace summit, negotiations with insurgents, greater inclusiveness for minority Sunnis and a need to set a clear end goal, followed by a drawdown of US troops." Minutes taken by Tom Hayden, who helped organize the event, emphasized also that "there was strong consensus in favor of...declaring no interest in permanent bases or control of oil." ["Woolsey Hearing Begins Debate on Exit Strategy," Tom Hayden, September 19, 2005--http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0919-22.htm]
Witnesses included former Senator and decorated war hero Max Cleland; former ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, David Mack, who also served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State; Ken Katzman, Middle East specialist at the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service; Anas Shallal, an Iraqi-American peace activist; Antonia Chayes, former Air Force official, now a professor of international politics specializing in conflict resolution at Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law; and retired Marine General Joseph Hoar, who headed US Central Command from 1991 to 1994. Epstein added that there was a brief appearance by "the hearing's star": Republican Walter Jones, "the North Carolina conservative lawmaker who made headlines in June when he turned against the war he had initially supported and backed a resolution calling on Bush to devise a withdrawal plan."
"An abrupt end to the U.S. military presence would probably lead to an upsurge of violence among Iraqis and offer new opportunities for terrorists, but this does not excuse the absence of a new strategy for orderly disengagement,'' said Ambassador Mack, now a vice president at the Middle East Institute. General Hoar testified that "success as defined by our civilian leadership three years ago is out of reach. This counterinsurgency campaign, this budding civil war, is all about politics, ideas and religion. It cannot be won by killing Iraqis. Were this possible, the over 25,000 Iraqis killed already might have been enough."
Berman reported that "Hoar called for a high-level international envoy to help straighten out the fragile Iraqi political process, a recommendation endorsed by many of the panelists." Hayden mentioned a suggestion that this "third-party mediation process" could proceed with "a major political figure in charge," "someone like former Senator George Mitchell."
In June 1999, General Charles Krulak, Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, gave an interview with Jim Lehrer on the PBS NewsHour [http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/military/jan-june99/krulak_6-25.html] in which he said, "A nation is a superpower not just because of its military strength; a nation is a superpower because of five, what I call elements of national power."
Krulak pointed to diplomatic, military, industrial strength, "laboratories and the academic environment," and perhaps above all, the power of information. At the Woolsey Hearing, General Hoar exhibited a similar understanding of the limits of military force, and the need to embrace constructive alternatives that the Bush administration has either forgotten, failed to comprehend, or fumbled spectacularly in their attempts. Like these career military professionals, the knowledge that military might possesses limited or no effectiveness against the social, philosophical, moral, religious, cultural, political, economic, and international relations problem called "terrorism" has by now become obvious to much of the world's population. Unfortunately, under the leadership of George Bush, many Americans still cling to a tragic belief that military adventurism holds the potential to make them safer. Their commitment to defending this illusion has been greater than their commitment to learning truth; but now, the tide is turning.
[End Part One]