BY CLAUDE SALHANI
The Khaleej Times (United Arab Emirates)
2 September 2005
AT FIRST glance it does not look like much of a challenge. On one side you have the president of the United States, most powerful man in the world, figuratively speaking of course, retrenched inside his Crawford, Texas ranch, secured by phalanxes of Secret Service agents armed to the teeth with deadly weapons and the latest gadgetry in James Bondry.
The president, who is on a five-week working vacation in his Texas ranch occasionally zooms off in his heavily armoured presidential limousine surrounded by dozens of other armoured cars filled with serious-looking bodyguards toting automatic weapons which they will not hesitate to point at anyone who might represent a threat to the president. Sometimes the president will board Air Force One and travel around the country before returning to the relative remoteness and serenity of his ranch.
I say relative serenity because this summer has brought about a "little disturbance" on the other side of a ditch on one of the far edges of the president’s property: the disturbance is called Cindy Sheehan. She is a young mother armed only with all the love a mother can have for her child.
Sheehan, who lost her 24-year-old son Casey in Baghdad on April 4, 2004, wants a meeting with President Bush. She would like the president to explain to her what is so important that more American sons must continue to die in Iraq.
Sheehan has been sitting by the roadside ditch she named Camp Casey, in honour of her slain son, since Aug. 6. She says she wants a "dialogue about an illegal and immoral war," —words that will guarantee that Bush’s door remains closed to her seeing it automatically places her in the anti-war camp. Sheehan has since been joined by other mothers and families, many of whom have also lost their children in the war, or some who have children currently serving in Iraq.
But the president remains adamant, refusing to meet with Sheehan. She remains just as adamant, encamped a few hundred yards from the presidential ranch, refusing to budge. "President Bush said that brave Americans like my son Casey have died for a noble cause. What is that noble cause?" asks Sheehan.
"How many more lives we as a country are willing to sacrifice in Iraq? How many are you personally willing to sacrifice? What are you specifically doing to bring our sons and daughters home from this needless war?" asks the bereaved mother.
The president remains mostly quiet on the issue, but media pundits on both sides of the now-politicised Texas ditch have thrown in their weight and ideas for or against Cindy Sheehan. Some have offered to meet with her in lieu of the president, and to explain just how important this war in Iraq is for the security of the United States and for the free world. They point to elections, to the beginning of a democratic process taking shape in Iraq. They point to the constitution which notwithstanding the stumbling blocks, is being drafted, (despite rejections from the country’s Sunni minority.)
In fact, there are striking similarities between Bush’s refusal to meet with Cindy Sheehan and the United States’ insistence that Iraq finalise its constitution as a step towards democratisation.
"The insistence that the Iraqis draft a constitution is an American requirement," Rashid I. Khalidi, Edward Said professor of Arab studies at New York’s Columbia University told me. "The Iraqis would have preferred to have running water, electricity and security to a constitution," Khalidi said.
"This constitution has become the map of the Bush administration in Iraq." But the US has hit snags along the way. "There are some things upon which you cannot compromise," says Khalidi. You can’t compromise on such issues as Kurdish autonomy. The Kurds, for example, have enjoyed practically independence from Baghdad since the end of the Kuwait war in 1991, when the United States declared the north and south "No Fly Zones." It would become unthinkable for the Kurds to resubmit themselves to Baghdad’s direct rule.
The same holds true for the Shias in the southern part of the country. These two communities have enjoyed relative autonomy since the US invasion in 2003, and will fight, if need be, not return to the status quo ante.
"Once the Pandora’s box is open how do you close it?" asks Khalidi. "The increasing level of (American) incompetence has made it possible for civil war. And now the US is trying to repress a civil war and is failing. The gates of hell have been opened."
Likewise, in the Cindy Sheehan case, the president could have met her when she first showed up on his doorstep in Texas and there would have been no Cindy Sheehan controversy. But just as he miscalculated on Iraq, believing that disbanding the Iraqi army and cashiering the entire Baath bureaucracy would help expedite the problem and bring democracy to Iraq, so too, did the president miscalculate on the resolve —and power —of a single mother armed with the love of her son.
Claude Salhani is International Editor and a political analyst with United Press International in Washington.