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August 21, 2005 - This is the way the world ends - not with a bang but a whimper -

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This fizzled out at the end of the week.  Reread Eliot The Hollow Men (1925).  Cindy Sheehan left Crawford, Texas, Thursday, to deal with a family emergency - she and her sister flew into LAX and then traveled down the way to Hawaiian Gardens, inland, south of Los Angeles, to be with her seventy-four-year-old mother who suffered a stroke.  The bare-bones from CNN:


Sheehan said she and her sister were going to Los Angeles "to assess the situation" but that her supporters will continue her protest outside Bush's Texas home. 

"If I can, I'll be back.  If I can't, I won't be back.  But I will be back as soon as possible," Sheehan told reporters outside "Camp Casey," the protest site named for her son. 


It somehow seems unlikely the momentum of the thing will continue. 

Digby puts it succinctly:


Without her, the protest becomes something different, less compelling and less meaningful.  What a shame. 

But it was very worthwhile.  The questions about Iraq have crystallized for a lot of people who up until now just felt vaguely uncomfortable.  The press has been forced to see the anti-war sentiment that has clearly been showing up in the polls in human terms.  And Democrats and others have been able to connect with one another in a personal and meaningful way for the first time in a long time.  That is not something that we should ever underrate.  People need to feel part of things; they need to be allowed to be human.  Cindy Sheehan and her protest gave a vast, frustrated and near hopeless number of Americans something to believe in.  Let's hope it changed the zeitgeist for good.


Did it?

James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal's "Opinion Journal: Best of the Web," Friday, August 19, says it's all over for the Most Hated Woman in America:


Our confidence in the evanescence of Sheehanoia looks to have been well founded.  Cindy Crawford - sorry, Sheehan - left Crawford, Texas, yesterday …

We're guessing Sheehan won't come back, and even if she does, who cares? Cindy's here! Cindy's gone! Cindy's back! Fenton Communications, the left-wing PR firm that has been flogging the Sheehan story, put out a press release this morning titled "Cindy Sheehan Requests Privacy. " Although this request reflects not a small amount of chutzpah, it's likely that the press will comply.  Reporters can't possibly be both bored enough and creative enough to keep this story going. 

Mrs. Sheehan has been through a lot in the past year and a half: the loss of her son, the collapse of her marriage, a two-week stint as the Most Hated Woman in America, and now her mother's serious illness.  Any of these on its own would be highly stressful, but all four together have got to be brutal.  That the second and third items on the list resulted from her own actions makes it clear that Mrs. Sheehan does not cope well with emotional difficulty.  We hope she gets whatever help she needs to achieve some semblance of balance. 

What lasting effect will Sheehanoia have on American politics? Not much, it seems safe to say.  A Rasmussen Reports poll suggests that she didn't change many minds…

The whole kerfuffle was, however, informative in some ways.  For one, it reveals that very few people on the antiwar left have any compunction at all about making common cause with someone who espouses virulent anti-American and anti-Semitic views.  For another, it showed something we've long suspected: that some on the left - and not just the America-hating fringe - want America to lose this war.


Is that what she wants?  In that what those who question Bush want?
No, and a discussion of that whole concept filled the web logs at the end of the week. 

Kevin Drum notes a whole lot of Democrats saying "failure is not an option" - but we have to do things differently - with this:


… if you do believe we can win in Iraq, let's hear what you mean by "win" and how you think we can do it, and let's hear it in clear and compelling declarative sentences.  "Stay the course" isn't enough.  What Bush is doing now obviously isn't working, so what would you do that's significantly different?

Conversely, if you don't believe we can win in Iraq, and you're only suggesting we stay there because you can't stand the thought of "looking weak," then your moral compass needs some serious adjustment."


And this:


The insurgency is not going to give up, the Army doesn't seem to have any kind of consistent commitment to using counterinsurgency techniques against it, we don't know for sure that they'd work anyway, and let's face it: the track record of major powers beating large-scale overseas insurgencies is close to zero in the past half century. 


So now what?

Digby here:


The neocons are convinced that everything from the rise of terrorism to male pattern baldness is the result of looking weak.  They have been very explicit in their view that American presidents Reagan and Clinton both made terrible mistakes by withdrawing from Lebanon and Somalia.  It is a fundamental part of their threat analysis. 

Likewise, Bin Laden credits the mujahadeen running the Russians out of Afghanistan as precipitating the destruction of the Soviet super power.  There are undoubtedly many of his followers who think that the insurgency running the US out of Iraq would accomplish the same thing, which is, of course, ridiculous.  But providing bin Laden with the opportunity to declare "victory" is enough to give the neocons apoplexy. 

I don't happen to think we should make decisions based upon what bin Laden thinks about anything.  We have provided him with plenty of recruiting material by invading Iraq - there is little margin in worrying about whether withdrawal will result in bin Laden taking a victory lap.  (How ironic it would be, too, considering that it was Bush who created a fictitious connection between al Qaeda and Iraq in the first place. ) The neocons worry incessantly about this.  It's almost as if they share the Japanese obsession with "face" and they will do almost anything to save it.  They will fight withdrawal with every breath in their bodies. 


Then, curiously, this:


There is no real way to win in Iraq with or without George Bush and his staff.  But there are different ways of losing.  He is not going to stand for a complete withdrawal, timed or otherwise.  They aren't leaving.  The military is forcing them to draw down, and they probably will for practical and domestic political reasons.  But they will not just pick up and leave, which means that the perception of American occupation - and certainly the perception of American involvement in the government - will continue.  And, of course, the civil war that is developing will also continue.  I cannot realistically see another scenario developing. 

That's the real world we are living in until 2008.  The Bush administration will watch Iraq turn into the ninth circle of hell before they will completely withdraw.  So, Kevin's challenge to Democrats to come up with a better plan is actually a political challenge.  They can try to put pressure on the government, but they will not make any headway on policy.  Not with this group. 

Everything is about positioning for the next two elections. 

… I'm sorry to have to reduce this to politics.  It is an absolutely horrible situation that should have been prevented and wasn't.  That was our failure.  But it has happened and it is what it is.  The only thing we can do is ensure that Republicans are held accountable for this failure and prepare the ground for the future.  If I thought we could convince the GOP to do anything different, I would put politics aside and say that we should all work together.  But that is clearly impossible.  They will not listen.  They will not admit that they've made any mistakes.  And worst of all, they will not do the one thing that might make a difference - take the US off the playing field in Iraq.  They believe that doing that in past situations from Vietnam to Somalia is the reason terrorism is a threat today.  More importantly, they would lose face and that they will not do. 

All we are left with is politics.


Maybe so.  And there are many others in on this discussion. 

Now what?  One basic problem is what Colin Powell called the Pottery Barn Rule - we broke it and now we own it, and the corollary seems to be that common decency demands we stay and try to make things better.  Get the electricity working again, make sure there's running water, and that the sewers systems work - for a start.  It's not a "noble cause" - but that would help. 

Winning?  That would come next, if possible. 

Sheehan hasn't an answer to the issue of winning. 

Note this:

What Cindy Sheehan Really Wants
Now imagine if she gets it. 
Christopher Hitchens - Posted Friday, Aug.  19, 2005, at 1:44 PM PT - SLATE. COM

Much of this is Hitchens out to prove Sheehan really is anti-Semitic and unhinged.  He said she is, she said she never said any of the thing he says she said, and he spends much of this item calling her a flat-out liar and dangerous fraud. 

Be that as it may, he does say some things about what's next, and the idea of just leaving Iraq appalls him:


Some have perhaps been drawn to "Camp Casey" out of reverence for life.  Their demand, however, is an immediate coalition withdrawal from Iraq.  Have they seriously asked themselves how humane the consequences of that would be? The news of a pullout would put a wolfish grin on the faces of the "al-Qaida in Mesopotamia" brigade, as Mr. Zarqawi's force has named itself in order to resolve all doubt.  Every effort would be made to detonate every available car-bomb and mine, so as to claim the withdrawal of coalition forces as a military victory for jihad.  I can quite understand Ms.  Sheehan's misery at the thought of her son being killed on some desolate road.  But will she be on hand to console the parents whose sons are shot in the back while being ordered to surrender and withdraw?

I hope I don't insult the intelligent readers of this magazine if I point out what the consequences of such a capitulation would be for the people of Iraq.  Paint your own mental picture of a country that was already almost beyond rescue in 2003, as it is handed back to an alliance of homicidal Baathists and Bin-Ladenists.  Comfort yourself, if that's the way you think, with the idea that such people are only nasty because Bush made them so.  Intone the Sheehan mantra - repeated this very week - that terrorism is no problem because after all Bush is the leading terrorist in the world.  See if that cheers you up.  Try it on your friends.  Live with it, if you are ready to live with the consequences of what you desire. 

This is an argument, about a real war, that deserves moral seriousness on all sides.  Flippancy and light-mindedness have no place.  Cindy Sheehan's cheerleader Michael Moore has compared the "insurgents" in Iraq to the American minutemen and Founding Fathers.  Do I taunt him for not volunteering to fight himself in such a noble cause? Of course I do not.  That would be a low and sly blow.  Do I say that he is spouting fascistic nonsense? Of course I do.  Is Cindy Sheehan exempt from any verdict on her wacko opinions because of her bereavement? I would say that she is not.  Has she been led into a false position by eager cynics who have sacrificed nothing and who would happily surrender unconditionally to the worst enemy that currently faces civilization? That's for her to clarify.  While she ponders, she should forgo prayer, stay in California, and end her protest.


Yes, the argument, about a real war, deserves moral seriousness on all sides. 

Sheehan actually doesn't matter any longer.  The question is what we now do.  Hitchens sides with Bush - we should slog on.  Cutting out now presents real problems.  Is there a third alternative - or fourth or fifth?

Sheehan has done her job.  Let her comfort her mother.  The new issue is on the table.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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