What Cindy Sheehan Really Wants
Now imagine if she gets it.
When are the bureau chiefs of our newspapers and networks going to snap out of their own vacation-induced trances and send some grown-up correspondents down to Crawford, Texas? For weeks now, Cindy Sheehan has not been asked a single question that is any tougher than "How does it feel?" The media have been acting as her megaphone. After Slatepublished her real opinions on politics (a weird confection of pacifism with paranoid anti-Zionism) last Monday, she was eventually asked about her statement that her son Casey had been killed in a war for Israel, and she denied ever having made it. So, we must now say that, as well as being a vulgar producer of her own spectacle, and an embarrassment to her family, Cindy Sheehan is at best a shifty fantasist.
After Slate published an extract from a letter that she wrote last March to ABC Nightline, Anderson Cooper of CNN asked her about the anti-Israel remarks the letter contained. She denied making them and proceeded in her blog to assert that someone had gotten hold of her original letter and somehow doctored it. This dark and murky allegation—evincing further paranoia on her part—has been easily and convincingly refuted, as can be seen in this sidebar. Cindy Sheehan, not content with echoing the Bin-Ladenist line that the president is the real "terrorist" and that he is the tool of a Jewish cabal, has dug a pit of falsehood around her own wild story.
This week, before family matters called her away from Crawford, she mutated her demand—that the president lower himself into that pit and join her down there—into the shameless request that he join her for Friday prayers. The nerve! We all know how much the MoveOn.org forces believe in the power of prayer, and in the president's sincere religious convictions (their contempt for this is the only thing on which I agree with them). But, hey, try anything once for a tear-jerker or a bit of moral blackmail—what Maureen Dowd has so laughably called "absolute moral authority."
What do these people imagine that they are demanding? Would they like a referendum to be held, among the relatives of the fallen in Iraq, to determine the future conduct of the war? I think I can promise them that they would heavily lose such a vote. But what if the right wing were also to demand such a vote and the "absolute moral authority" that supposedly goes with it?
One of three things could then happen. The ultra-right anti-Zionist forces of David Duke and Patrick J. Buchanan, both of whom approvingly speak of Ms. Sheehan's popular groundswell, would still lose the vote. So would the media fools who semi-automatically identify Sheehan and her LaRouche-like drivel with the "left" or "progressive" forces. This would leave us with a random pseudo-majority, made up of veterans and their relatives. Who wants this to be the group that decides? One might as well live in a populist, jingoist banana republic. Never mind the Constitution, or even the War Powers Act. Only victims and martyrs can decide! Get ready to gather under the balcony of a leader who speaks rotundly of such glory.
Then there is the question of humanitarian or pacifist emotion. Some have perhaps been drawn to "Camp Casey" out of reverence for life. Their demand, however, is an immediate coalition withdrawal from Iraq. Have they seriously asked themselves how humane the consequences of that would be? The news of a pullout would put a wolfish grin on the faces of the "al-Qaida in Mesopotamia" brigade, as Mr. Zarqawi's force has named itself in order to resolve all doubt. Every effort would be made to detonate every available car-bomb and mine, so as to claim the withdrawal of coalition forces as a military victory for jihad. I can quite understand Ms. Sheehan's misery at the thought of her son being killed on some desolate road. But will she be on hand to console the parents whose sons are shot in the back while being ordered to surrender and withdraw?
I hope I don't insult the intelligent readers of this magazine if I point out what the consequences of such a capitulation would be for the people of Iraq. Paint your own mental picture of a country that was already almost beyond rescue in 2003, as it is handed back to an alliance of homicidal Baathists and Bin-Ladenists. Comfort yourself, if that's the way you think, with the idea that such people are only nasty because Bush made them so. Intone the Sheehan mantra—repeated this very week—that terrorism is no problem because after all Bush is the leading terrorist in the world. See if that cheers you up. Try it on your friends. Live with it, if you are ready to live with the consequences of what you desire.
This is an argument, about a real war, that deserves moral seriousness on all sides. Flippancy and light-mindedness have no place. Cindy Sheehan's cheerleader Michael Moore has compared the "insurgents" in Iraq to the American minutemen and Founding Fathers. Do I taunt him for not volunteering to fight himself in such a noble cause? Of course I do not. That would be a low and sly blow. Do I say that he is spouting fascistic nonsense? Of course I do. Is Cindy Sheehan exempt from any verdict on her wacko opinions because of her bereavement? I would say that she is not. Has she been led into a false position by eager cynics who have sacrificed nothing and who would happily surrender unconditionally to the worst enemy that currently faces civilization? That's for her to clarify. While she ponders, she should forgo prayer, stay in California, and end her protest.
Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author, most recently, of Arguably, a collection of essays.
—Additional reporting by Blake WilsonPhotograph of Cindy Sheehan by Mandel Ngan/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images.