By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Wednesday 10 August 2005
No mother who lost her son to this Iraq war should be made to stand in a ditch, and yet that is exactly where Cindy Sheehan stands today, by the side of the road in Crawford, Texas. She has been standing there since she heard about the 20 Marines who were killed in Iraq last week, since she heard George W. Bush describe from his vacation home the noble cause for which those Marines died.
Cindy's son, Casey, died in Iraq for that cause more than a year ago. She heard those words from Mr. Bush and went to Crawford. She wanted to talk to the president. The folks in the ranch sent out a couple of lackeys to speak with her. "They were very respectful," Sheehan said later to CNN. "They were nice men. I told them Iraq was not a threat to the United States and that now people are dead for nothing. I told them I wouldn't leave until I talked to George Bush. I want to ask the president, 'Why did you kill my son? What did my son die for?' Last week, he said my son died for a 'noble cause' and I want to ask him what that noble cause is."
Today, she is standing in a ditch by the side of the road in Crawford, waiting to speak to Mr. Bush. Many who hear this may have the obvious reaction: Who does this woman think she is? Who thinks they can just bop down the road and speak to the president? This is an important man, and there are security concerns, and anyway, who thinks they can just show up for a sit-down like this?
Well, Sheehan did get an invitation of sorts. A presidential spokesman described Bush's time in Crawford (approximately five weeks, or about as much vacation time as the average Frenchman gets) as a chance for him to "shed his coat and tie and meet with folks in the heartland and hear what's on their minds." Sure, this administration has raised secrecy and isolation to a zen-like art form, but it sounded pretty clearly like George goes to Texas to talk to the folks. Cindy Sheehan would like to talk.
It's interesting. In the last 50 years, few presidents have been more reviled, denounced and tarnished than Richard M. Nixon. The Vietnam war, Kent State, the attacks upon Cambodia, not to mention the Watergate scandal, left Nixon surrounded by demonstrators and investigators who eventually forced him into an unprecedented resignation.
The Nixon and Bush administrations share a number of fascinating similarities. Both inspired stunning vituperation from those who opposed them. Hunter S. Thompson, avowed life-long foe of Nixon, remembered him this way: "Let there be no mistake in the history books about that. Richard Nixon was an evil man - evil in a way that only those who believe in the physical reality of the Devil can understand it. He was utterly without ethics or morals or any bedrock sense of decency. Nobody trusted him - except maybe the Stalinist Chinese, and honest historians will remember him mainly as a rat who kept scrambling to get back on the ship."
It is easy to imagine, and easy to find via a simple Google search, similar sentiments aimed toward Mr. Bush.
Both were burdened by an unpopular war, the fighting of which appeared with each passing day to be more and more futile. Nixon's Vietnam came to him from Johnson, and Kennedy before him, and Eisenhower, whom Nixon served as vice president. Bush's Iraq came to him from his father, not only from that first Bush administration but from the senior's time as vice president to Reagan. One notable difference here, of course, is that Nixon inherited a catastrophic shooting war while Bush created one.
Nixon and his people were obsessed with secrecy and with dirty tricks. The boys in the Bush White House share the sentiment, and have managed to surpass the Nixonian standards. Nixon wanted to destroy his critics. Bush and his people have actually destroyed more than a few, including a deep-cover CIA operative married to a man who attacked Bush's Iraq policy in print.
Both were dogged by protesters wherever they went, yet here is the point at which the similarities diverge. Bush has the benefit of First Amendment Zones, which keep demonstrations far away, out of sight and out of mind. He would just as soon flush himself down a toilet as speak to someone critical of his actions. More than any other administration in recent memory, this Bush crew represents the triumph of the Yes-Men. Bush is in his bubble, managed and spun, and nothing gets through.
Nixon, on the other hand, went a different way one interesting and significant night. In May of 1970, right after the Kent State shootings, when civil unrest across the nation had reached a fever pitch and opposition to the war had roared again to the forefront, Nixon woke his personal valet in the middle of the night. He grabbed a few Secret Service agents and set off for the Lincoln Memorial. There, he spent an hour talking with a large gathering of war protesters encamped around the monument.
The Time Magazine article from May 18, 1970, recalls the scene this way: "When the conversation turned to the war, Nixon told the students: 'I know you think we are a bunch of so and so's.'" Before he left, Nixon said: 'I know you want to get the war over. Sure you came here to demonstrate and shout your slogans on the ellipse. That's all right. Just keep it peaceful. Have a good time in Washington, and don't go away bitter.' The singular odyssey went on. Nixon and his small contingent wandered through the capital, then drove to the Mayflower Hotel for a breakfast of corned beef hash and eggs - his first restaurant meal in Washington since he assumed power. Then he withdrew to his study in the Executive Office Building to sit out the day of protest."
There will be a large anti-war protest in Washington DC on September 24th. Is it even conceivable that George W. Bush might remove himself from the White House that day to speak with the people who disagree with his leadership? The idea is laughable on its face.
Cindy Sheehan is not in a large crowd in Washington DC. She is not camped on the Lincoln Memorial. She waits for Mr. Bush in a ditch by the side of the road in Crawford, arguably the safest and most comfortable spot in America for this self-styled cowboy. Yet he does not emerge to speak to this woman who lost her son to his war. Somehow, it seems a safe bet that not even Richard Nixon would keep this woman waiting.
There is an Iraqi sniper nicknamed Juba operating in southern Baghdad. He is very good, never firing more than one shot to keep his position concealed, and he almost always hits his mark. Juba is credited with shooting more than a dozen American soldiers. According to the UK Guardian, "He waits for soldiers to dismount, or stand up in a Humvee turret, and aims for gaps in their body armour, the lower spine, ribs or above the chest. He has killed from 200 metres away."
Juba is but one threat to US soldiers in Iraq, who are there because Bush sent them there on a mission based upon lies. How many more mothers will Juba put down in that ditch next to Cindy Sheehan? How long will they have to wait for an answer to their question?