Maternal Instincts

Cindy Sheehan Calls for an Immediate Pullout of Iraq

Which is the lesser evil  —  the continued expenditure of billions of dollars and loss of American lives in Iraq, or a withdrawal that would likely result in bloodshed far surpassing anything we’ve seen thus far? Do we stay or do we leave? That question was the subtext of a rally at Arlington West on Sunday, April 9, when Mayor Marty Blum and Congresswoman Lois Capps joined the anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan in denouncing the Bush administration and the war in Iraq. Blum and Capps dutifully expressed their outrage at what they characterized as Bush’s perfidy, but were careful not to address the question of withdrawal. Not so for Sheehan. Wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a peace sign over the word “Lennon,” she called for an immediate pullout 30 seconds into her speech. “Every minute we allow this [war] to go on, we get blood on our hands,” she said to loud cheers from the small crowd lining the pier. “We must repudiate this war. Stop it now. Bring our troops home.”

Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in Iraq, became famous last summer when she set up camp outside of President Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, and announced that she would not leave until he met with her. (He didn’t.) Since then, Sheehan’s outspoken opposition to the war has placed her at the forefront of the peace movement, making her a media sensation in the process. Peace activists have celebrated her plainspoken criticism of Bush and the war, while conservative supporters of the administration have inveighed against her activism by questioning everything from her motives to her patriotism. FoxNews’s Bill O’Reilly said, “She’s run by far-left elements who are using her, and she’s dumb enough to allow it to happen.”

Much of the controversy centers on Sheehan’s invoking her son’s death in her denouncement of the Bush administration. During her stay outside Crawford, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, referring to Sheehan, wrote, “The moral authority of parents who bury their children in Iraq is absolute.” But others argue that individual “moral authority” and personal loss should not drive political positions. In Sheehan’s case, the question seems to be whether her plea for an immediate pullout is realistic, politically viable, and morally tenable. Sheehan recently spoke to me about this and other issues in an often emotionally charged phone conversation.

Were you for or against the war in Iraq when we invaded? I’ve always been against it, ever since they started talking about it.

Do you think your son would support the campaign you have undertaken in his name? Absolutely. I know he would. He didn’t want to go to this war. He only went because it was his duty and his buddies were going. He died saving his buddies’ lives, and I know he would want me to continue this mission.

Saddam Hussein killed an estimated 500,000 people before the U.S. invaded. Was there a humanitarian obligation to intervene in Iraq? First off, George Bush told us that [Hussein] was a threat to the United States. He told us that he had weapons of mass destruction. He told us he was linked to Al Qaeda. He didn’t say anything about that in the memo he sent to Congress asking for the authority to attack Saddam Hussein. George Bush and his policies have killed well over 100,000 Iraqis, so what’s better? Nobody should be killed ever, and during the sanction years Saddam didn’t have the means or the opportunity to invade or attack America. This is a war based on lies. We didn’t care that he was killing his own people until he became a tool for us to use our war machine.

You’re a staunch advocate of immediate withdrawal from Iraq. I believe that our troops should be withdrawn as quickly and as safely as possible. They didn’t need to be there, and their presence there is fueling a lot of the violence, and obviously killing a lot of our soldiers needlessly. Like John Kerry said, they’re not the solution, they’re the problem. They’re the fuel for the insurgency, and I think we should get our military out of there as soon as possible.

It also seems that they are the only presence in the country that’s providing any kind of real security. Where have you heard that? I’ve listened to Iraqis and they say, “You come in and you’re destabilizing our country and you’re killing our innocent people and you’re not protecting us.” I believe that we need to help them as much as possible, but not with our military presence. And I don’t understand why it’s just accepted knowledge that our military has to be anywhere to help a country. Military presence doesn’t help countries, it destabilizes countries. This is the 21st century. Killing is barbaric, and we should not be killing people and telling them that we are saving them.

The large northern Iraqi city of Tall Afar is reportedly one of the most secure and stable cities in all of Iraq. President Bush is touting it as a place where U.S. military presence can be scaled back. Yet the mayor of Tall Afar recently wrote Bush a letter pleading with him not to leave. Well, I’ve also read articles about Tall Afar, and that within some of the Shia areas it is stable, but in the Sunni areas it isn’t. Our presence there is fueling the ››› sectarian violence that many Iraqis told me was the last thing on their minds before the U.S. came in and destabilized their country. And I really don’t understand why anyone believes anything that George Bush says anymore. He’s a proven liar — he lied to our country over and over again.

A powerful sheik in Tall Afar recently told a reporter from the New Republic that if the U.S. military leaves there will be “rivers of blood.” I don’t know how to respond to that. There are rivers of blood already. My son was killed for no reason. My son’s blood was used to line the pockets of the military-industrial war machine and of the war profiteers. The rivers of blood need to stop, and we have to stop killing people. My son should be alive, and tens of thousands of innocent people should be alive, and George Bush did this for no other reason than oil and to enrich the war profiteers. And that’s immoral.

But regardless of the morality of the invasion —  Is this an interview or a debate?

I’m just trying to elicit  —  Because it sounds like I’m debating some kind of right-winger.

I’m just wondering what kind of responsibility we have to the Iraqi people. We have to start pulling out our military presence. We have to start putting in armies of diplomats. We have to start putting in people who can start solving these problems with talking and without violence. We have to give the Iraqis back their jobs so they can rebuild their country. It’s their country. Our kids are stuck in the middle of something that’s degenerating into a civil war, and they don’t need to be there and they never needed to be there in the first place.

Press and government accounts from Iraq consistently describe a situation in which the only thing that is keeping Iraq from falling into utter chaos and total civil war is the U.S. military presence. Iraq is in utter chaos right now, and who put them there?

But now that we’re there  —  George Bush. These are all excuses that were used to keep our country in Vietnam for more than 10 years, killing 58,000 of our soldiers and millions of Vietnamese. Do we want this to happen in Iraq? We need to help Iraq with money, and we need to help them [with] peacekeeping forces but not killing forces. We’re building permanent bases, and we never plan on leaving [Iraq]. George Bush says it’s going to be up to future presidents to solve this problem. Well, that’s not acceptable. We do not want what happened in Vietnam to happen in Iraq.

Yesterday, former marine general Anthony Zinni, an ardent critic of the war, said in an NPR interview that while the “Domino Effect” used to justify our presence in Vietnam was illusory, in Iraq it’s real. He said, “Iraq sits in the center of an Islamic world that is in turmoil, and could explode. By withdrawing we could create another sanctuary for terrorists, Afghanistan-like. We can’t pull out of Iraq.” You’re not going to get me to say anything except that our military presence [in Iraq] is fueling the violence, killing innocent Iraqis, killing our soldiers. As a civilization, and as members of the human race, we have to stop thinking that our military presence has to be sent places to stop problems.

You’ve become a polarizing figure. Many people, including those critical of the war in Iraq, have accused you of being a publicity hound. How do you respond to that? I am not a publicity hound. I want the war to end. I want the troops to come home. I don’t want any other families to go through what my family is going through. I will do whatever I have to do, I’ll take any criticism, I’ll take any smears, I’ll take any lies, I’ll take anybody twisting words, I’ll take anybody calling me names — like publicity hound — and I’ll keep doing it so we can call attention to the fact that this war is based on deception and lies. My son should be alive, my eldest child was killed two years ago yesterday, and I don’t want that to happen to any other family. And if anyone wants to call me names, that’s fine. I have broad shoulders. I buried my son, and I don’t want anyone else burying their son for lies. n

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