Could Cindy Sheehan's campaign for a second meeting with the President mark a turning point in the American debate about Iraq? I hope not. It would show a terrible weakness in the quality of American public debate if it did.
Dateline: 26 August 2005
To recap: Cindy Sheehan's son, Casey, was killed in Iraq. Cindy does not approve of Operation Iraqi Freedom and has had a meeting with the President to say so. She asked him questions, but on thinking about it, she doesn't like his answers, so she wants to ask again. No doubt the answers would be the same, and she still would not like them.
While there is a wide spectrum of views about Iraq, I doubt anyone's mind will be changed by Ms Sheehan's campaign. She is not revealing anything new. Her tale may be heart-rending - no mother should have to lose her son - but the decision to send troops to Iraq was taken in the full knowledge that some of them would be killed.
Nor should we lose sight of the fact that Casey Sheehan was a volunteer. He chose to join the military. He knew when he signed up that there was a possibility he would be sent to fight somewhere. He may have hoped that he would not, though that would be an unusual, as well as an unreasonable hope in a military volunteer. Young men tend to enjoy risky activities, such as riding fast motorbikes, and those that join the military dream of becoming war heroes. Cindy may have hoped that Casey would not see any action, but I suspect that Casey did not.
Even if he had never been sent abroad, there would still have been risks. Of all the wounded vets currently active in American politics, the most horrendously injured is triple amputee and former Senator Max Cleland. He was injured in an accident while transporting munitions. He was in Vietnam at the time, but not engaged in combat, and those injuries could as easily have been sustained at home.
Cindy Sheehan believes this particular war is illegitimate. That may have been Casey's view too, I wouldn't know. But he knew when he signed up that the President and Congress make those judgments, not individual soldiers. If you are the sort of person who wants to second-guess those decisions, that is fine, but you would be unwise to join the military.
America is not Pakistan. The military do not make their own judgments about where and when they will be deployed. Nor do their families. The elected civilian leaders do. Some of them will have military experience and others not. The current President served part-time in the National Guard, his predecessor not at all, and his predecessor but one (his father) was a war-hero in World War Two. All are equally qualified in law to be Commander in Chief. That is the way it works.
Cindy Sheehan has one vote and one voice. She has no special knowledge about the rights or wrongs of Iraqi liberation. She seems to have read widely on the subject, but so have many others, with widely varying views.
Most bereaved parents of military personnel find comfort in the belief that their sons or daughters were heroes, killed in a noble cause. Cindy Sheehan finds comfort in an increasingly hysterical campaign to smear the President. That's sad, but I doubt it will change many minds.
Copyright © Quentin Langley 26 August 2005