Comments: I Just Can't

The Cunning Realist, a conservative writer, does a fair job of bemoaning the extent to which the conservative moment has gone mad:

"If one needed any further proof that this incarnation of "Republicans" and alleged conservatives includes a faction that has gone completely and tragically over the edge, the smear campaign against Cindy Sheehan is it....

The essence of the right-wing smear machine's "outing" of Cindy Sheehan is her supposed flip-flop from supporting President Bush in 2004 to disapproving of him in 2005. As details of this have become clearer, it's obvious the flip-flop is nothing more than a canard. But setting aside the Sheehan story for a moment, have any of the shameless smearsters seen the public opinion polls recently? Here's some breaking news for them: a whole lot of Americans who supported Bush a year ago---including an increasingly large part of his "base"---have turned against him. And that includes many millions of people who haven't lost a parent, child, or sibling in Iraq.


Posted by Lawrence Krubner at August 15, 2005 08:31 PM

According to the Wash Post, Cindy Sheehan told reporters: "I want to ask the president, 'Why did you kill my son? What did my son die for?'"

I don't question her grief, but the first question is rather juvenile to ask the President. The second though speaks to a critical issue - what national interests are so critical to a nation that members are willing to die for them?

Read the President's second inauguration speech.

Read the noted historian John Gaddis (who wrote critical article of Bush in Foreign Affairs) comments on that speech.

Given she's already visited once with the President, I would have given her a copy of the speech, highlighting this line and ask her to read it.

The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.

Then, in front of all the media, ask her whether she thinks the goal to expand freedom is a noble enough cause.

She may disagree with the ends, means, or costs. Fine. Let her protest, organize, and all those other means available to her in this society. But it smacks of arrogance for her to believe that the death of her son entitles her to demand of the President a second personal audience, especially when she really doesn't want to know the answer.

Posted by Col Steve at August 16, 2005 01:02 AM

One to a customer, Col. Steve?
There's no difference between a noble goal and a lousy plan?
Why shouldn't Bush, who is responsible for his policies, answer the questions first? Why do you insist that she should be satisfied with an answer which doesn't satisify a lot of us who haven't yet lost loved ones?

Posted by Jonathan Dresner at August 16, 2005 08:18 PM

One to a customer, Col. Steve? If possible, I'd mail a copy to every citizen. A little facetious with both comments, but my point is citizens who want to complain about the policies of their government have a responsibility to become at least superficially knowledgeable about them.

I don't insist Ms. Sheehan be satisifed with the answer. What I insist though is she acknowledge an answer exists instead of acting as if no rationale exists for why (not how) the US (and others) have employed instruments of power over the last three years. I am critical of her continual cry of ignorance about the national interest and objectives (ends) of the country to argue her belief the methods (ways and means) were faulty.

Read her words:

Hes said that my son -- and the other children weve lost -- died for a noble cause. I want to find out what that noble cause is.

I go back to Gaddis points -

the second Bush inaugural constitutes the clearest explanation yet of where the administration is and what it hopes to do. It was carefully written, clearly delivered, and it bears close reading

All right, my students and even some colleagues have argued, but isn't idea of ending tyranny a departure from the more sensible policies the United States has followed in the past?

No way: there were echoes in Bush's speech of the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln's Second Inaugural, Wilson's Fourteen Points, FDR's Four Freedoms, the Truman Doctrine, Kennedy's inaugural, Reagan's 1982 speech to the British Parliament, and any number of speeches by Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

What is new is this: previous presidents tended to distinguish between ideals and interests. The expansion of freedom was an aspiration - but the interests of the United States lay elsewhere: in securing independence, suppressing secession, winning world wars, containment, deterrence, the maintenance of a balance of power, the promotion of capitalism, the encouragement of predictably pro-American regimes elsewhere, even if they didn't meet our own standards for representative government and the defense of human rights.

Bush has now conflated ideals and interests. As he put it in the inaugural: "America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one." Freedom itself is to be the strategy, not just the aspiration. It may, in this sense, be radical. It is hardly un-American.

I must take exception though with your statement there is no difference between a noble goal and a lousy plan. Does that mean there is no difference between a lousy goal and a brilliant plan? Look at your own paper on grading. Would you still agree that a terrible, but efficient plan (give everyone an A unless they show cause othewise for example) renders the goal ("to correct some of the inscrutability of grades") meaningless?

You, Ms. Sheehan, and others may disagree with the means this administration seems to have pursued its concept of national security. Recent history seems to suggest longer-term problems when we've employed military force without sufficient other elements of national power and a willingess to pay the cost to realize the endstate (Japan/Korea/Germany (where we took military casualities during occupation at a higher rate than currently in Iraq)/Balkans versus Somalia/Haiti for examples).

It's problematic for the President, as Gaddis notes, to have a goal that has longer-term benefits with shorter-term costs. Will interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan lead to a more stable, secure world? I don't know, but neither does Cindy Sheehan. Is advancing freedom around the globe a noble cause? Cindy Sheehan doesn't seem to want to answer that. I can appreciate her passion that the current strategy either costs too much in national treasure or does not enhance the security of the United States, but I cannot excuse her cloaking that belief in ignorance to embarass the President.

Posted by Col Steve at August 17, 2005 11:28 AM

Well, OK, I was unclear.

"One to a customer" refers to the common trope that Sheehan, having met the President once in her life, isn't entitled to a second meeting. Lots of people with much less meaningful questions and experiences get a lot more access than a group hug.

And you've read the noble goal/lousy means question backwards (It was a rhetorical question, not an assertion): the President is responsible for having noble goals, sure, and to be commended for them (to the extent that his publicly stated goals and actual aims coincide, at least), but the President is also responsible for the success or failure of policy applied towards those goals.

I think Sheehan's question, which you unkindly cast as feigned ignorance, is better paraphrased as "how does the death of my son and sacrifices of so many others advance us towards a worthwhile goal?" You (and the administration) insist that there are "long term benefits" in this policy, but haven't really articulated how those benefits are going to be realized or even what they are.

Posted by Jonathan Dresner at August 18, 2005 07:20 PM

Okay. Thanks for the clarification. I understand more clearly what you meant.

No, I don't believe it's one to a customer. However, you must appreciate the dilemma for any President in allocating time. He met with her once and had senior aides meet with her. I'm fully aware that political considerations (to include money) of Presidents and Congressional members often skew who gets in the door. But it would be dangerous for the President to grant her a second audience (and not one for every other parent/relative of a deceased person in the conflict). I believe she doesn't want an answer, just an outlet for her grief at best or as a method to advance her cause in a more cynical light.

I agree with your assertions in the last two paragraphs. The President is responsible (to a degree - harkening back to the Constitution) for the security of the nation and the strategy to ensure that security. The American people do need to hold the President, his administration, and Congress responsible for the ends, ways, and means.

I don't think I've cast her comments in an unfriendly way. They are her words and if I'm being too literal in their interpretation, the responsibility rests more with her given the media attention she surely knew and desired such words would get. I would argue you have cast her words in a different, but more accurate manner (the how versus the what) about the core issue. If only she had done so! Of course, raising the debate to a more rational discourse as opposed to a purely emotional one doesn't play as well in the media or with partisan supporters (on both sides). It's a great question for a debate or press conference, but sadly one I doubt would get asked (or asked as direct).

Your last sentence is worthy of a more thoughtful response. For the sake of brevity and hijacking Anne's blog, I'll stop here for now.

Posted by Col Steve at August 19, 2005 09:07 AM