August 10, 2005
BY CAROL MARIN SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST
I keep thinking about that mother who is camped out somewhere near the end of President Bush's driveway in Crawford, Texas. Her name is Cindy Sheehan, and her 24-year-old son, Casey, is dead. He was a soldier, killed last year in the Iraq war.
Sheehan wants a face-to-face meeting with the president to tell him to stop saying that our continued commitment to this awful war "honors" the sacrifice of those who gave their lives for their country. Sheehan doesn't believe we honor anyone by putting new lives on the line. Not more of our own soldiers. Not those of the so-called "coalition forces." And not innocent Iraqi men, women and children for that matter either.
So Sheehan is parked in a ditch, living in a tent, some distance from the president's ranch and refusing to pack up and go back home to California.
I wondered when Bush left Crawford this morning to come here to Illinois if he left his ranch by car and therefore traveled down his driveway in the vicinity of Sheehan? Or was he lifted out by helicopter, flying up and out over her head? Either way, she is down there in Texas today and Bush is here.
The reason the president is taking time away from his summer ranch vacation to come to Illinois is to sign a big transportation bill outside of Aurora. It involves a lot of money, $286.5 billion for all sorts of projects. Of that amount, Illinois will get hundreds of millions of dollars to build bridges, shore up infrastructure and create some new roads. All in all, those things make a difference in people's lives and so there will be a load of politicians standing behind the president, chief among them House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and other members of the Illinois congressional delegation.
This bill represents one of those rare moments of bipartisan unity because all of the state's Democrats and Republicans in Congress voted for it, as did our two United States senators. There will be a lot of applause and and a sense of accomplishment, a lot of back-slapping and congratulation. These are the kind of events that people in public life love. It's a way to focus on the positive.
The Iraq war is not a positive. That's why for two years we haven't been allowed to view soldiers' flag-draped coffins coming into Dover Air Force base. That's why the president keeps the cost of this war out of the official annual budget document, relegating it to supplemental appropriations instead. And that's why the administration would rather use terms like "coalition forces" rather than actually name the countries supporting us. After all, just how many troops do we really think can be supplied by Albania, Azerbaijan and Estonia?
Sadly, for most of us the Iraq war has become terrible noise in the background of our lives. It doesn't really reach us except when we turn on the television or open the newspaper or check our e-mail. That's where it pops up much like an unwelcome Internet ad that we can make disappear with a click. The problem is that it keeps popping up.
We are only a third of the way through August, and 31 more soldiers are dead. Car bombs. Insurgent attacks across the country. Carnage in the cities as well as in the countryside.
Thousands more of our wounded are coming home to rehabilitate their broken bodies and in some cases, tortured minds.
And as Sun-Times reporter Cheryl Reed has shown us in stunning detail, we talk a good game in this country about honoring the troops and respecting our veterans, but we fall disgracefully short of putting our money where our mouth is.
On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was his usual prickly self when asked how long we expect to keep our troops in Iraq and how long before we begin a promised drawdown. He and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, can't say. They have, in truth, never been able to tell us.
Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld and all the rest of them who took us to this war by catering to our worst fears and filling us with false information continue to this day to defend the indefensible.
As the financial cost of this war approaches $200 billion and as we are fast moving toward our 2,000th casualty, something has to change.
Cindy Sheehan, waiting down at the end of the president's driveway in Texas, is right about this war.
Carol Marin's column appears Wednesday and Sunday in the Sun-Times.
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