THE ARENA: Sep 05, AU Edition

Iraq: For some on the left, it’s the defeat America has to have
Years ago, back when Bill Clinton held the lease to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, I had one of the least exciting, yet seemingly most glamorous, jobs in Washington journalism: I was a rotating member of the corps of White House journalists who followed the president whenever he left town.
Once the fun of flying on the president’s jet wore off – the press is sequestered in a small cabin in the rear of the plane equipped with old-school first class airline seats (no sleeper suites here) and a couple of TVs for dialing up movies from a central service somewhere in the bowels of the aircraft – the tedium of the gig set in. A three-day, eight-city fundraising jaunt, listening to the same speech over and over and over again, followed by interminable schedule-destroying waits as the then-president shook every hand in the hall would leave us all exhausted. One of my favourite memories of this chapter of my career was the day the irascible television news presenter Sam Donaldson tagged along and bellowed at each meet-and-greet from our holding pen, ‘Oh, would you just finish up already, so we can GO HOME!’
Why do I bring all this up? Because the patience with which I endured Clinton’s routines was eventually rewarded by my employers, who let me go on holiday with the president. Not holiday in the sense of ‘Clinton and Morrow go cruising on Daytona Beach’, but rather, in that I got to join the rest of the motley crew known as the White House Press Corps in a luxury resort in Florida while Clinton hung out with some friends who had a spread down the road for a couple of weeks. It was one of the great boond- oggles of all time; everyone brought their partners and sat by the pool swilling daiquiris, and the only pretense of work one had to do was occasionally check in with the media centre to see that the announcement ‘Full Lid’ – White House-speak for, ‘ain’t nothing going on here, go play some golf or lie by the pool and have some nice tuna steaks for dinner’ – still applied.
But that was presidential vacation, Clinton-style, and may be one small reason why he got such a free pass from the media for so long. These days, ‘presidential vacation’ duty is a lot less fun, and those ‘lucky’ enough to accompany George W. Bush on holiday get to do so camped out in a tiny town in the middle of Texas in the middle of August with precious few of the creature comforts inside-the-Beltway journos take for granted.

All of this is a very round-about way of getting to the sad story of Cindy Sheehan, which played itself out over the past few weeks on a dirt road outside the Bush ranch. Sheehan, for those not familiar with the story, is the mother of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq; some time ago, she had a ten-minute-long meeting with Bush, after which she said, ‘I now know he’s sincere about wanting freedom for the Iraqis. I know he’s sorry and feels some pain for our loss. And I know he’s a man of faith.’ Lately, she has taken to demanding another one, simply so that she can berate the commander-in-chief.
Speaking of the way her first meeting with Bush brought her family closure, Sheehan added, ‘That was the gift the president gave us, the gift of happiness, the gift of being together’.
Somewhere along the line, though, Sheehan decided to change her tune – from grieving mother respectful of her son’s sacrifice to full-bore, hard-left radical opponent not just of the Iraq War, but, seemingly, everything America stands for. And the place she decided to do this? Camped out in a ditch outside the presidential ranch, where she demanded another meeting (until she upped stumps for a family emergency), surrounded by reporters with nothing better to do than sympathetically cover her ravings. Which, combined with the generally anti-Bush and anti-war tenor of the mainstream media, may explain why Sheehan got such a good run of her fifteen minutes of fame.
But in the midst of Sheehan’s elevation to anti-war movement poster-mum and world-wide front-page story, a few facts have been ignored. Like that before her Texas sojourn, Sheehan spoke at a conference with radical lawyer Lynne Stewart (who defended the Islamists who tried to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993) and announced, ‘America has been killing people on this continent since it was started. This country is not worth dying for…the biggest terrorist is George W. Bush’.
And that she’s been heard to comment that Bush should ‘send his two little party-animal girls to war’. Never mind that with an all- volunteer armed services, Bush doesn’t have the power to send any civilian to war.
And that some of her newfound mates have, shall we say, ‘issues’ when Israel comes up, and that se has allied herself with outfits like United for Peace and Justice and the Crawford Peace House, which mark the entire State of Israel as ‘Palestine’ on their websites and who believe that the romantically-named Iraqi ‘insurgency’ (the same one that killed Sheehan’s son) is only engaged in ‘legitimate’ resistance.
Sheehan herself has said her son ‘was killed for lies and for a PNAC neo-con agenda to benefit Israel. My son joined the Army to protect America, not Israel.’
Not that either, in Sheehan’s book, are worth defending at all.
Not surprisingly, all of this has stood Sheehan in good stead with the anti-war left. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd announced that because she lost a son – one who, incidentally, volunteered to go to Iraq, and whose memory is now being used for political purposes he might very well disagree with – Sheehan has absolute moral authority, and that there is to be no arguing with her.
Alas, there has to be. For not only does she not speak for all families who have lost relatives to the Iraq War, but she also seeks to dishonour those who are there by trashing the country, the mission, and the president they signed up to serve. More to the point, she also raises points that need to be argued, and forcefully: anti-war types like Dowd cannot throw the Sheehan card down on the table like an ace-high straight and expect to walk away with the pot – namely, a wounded America that hobbles back home to lick its humbling wounds while leaving another country in chaos and to the depredation of psychopaths and tyrants.
Sorry, but the Baby Boomers aren’t going to get to relive their Vietnam fantasies that easily.