American Enterprise Online | 8.24.05
By Alan W. Dowd

It’s hard to put into words the love a mother has for her children, harder still to explain or grasp the pain a mother feels when she outlives a child. We see glimpses of this love and pain in the public ordeal of Cindy Sheehan, who has spent much of August at a makeshift camp near Crawford, Texas, hoping to draw attention to the death of her son, who was killed while serving in Iraq.

Casey Sheehan was his name; he died in the Baghdad slum known as SadrCity in April 2004, when an RPG ripped through his US Army umveeHumvee. Like the other 1,830 Americans who have died in Iraq, like the 14,000 who have been wounded, like the hundreds of thousands who have served there since March 2003, Spc. Sheehan was a volunteer in a cause much bigger than himself. And so is his mom.

Since setting up camp near the president’s ranch, Ms. Sheehan has become the poster child of America’s frustrated anti-war movement. Although she left Crawford last week to care for her own mother, her followers continue the not-so-silent vigil she began in early August. To them, she is part matriarch, part leader, part hero, part rainmaker. Moveon.org, for example, has emblazoned her story front and center on its webpage, adjacent to a fundraising pitch. And understandably so: Ms. Sheehan’s media-savvy supporters know that by using her story to push their agenda, they will gather more support than by publicly embracing the various radical causes of ANSWER, Michael Moore and the like.

Her own website, MeetWithCindy.org, tells us that all she wants is for President George W. Bush to “answer her questions about why the war that took her son's life was started and why it is being continued.” That doesn’t seem too much to ask. It doesn’t seem outrageous or politically charged.

Of course, it’s well-known that Bush did meet with Ms. Sheehan, in June 2004. Even so, that doesn’t mean she got the answers she wanted. Politicians can be evasive. But Bush has not been, at least not when it comes this war.

InJune 2002, Bush explained why young American soldiers would have to be put into harm’s way in a post-9/11 world: “The gravest danger to freedom lies at the perilous crossroads of radicalism and technology,” he explained. “For much of the last century, America's defense relied on the Cold War doctrines of deterrence and containment. In some cases, those strategies still apply. But new threats also require new thinking. Deterrence -- the promise of massive retaliation against nations -- means nothing against shadowy terrorist networks with no nation or citizens to defend. Containment is not possible when unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction can deliver those weapons on missiles or secretly provide them to terrorist allies. We cannot defend America and our friends by hoping for the best. We cannot put our faith in the word of tyrants, who solemnly sign non-proliferation treaties, and then systemically break them. If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long…We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge.”

In March 2003, as the Iraq war began, Bush explained: “To all the men and women of the United States Armed Forces now in the Middle East, the peace of a troubled world and the hopes of an oppressed people now depend on you…We have no ambition in Iraq, except to remove a threat and restore control of that country to its own people…The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder. We will meet that threat now, with our Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Marines, so that we do not have to meet it later with armies of fire fighters and police and doctors on the streets of our cities.”

It pays to recall that when Bush delivered that address, even those governments which opposed the war, even Hans Blix and his inspectors, even today’s war critics in Congress and the media, thought Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs. Perhaps he did and trucked them over to Syria on the eve of war; perhaps he didn’t and was a victim of his own perverse game of crying wolf. In any event, he always had the means to reawaken his slumbering WMD program, and he always had the motive to mete out revenge on the US at some unsuspecting moment. By waging war “at a time of our choosing,” Bush and his advisors made sure that moment would never come to pass.

In January of 2004, Bush observed: “The work of building a new Iraq is hard, and it is right…As democracy takes hold in Iraq, the enemies of freedom will do all in their power to spread violence and fear. They are trying to shake the will of our country and our friends, but the United States of America will never be intimidated by thugs and assassins. The killers will fail, and the Iraqi people will live in freedom.”

Again, in September 2004: “In Iraq, we saw a threat, and we realized that after September the 11th, we must take threats seriously, before they fully materialize. Saddam Hussein now sits in a prison cell. America and the world are safer for it.” 

And again in January of 2005: “We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands…So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.”

And again in June of 2005: “Iraq is the latest battlefield in this war. Many terrorists who kill innocent men, women, and children on the streets of Baghdad are followers of the same murderous ideology that took the lives of our citizens in New York, in Washington, and Pennsylvania. There is only one course of action against them: to defeat them abroad before they attack us at home…They know that as freedom takes root in Iraq, it will inspire millions across the Middle East to claim their liberty, as well. And when the Middle East grows in democracy and prosperity and hope, the terrorists will lose their sponsors, lose their recruits, and lose their hopes for turning that region into a base for attacks on America and our allies around the world.”

And again last week: “We're fighting the terrorists in Afghanistan, Iraq, and around the world, striking them in foreign lands before they can attack us here at home. And we're spreading the hope of freedom across the broader Middle East. By advancing the cause of liberty in a troubled region, we are bringing security to our own citizens and laying the foundations of peace for our children and grandchildren….Our troops know that they're fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere to protect their fellow Americans from a savage enemy. They know that if we do not confront these evil men abroad, we will have to face them one day in our own cities and streets, and they know that the safety and security of every American is at stake in this war, and they know we will prevail.”

In fact, a Google search for “Bush defends Iraq war” yields 3,860 articles and websites; “Bush defends Iraq policy” yields 1,320.

Ms. Sheehan may not like the president’s answers, but she cannot say he hasn’t answered. He has answered these questions over and over and over, which is why I am left to conclude that Ms. Sheehan doesn’t want an answer about why her son died in Iraq. What she wants, it appears, is an issue. And there is nothing wrong with that, especially in a time of war. Those who protest military action can serve as a nation’s conscience. They can serve as a reminder of the costs of war. They can even serve as a kind of check on the government’s war-fighting power.

Even so, this is not 1969. Spc. Sheehan was not conscripted for war. He joined the military to serve his country; and he did that to the last. He served not in peacetime, not in an undeclared war, not in some police action or misguided peacekeeping mission, but in a war fought to prevent America’s enemies from mixing the tactics of 9/11 with the weapons of mass murder—a war fought to protect the US homeland and way of life, a war that Congress fully supported. 

Men like Spc. Sheehan must never be sent to fight and die in vain, but in an age of terror they must fight. Their parents and peers may not understand such brutal logic, but perhaps their brothers, sisters, children and grandchildren will. If you doubt this, contrast the daily emptiness that haunted the widows and mothers of our World War II fallen with the freedom and opportunity that blessed the generations born since 1945.

As harsh and as hard as it sounds, presidents are not elected to serve as grief counselors. To be sure, presidents have to console and comfort, but the demands of leadership, especially global leadership, make it impossible for a president to privately defend or explain every military decision he makes. Clinton didn’t after Mogadishu or the Cole. Reagan didn’t after Beirut. Nixon, LBJ and JFK didn’t as the flow of body bags swelled from a trickle to a torrent. Truman didn’t during Korea. FDR didn’t after the bloodlettings of Pearl Harbor or the Bulge. Nor did Lincoln, even though it appeared to him that the war might continue “until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword.”

Make no mistake: this president and his successors must explain and defend their course of action as the war on terror moves forward. Spc. Sheehan and his fallen comrades—and their loved ones—deserve no less.

For almost four years now, Bush has done that.