Bush's unhappy holidays
Bush's unhappy holidays
The presidential vacationer is being besieged
Thursday August 18, 2005
Home on the range more than the deer and the antelope play. Near a drainage ditch by the road leading to Prairie Chapel, President Bush's Texas ranch, the mother of a dead soldier has pitched a tent. Cindy Sheehan has refused to leave until she is granted an audience with the president. Her son, 24-year-old Army Spc Casey Sheehan, a Humvee mechanic, was killed in Baghdad's Sadr City on April 4 2004, and she calls her makeshift vigil in memorial "Camp Casey".
Her previous meeting with Bush has only impelled her to seek the satisfaction of another one. "He didn't even know Casey's name. Every time we tried to talk about Casey and how much we missed him, he would change the subject."
Bush has sent out emissaries, including his national security adviser Stephen Hadley, to reason with her, but she remains adamant. Her emotional drama and outspoken opposition to the Iraq war have become daily news. Every twist in her standoff provides grist for expanded coverage.
Other bereaved parents of dead soldiers have suddenly begun speaking out and receiving respectful media attention. In Ohio, Paul Schroeder, father of Lance Corporal Edward Schroeder II, killed two weeks ago with 16 other troops from Ohio, called a press conference in front of his Cleveland home. "Our comments are not just those of grieving parents," he said. "They are based on anger, Mr President, not grief. Anger is an honest emotion when someone's family has been violated. Before Sheehan's vigil, public support of Bush's Iraq policy plummeted to 34%.
From the administration comes conflicting statements about strategy in Iraq. The recent fiasco over the attempted rebranding of the "war on terrorism" as the "global struggle against violent extremism" reflects internal tension. While Bush proclaims that he will "stay the course," military sources leak stories that the vaunted objectives of the Iraq war - democracy and civil order - are chimerical. Pentagon briefings suggest that US forces may be drawn down soon, but the projections do not flow from any new strategy.
Iraq's confounded constitution-writing has further illuminated its centrifugal forces and the visible hand of Iran. It is becoming undeniable that the outcome of the war will be an Islamic republic closely allied with Iran.
For the American public this news melds in their daily lives with the rise of oil prices. The Iraq invasion was supposed to guarantee perpetual cheap oil. While the price boost has erased wage gains and flattened consumer demand, this oil crisis is more than a tale of statistics. Like oil crises in the past, it strikes at American feelings of independence, mobility and exceptionalism. Not since the oil crisis of 1979 that provoked President Carter's "malaise" speech have such frustrations surfaced.
Sandstorms by the banks of the Euphrates swirl to the Waco River, and the presidential vacationer, besieged by marches, has turned querulous. As his crusade is being overtaken by a sense of futility, Bush explained why he would not meet Sheehan: "I think it's also important for me to go on with my life, to keep a balanced life." This week he's planned a bicycle ride with Lance Armstrong.
· Sidney Blumenthal, a former senior adviser to President Clinton, is author of The Clinton Wars