Cindy Sheehan and the other members of the Bring Them Home Now tour hit the halls of Congress on Thursday, knocking on the doors of more than a dozen legislators to demand their position on the war—including Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, and Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.
The activists were bringing Camp Casey, named for the 24-year-old son Sheehan lost in Iraq, to Capitol Hill. The first Camp Casey was set up this summer outside President Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas.
On Thursday, Sheehan sat down with Clinton and Reid, two of the highest-profile Democrats, to pose the same question she has posed to President Bush: “What noble cause are our loved ones fighting and dying for?”
“I asked them, ‘Are you going to be willing to lead us out of Iraq? Because if you do, the rest of the nation will follow you,’ ” Sheehan said.
Neither Clinton or Reid, who both voted for the war, were willing to reverse tracks and push for a U.S. withdrawal now. Nevertheless, Sheehan reported feeling “fabulous coming out of the meeting.”
“I know their offices are going to be working with us; all we have to do is keep up the pressure on them,” Sheehan said, adding, “Now it’s up to the people of New York to put pressure on Clinton.”
New Yorkers who oppose the war might not feel so encouraged, given the hawkish stance our junior senator has taken thus far.
Asked afterward about the meeting, Clinton noted that she had met earlier in the day with about 20 moms from American Gold Star Mothers, the pro-military group that President Bush has glommed onto in an effort to deflect the criticism by Sheehan and other military families. Bush has proclaimed this Sunday National Gold Star Mothers’ Day to honor America’s fallen heroes—just a day after Sheehan and other military families are to speak out at Saturday’s anti-war demonstration.
Clinton noted that those moms have voiced “different positions” on the war from the one held by Sheehan’s group, Gold Star Families for Peace.
“It’s just a painful experience because of their loss,” Clinton said of her meeting with Sheehan, who was accompanied by her sister Dede and by Lynn Bradach, whose 21-year-old son, Corporal Travis Bradach-Nall, was killed clearing a minefield outside Karbala two years ago.
But Clinton added: “My bottom line is that I don’t want their sons to die in vain.”
Asked when she thought those soldiers’ mission might be complete, Clinton responded: “I don’t believe it’s smart to set a date for withdrawal. I don’t think you should ever telegraph your intentions to the enemy so they can await you.”
“I’ve been very critical of the president’s policies and also supportive of the Iraqis who are trying to move forward and form a new government,” Clinton told the Voice.
“I think it is a much more complicated situation,” she continued. “I don’t think it’s the right time to withdraw, but we also have to stand up and send a message that we’re not going to be there indefinitely. We need to tell the Sunnis that they have to do their job and that we won’t be there forever. Because if you don’t, then what incentive is there for them to ever participate in the political process?”
Clinton cited two key upcoming moments: October 15, when the Iraqis are slated to vote on their new constitution, and December 15, when Iraqis are expected to elect a new government.
Responding to a question of whether Sheehan and the anti-war crowd are premature in demanding an immediate withdrawal of troops now, the presidential hopeful was nothing if not diplomatic.
“No, I think they’re playing a very important role,” Clinton said. “This is a democracy, thank God, and people should be speaking out. It helps keep the debate flowing and creates the conditions for better decision-making, which makes for better policies, so it’s very important.
“Nobody has a greater right to make that criticism,” Clinton said of Sheehan and the other military families who feel betrayed by the war. “But I happen to think that fighting for freedom is a noble cause. There are lots of things wrong with how Bush did it. I believe we should have gone through with the inspection process and acted through the UN. But I believe that standing up against someone as dangerous as Saddam was a good goal.”
Clinton was noncommittal when asked whether she still supports sending more troops to Iraq. “We’ll see,” she said, then disappeared into the Russell Senate office building.
At least Clinton was willing to hear Sheehan and the other military family members’ plea. Republican representative Bill Thomas of Bakersfield, California, wouldn’t let them in the door, while Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s staff told the group they would have to fill out a written form if they wanted a meeting. When told they had already called and e-mailed several times, Frist’s chief of staff relented and spent about 15 minutes with the group, which included Iraq war veterans and members of Military Families Speak Out.
“She didn’t take any notes, but hopefully the emotions we evoked in that meeting will say more than any notes would,” said Al Zappala of Philadelphia, whose son, Sgt. Sherwood Baker, was killed in Baghdad last year.
Sheehan and the other members of the Bring Them Home Now tour say they won’t give up until they get every member of Congress to take a stance on U.S. withdrawal.
They’ve launched a new campaign, Meet With the Mothers, to mobilize other military family members to go to every member of Congress and ask them what noble cause their loved ones are fighting and dying for. Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, has agreed to meet with Sheehan on Tuesday, after refusing earlier requests.
“If the politicians don’t answer, there will be constituent Camp Caseys on their doorstep, just like in Crawford,” vows Jonathan Read, the former chair of Park Plaza Hotels and Resorts, who helped launch the campaign after camping out in Crawford with Sheehan for three weeks.
Earlier in the day, Sheehan and several other military moms held a press conference to announce a $1 million campaign of TV commercials and print ads.
The hard-hitting TV ad was funded by donations to Gold Star Families for Peace. It features four women challenging the president for taking the country to war, including Melanie House, a former supporter of invading Iraq, whose husband, Petty Offficer John House, was killed when his helicopter was shot down earlier this year.
“How many more soldiers have to die for your mistake? My husband never got to hold his baby. What will I tell our son his father died for?” House asks in the commercial, which is set to run nationally on the Fox News Network and on CNN in Washington, D.C., over the next 12 days.
The print ads were paid for by Win Without War. They feature the banner headlines, “They lied. They died,” and juxtapose the faces of Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and Condoleezza Rice with a full-page list in tiny fine print of the more than 1,900 American soldiers killed in Iraq. The ads are running in 14 papers, including USA Today. A two-page spread appeared in Thursday’s Washington Post.