In the blazing heat of August, under a sun that can sear only
as it does in a dry place like Crawford, Texas, Cindy Sheehan, mother of
Casey Sheehan who died in Iraq, waits for a requested audience with President
George W. Bush. Her simple question to him, one any mother who lost a son
in combat can rightly ask: For what noble cause did my son die in Iraq?
As she stands near the growing line of crosses representing "Arlington
West" outside the gate to the Bush ranch, awaiting an answer, her question
focuses the grief and, for many, the doubts of the more than 2,000 families
who have lost sons, daughters, friends and loved ones in Iraq.
In any war, the President must be ready to answer this question. The agony
lies not with "How did my son die?", but with "Why did my
son die?" And in times of great national crisis, such as World War
II, the answer was more often assumed than actually given. But in the present
situation the President lacks either the cover of crisis or the presumption
of integrity that usually surrounds the President in wartime. He stands
exposed, and the harsh sunlight of Crawford only adds to his discomfort.
How does he respond?
With help from his staff and specifically his war cabinet, Bush has stubbornly
stayed on message.
During a rump session of this cabinet at Crawford this week he continued
to stay on message, basically to behave as if the question posed by Cindy
Sheehan had not been asked. But if he were to respond directly, he could
not stay on message. That is because his message is sorely incomplete. Had
he and his team leveled with the American people in the first place, or
if they chose to do so now, he would have a great deal more to say.
He could say, for example: America is the most powerful and most wealthy
nation on earth, but it will not stay that way unless it solves its long
term problems of energy and other key resources. China, India, Brazil, the
European Community, Russia, and Japan, and others, are after the same resources;
we don't have any good international rules for who gets what; and the present
system works badly to allocate the effects of scarcity. Positioning ourselves
in Iraq without international support was a stopgap, but it looked necessary
at the time. Scrambling for resources may not be, in truth, a noble cause,
but it is a realistic one for us to sustain our way of life.
He could go on: Unless we, the United States, and everybody else on the
planet can get together on how to divide up the available resources, overcome
scarcities, and live successfully together, there will be more blood spilled.
Right now, countries are scrambling and not really working together on the
solutions to those problems. Unless new rules are established and enforced,
there is nothing for it but to use military power-put our youth in harm's
way-- to assure successful control of key resources until we find alternatives.
We must either be prepared to pay for that with blood and treasure, or we
must be prepared to change our way of life. Those seem to be the choices.
I mourn the loss of any of our sons and daughters, and I will do my best
to move them out of harm's way in Iraq or elsewhere as quickly as possible.
Terrell E. Arnold
The writer is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer with
broad experience in US foreign relations. He will welcome comment at email@example.com
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