Sheehan's war

An open letter to Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Ellen Tauscher and the Democrats:

YOU KNOW THE war in Iraq is going very, very badly when people like Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist start speaking up. They're not against the invasion and occupation on principle – they just think it has the potential to hurt the Republican Party in next year's congressional election.

"If Iraq is in the rearview mirror in the '06 election, the Republicans will do fine," Norquist, who is one of the leading strategists of the GOP's conservative forces, told the New York Times last week. "But if it's still in the windshield, there are problems."

The same Times article, published Aug. 18, quotes Gingrich as saying that "any effort to explain Iraq as 'we are on track and making progress' is nonsense."

Gingrich and Norquist may be reactionary troglodytes, but they are no political fools. They see the facts: The body count from Iraq keeps rising, with no end in sight. The Iraqi constitution – the framework for the new government, such as it is, that is supposed to take over from the United States some day – is bogged down in very predictable internal conflicts. The analogies to Vietnam only get stronger: As Times columnist Bob Herbert notes, "In one of the many tragic echoes of Vietnam, US troops have been fighting hellacious battles to seize areas controlled by insurgents, only to retreat and allow the insurgents to return." And polls on President George W. Bush's handling of the war show approval ratings as abysmal as Lyndon Johnson's were when he was so mired in Vietnam that he abandoned his reelection efforts.

In other words, by all accounts, the Republicans are on the ropes on one of their signature issues. So why is a Vacaville woman whose political experience consists largely of being the mother of a dead soldier – leading and galvanizing the antiwar movement in this country, while prominent Democrats seem to offer nothing but silence and evasion?

Cindy Sheehan's vigil outside the Bush ranch has brought enormous news media attention to what Tom Hayden calls the "war for alternative meaning." She has asked the simple question, the one the nation's leaders couldn't answer about Vietnam (and the one that first brought John Kerry to national prominence): Why? Why are thousands of American kids (and many more thousands of Iraqis) dying? What is the great cause for which they are giving their lives? Why are they dying for a lie?

This ought to be the turning point for the Democrats, even those who originally supported or were wishy-washy about the war.

And yet, if you visit the Web site of Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the San Francisco Democrat who is House minority leader, you'll see all sorts of statements about policy ("Pelosi Celebrates 60th Anniversary of VJ Day," "Pelosi Statement on 70th Anniversary of Social Security," and the like) but not a word about Sheehan and her vigil. Rep. George Miller, whose Seventh District includes Vacaville, has signed a letter calling on Bush to meet with Sheehan, but Pelosi is not among the 37 congressional signatories.

In fact, as Marshall Windmiller reported in the Bay Guardian Aug. 10, when Pelosi spoke at the Young Democrats convention Aug. 4 in San Francisco, she had almost nothing to say about the war, barely mentioned Iraq, and instead spoke on how the US should have a military "second to none." In a panel discussion the next day, Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Walnut Creek) proclaimed that "we can't cut and run" in Iraq.

And in the end, the Young Democrats passed only a mealy-mouthed resolution that doesn't criticize the president or the war and calls only for a "timely, responsible withdrawal." This is horrible.

Instead of trying to sound like a hawk, Pelosi ought to get on a plane, fly down to Texas, and stand next to Sheehan with an antiwar sign.

The big antiwar marches slated for Sept. 24 in the Bay Area will in part be aimed at Pelosi, urging her, as a representative of one of the most active antiwar districts in the nation, to quit hiding and take a real stand. She and other leading Democrats need to listen – or the Democratic Party will suffer another series of embarrassing losses.