By camping outside US president George Bush’s Crawford ranch and demanding to meet him, the mother of a slain American soldier has given a human face to the anti-war movement. She has also energized it in a way that had not seemed possible only a few weeks earlier. Cindy Sheehan, the mother of 24-year-old Casey Sheehan, who was killed in Iraq on April 4, 2004, five days after he arrived there, has challenged Bush to meet her, explain what her son died for, and tell her and other mothers when the troops will be coming home. By refusing to meet her, Bush has given her a propaganda coup; by saying that he has to “get on with his own life” despite mounting losses in Iraq, he put his foot in his mouth yet again. While Bush was on a five-week vacation that included bike-riding, barbeque-parties and fishing, American soldiers in Iraq were dying in large numbers. August was a particularly bad month; nearly 70 Americans soldiers were killed, 18 of them on one day, August 3.
Cindy Sheehan seems to have captured the imagination of the American people who were waiting for someone to touch their emotions: what better person to do so than the grief-stricken mother of a slain soldier? Hundreds of people converged on Crawford to support her at the makeshift Camp Casey. At least 160 cities across the US and Canada held vigils in her support, although she had to leave for California on August 18 when she learnt that her mother had had a stroke. When asked whether she was being emotional, “Yes,” she replied without missing a beat. “My firstborn was murdered. Am I angry? Yes, he was killed for lies and for a PNAC [Project for the New American Century] Neo-Con agenda to benefit Israel. My son joined the Army to protect America, not Israel.” This is the sort of truth the neo-cons do not want the Americans to know; nor how disastrous US policy has been in the Middle East. “We were told that we were attacked on 9/11 because the terrorists hate our freedoms and democracy...not for the real reason, because the Arab Muslims who attacked us hate our Middle-Eastern foreign policy.”
Sheehan, who is co-founder of Gold Star Families For Peace, a group of mothers whose children have died in Iraq, has attracted much support from war veterans as well. Bush tried to recoup his losses by appearing at Veterans of Foreign Wars in Salt Lake City on August 22. This was largely a cheering crowd, yet there were also some voices of dissent. This is seen as important because veterans, especially of the first and second world wars, tend to accept the militaristic rhetoric of whatever government is in power. Now people are beginning to ask when the troops will come home. Recent polls, one by Associated Press-Ipsos last month, have shown that approval of Bush’s handling of the war has dropped to 38 percent; the findings of Newsweek were even lower: 34 percent. At long last political figures, hitherto shy of challenging the president on an issue that would expose them to the charge of being “unpatriotic”, have found their voices. A number of Congressmen and Congresswomen from both parties have expressed concern about the increasing American casualties in Iraq. Others have asked why the government that insists the war is being fought for noble purposes treats those slain in its cause so shabbily: bodies are flown in quietly, with the media – especially television cameras – excluded so that Americans will not see photographs of flag-draped coffins being unloaded from giant C-130 planes. No American official of any standing has ever bothered to receive the coffins.
The dreaded B-word (“body-bags”) has been banished from the American lexicon because it conjures up memories of the Vietnam war; dead soldiers’ coffins are now called “transfer tubes”. People are beginning to ask why, if this war is so noble, neither Bush nor Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, has ever been seen paying his respects to those whose bodies are flown home for burial. Bush never fails to proclaim the virtues of this war in front of carefully selected crowds, yet those who are dying in it are being ignored. Cindy Sheehan told cheering members of Veterans For Peace at their annual convention in Dallas last month, “That lying b….., George Bush, is taking a five-week vacation in time of war. I want him to tell me why my son died in Iraq.”
Declining support and increasing opposition to the war has put the Bush administration on the defensive. Last month, when general Casey, a senior general at the Pentagon, said that the withdrawal of troops could begin by early next year, he got a swift rebuke from William Kristol of the Weekly Standard, a rightwing magazine that reflects the neo-cons’ views. Kristol wrote that Bush should get a defence secretary who knows how to prosecute the war and win it. Such public disagreement among members of the right-wing establishment is rare in this administration, but points to those whose agenda is being pursued: the zionist cabal that has ensconced itself in the upper echelons of the government and decision-making processes.
Under pressure, there has been a perceptible shift in the US government’s approach, even while in public it still insists that the US must stay the course in Iraq. Carefully placed leaks in the media from “anonymous officials” are preparing the ground for a change of policy. For instance, on August 14 the Washington Post carried an article by Robin Wright and Ellen Knickmeyer that was clearly aimed at lowering public expectations of what could be achieved in Iraq. The headline read: “U.S. Lowers Sights On What Can Be Achieved in Iraq: Administration Is Shedding ‘Unreality’ That Dominated Invasion, Official Says.” Wright has close connections to the administration as well as to the intelligence community; while her article may have been intended to gauge public reaction, it does suggest that a serious rethink may be starting. The article quotes a senior US official as saying: “what we expected to achieve was never realistic given the timetable or what unfolded on the ground. We are in a process of absorbing the factors of the situation we’re in and shedding the unreality that dominated at the beginning.”
And what exactly has “unfolded on the ground”? The resistance has knocked the arrogance out of Bush and his senior advisors, who had claimed that Iraq would be a “cakewalk”. The mounting death toll – more than 1,800 officially acknowledged, and some 14,000 seriously wounded – has dented the warmongers’ self-confidence. And there is no light at the end of the tunnel because the resistance to US occupation is becoming more sophisticated daily. Iraq is proving a magnet for anti-American forces that are converging from the Middle East and beyond for the opportunity to strike blows against the Americans.
For the people of Iraq life, though it was never easy under Saddam Husain’s dictatorship, has become much more difficult. In addition to the more than 100,000 civilian deaths since theUS invasion, there is massive unemployment (65 percent), electricity is out for two or three days at a time in Iraq’s searing heat of 45 to 50 degrees Celsius; medicines are in short supply, as is clean drinking water. All of these hardships are compounded by the brutality of the occupation forces. Raids on homes are common; women are manhandled; children are terrorized; young men are taken from their homes and never seen again. Abu Ghraib remains a powerful reminder of the Americans’ inhumanity. And then there is the soaring crime-rate because there is utter lawlessness. Freedom under the Americans means freedom from dignity and decency as well as from life.
Most Americans would have shrugged off and ignored all this, but for their own rising death toll. It is cruel but nonetheless necessary to state that some people only realise what horrors they are inflicting on others when they get a dose of their own medicine. The resistance in Iraq seems to be doing this well enough for some Americans to be having second thoughts.