View Full Version : `There's something happening here'

08-25-05, 08:05 AM
`There's something happening here'

By Joseph L. Galloway, Knight Ridder NewspapersWed Aug 24,12:44 PM ET

WASHINGTON - Old-timers could be forgiven this week if they hummed a few bars of "For What It's Worth," Buffalo Springfield's 1966 anti-war tune. The one that begins, "There's something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear. ..."

The air of unreality only seemed to thicken as George W. Bush, dogged by opponents of his war in Iraq at the gates of his beloved Texas ranch, hit the road for a pair of speeches aimed at bolstering support for that war and shoring up his sagging poll numbers.

There was a time when August brought a blissful if hot and humid peace to the nation and its capital. Congress stayed home until after Labor Day, and the republic was safe for a brief spell. Presidents went golfing or drove their speedboats off Maine or even walked around Key West in coat and tie and Panama hat.

Not this week. Not during these Dog Days. A heretofore confident if not cocky White House is on the defensive and the spin patrol has been deployed in force to tell America that this is no time to think about quitting the fight against the evildoers in Iraq. No time to think about getting our troops out of the quicksand that's taken the lives of 1,873 young Americans.

Bush stopped in Salt Lake City to speak to a friendly VFW convention, but he sounded for all the world as if he were talking directly to Cindy Sheehan, an anti-war mother whose son was killed in Iraq whom he refuses to see and whom some of his acolytes on talk radio and cable TV have trashed. Bush did meet Sheehan once soon after her son was killed.

The president expressed sympathy for the families of those killed in the two and a half years of a war that the majority of Americans no longer think he's managing well.

For those who wonder how much longer the war might continue, Army chief of staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker said he's now planning rotations of soldiers and Marines four years out - 2007 to 2009, should they still be needed then.

Even amateur practitioners of the art of public relations said that if the president had just invited Sheehan in for a sympathetic talk, a cup of coffee and a hug all of this might have been postponed, at least for a while.

Where was his spinmeister Karl Rove? What were they thinking? When the White House did react, it was to set in motion a counter-demonstration of pro-war Republicans assigned to show the flag in Crawford and the ranch, and another group to patrol Sheehan's home state of California.

After a Republican maverick, Sen. Chuck Hagel (news, bio, voting record) of Nebraska, said it was time to begin thinking about how to get out of Iraq, Bush counselor Dan Bartlett was dispatched to make the rounds of network and cable talk shows to say that Bush did, too, have a strategy, and it was a sound one. Even Fox News was skeptical.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld pooh-poohed any thought that civil war was imminent in Iraq while Iraqi Shiite Muslims and Kurds drafted a new constitution over the objections of the Sunni minority who've fueled and manned the insurgency from the beginning.

The defense czar, who earlier was caught using a machine to sign his name to letters of condolence to the families of service members who died in Iraq, declared that anyone in his position "has to feel a great deal of empathy" for those who've lost loved ones in the war.

Those of us who are old enough have seen this movie before were reminded of other presidents, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon, who were haunted by another war and dogged by war protesters and a nation that lost confidence in their leadership and wound up divided against itself.

Will history remember this week as the tipping point for George W. Bush and the Republicans who control Congress? Can they stay the course as they head into mid-term elections next year?

One more question: Will our children and grandchildren and their children harvest a bitter crop of budget deficits, higher oil prices, Islamic militancy and a broken Army and Marine Corps that was seeded in Iraq by this president, his vice president and his secretary of defense?

Will that bitter harvest, not a cakewalk, a mission accomplished and a Mesopotamian march of democracy, be Bush's legacy?



Joseph L. Galloway is the senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers and co-author of the national best-seller "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young." Readers may write to him at: Knight Ridder Washington Bureau, 700 12th St. N.W., Suite 1000, Washington, D.C. 20005-3994.