By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Monday 15 August 2005
This thing, the wheels are coming off it.
- Gen. Barry McCaffrey, after returning from an inspection of Iraq ,
They are sunburned and storm-lashed. They sleep in tents that sit along
the muddy earth of drainage ditches by the side of the road. They have been
heckled by "counter-demonstrators" who chanted "We don't care!" during a
rendition of "God Bless America ." They have been attacked by fire ants and
hassled by local health inspectors. On Thursday morning, at about 5:30am,
they were blasted awake by a fourteen-car convoy of Secret Service SUVs
which roared through the camp at high speed while leaning on their horns the
They have been jolted with fear when a local resident fired his weapon
into the air several times to make them go away. When the shooter, one Larry
Mattlage, was asked why he was firing his gun, he said, "We're going to
start doing our war and it's going to be underneath the law. We're going to
do whatever it takes." It is safe to say, therefore, that their lives have
The thing is, they've already won.
Cindy Sheehan and her ever-growing band of supporters intend to stay in
those ditches outside Bush's Crawford "ranch" until he comes out to talk or
until August 31st, whichever comes first. If he does not come out by the end
of the month, she intends to follow him to Washington and camp out in front
of the White House. She and the others have been there for more than a week
now, garnering more and more attention from the national and international
press. Yes, they are tired. Yes, they are uncomfortable. Yes, they have
The nearly 2,000 crosses, crescents and Stars of David that make up the
Arlington West cemetery, erected by the demonstrators a few days ago to
represent all the fallen American soldiers in Iraq, stretch almost a mile
down the country road. Bush had to drive past that on Friday when he went to
his fundraising shindig at the Broken Spoke Ranch. 54 crosses have been
added to the cemetery since he first showed up for his vacation at the
beginning of August. It takes a while to drive past them all. This man, who
cannot abide hearing or seeing anything in the way of dissent or
disagreement, saw those crosses whistle past his window. That is a victory.
Over the weekend, as the camp prepared for the arrival of the
counter-demonstrators, a huge diesel pickup truck rumbled into camp with its
nose menacingly pointed towards the tents. It sat for a while, and everyone
waited to see what would happen. Ann Wright, the main organizer of camp
activities, finally approached the truck and met the driver. He was a
father, Wright discovered, and his son had been killed in Iraq .
He did not agree with this protest, he said, but wanted to know if his
son's name was on one of the crosses in the Arlington West cemetery. Ann
Wright invited the man to walk the rows of crosses and find his son's name.
They found it. Ann and the man from the truck sat down in front of the
cross, wrapped their arms around each other, and wept. Later, the man shared
a beer with Cindy Sheehan and told her he loved her. That is a victory, one
that surpasses any sort of mean politics.
For three years now, both before the invasion of Iraq began and then
after it was unleashed, millions of people have marched and screamed and
stomped in order to try to put a stop to this disaster. The Bush
administration was not pushed off its tracks even an inch in all this time.
Discussions and debates on why we are there and whether or not we should
leave have been bunted aside.
Half a dozen reasons for the invasion and occupation have been put
forth - weapons of mass destruction, ties to al Qaeda terrorism, the
building of a democracy, Hussein was a bad man - but in the end, the debate
is halted by the kind of brainless thinking that left us in Vietnam for far
too long: "We are there, so we have to stay." This was the accepted wisdom.
All the protests, all the articles, all the books, all the
whistleblowers, all the criticism combined have not packed the kind of punch
that one mother in a ditch has delivered to this administration's carefully
crafted fantasy vision of what is happening in Iraq. Suddenly, Bush has been
forced to go before cameras and try to explain why staying in Iraq is the
only option available. Suddenly, the accepted wisdom isn't so accepted
anymore. A majority of Americans, according to every available poll, agree
with the lady in the ditch and not with the president.
Bush isn't doing a very good job of explaining his side of things, and
his people seem unable to keep their stories straight. After the fourteen
Marines from Ohio were killed in Iraq , Bush got up and stated that it would
be unreasonable for him to lay down a timetable for withdrawal. Yet at the
same time, his generals were bent over maps and logistics notebooks, trying
to do exactly that.
The Los Angeles Times on Saturday took a look at the mixed messages
coming from the war party. "Are the president and the Pentagon on the same
page over the war in Iraq ?" asked the Times. "That question is percolating
in Washington after President Bush twice in the last 10 days tried to
clarify a message sent by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and military
leaders. After Rumsfeld and other Pentagon officials indicated their desire
to shift away from discussing the struggle against terrorism as a 'war' -
saying it placed too much emphasis on military solutions to terrorism - Bush
repeatedly used the word 'war' in an Aug. 3 speech to conservative state
"Then," continued the Times article, "on Thursday, Bush dismissed as
'rumors' and 'speculation' reports that U.S. commanders were contemplating
significant withdrawals of American troops from Iraq next year. His comments
came after Army Gen. George W. Casey, the top U.S. military official in
Iraq , and Army Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, the top ground commander, had
publicly raised exactly that possibility."
On Sunday, out of nowhere, the Washington Post published a page-one
story titled "US Lowers Sights on What Can Be Achieved in Iraq ." The story
stated, "The Bush administration is significantly lowering expectations of
what can be achieved in Iraq, recognizing that the United States will have
to settle for far less progress than originally envisioned during the
transition due to end in four months. The United States no longer expects to
see a model new democracy, a self-supporting oil industry or a society in
which the majority of people are free from serious security or economic
The article goes on to describe how any "democracy" will have to bend
itself around the laws of Islam, a fact that chucks the secular-government
talking points into the round file. Iraqi women, should not get their hopes
up about being granted significant rights of any kind. The kicker came in
the third paragraph, which quotes an unnamed US official saying, "What we
expected to achieve was never realistic given the timetable or what unfolded
on the ground. We are in a process of absorbing the factors of the situation
we're in and shedding the unreality that dominated at the beginning."
In other words, the whole thing was a Charlie Foxtrot from soup to nuts.
There are no weapons of mass destruction, the terrorists connected to 9/11
were not there (though there are plenty there now learning how best to kill
Americans with bombs), and democracy is not to be found anywhere on the
menu. The hearts and flowers we were promised have not come, and are not
coming. Sure, Hussein is still a bad man, but that rationale for this war is
an outright laugher when compared to the cost of getting rid of him. Though
Bush clings desperately to his canned lines to defend his actions, the facts
speak for themselves. This whole bloody enterprise has been a colossal,
expensive, murderous failure.
The funny part is that Bush almost certainly could have maintained the
public fantasy with one simple act. He could have jumped into his pickup
truck last Saturday, when Cindy Sheehan was alone except for her sister in
that ditch, and driven down to see her. He could have invited her into the
shotgun seat and driven her around the neighborhood for a few minutes. He
could have then gone back up to the "ranch" and told the press corps that he
met with her, and that they had looked into each other's hearts. That would
have been the end of it.
He did not do that. Now, his generals are at loggerheads with the public
line coming from the White House about getting out of Iraq . Unnamed
officials are going on the record to state that the whole plan was
hare-brained from the word "go," and that the entire deal sits now in the
ashes of its own utterly ruined failure. Bush has to keep explaining why we
have to stay, why rearranging the deck chairs on this Titanic is a noble and
worthwhile process. Meanwhile, the whole world mocks him for hiding from one
woman and her broken heart.
Cindy Sheehan has done this with one act of conscience. She has managed
to do what no other protest or action or statement has been able to do. She
has knocked the wheels right off this absurd applecart. She has called the
man to account. She can hang her own "Mission Accomplished" banner above her
tent in that ditch. She has already won.
Her son would be very, very proud.