Justin Webb's deep thoughts
In it Webb uses (surprise!) Cindy Sheehan as the hook on which to hang his thesis that public sentiment in the US is turning so much against the war that “seismic” changes are afoot. But there are so many errors in the report, big and small, of fact and judgment, that one barely knows where to begin.
Webb’s questionable commitment to accuracy can be divined early on, when he speaks of the goings on at “Camp Casey”, Sheehan’s self-named protest site in Crawford. Acknowledging that at least some people oppose Sheehan, Webb says that “it is true that someone drove a truck over the encampment.” Actually, it isn’t quite true. In fact the truck ran over several of the wooden crosses erected outside the camp. There were no lounging protestors diving from their tent in order to avoid being run over, despite the impression Webb would leave you with. But this minor shading of the facts is nothing compared to the way he chooses to portray Sheehan and her movement.
According to Webb, Sheehan is one of several “earth mothers, talking about love, hugging each other, swapping recipes for organic stews.” Her protest is a “huge success” which is symbolic of the fact that Americans (“even Texans” Webb disdainfully adds) are “rethinking the Iraq war, indeed rethinking war itself as a tool of foreign policy.” Sheehan captured the nation because she and it agree on the needed direction in Iraq – out.
But of course anyone truly familiar with Sheehan (ie not BBC watchers) knows that this is just so much rubbish. Webb has done his best not to edify his audience but to decieve them about Cindy Sheehan and what she (and the unmentioned but vaunted PR machine backing her) represents. In fact, Sheehan’s position, quite unlike the polls to which Webb refers, is to take the troops out now.
All the opinion polls this summer have pointed in one direction - out of Iraq.
Not necessarily now, not necessarily tomorrow, but at a date that should be visible from here.
And where Mrs Sheehan and the public at large have led, politicians of
both main parties are following.
She also thinks Bush is a “filth-spewer”, a “war monger” and an “evil maniac” and that the US presence in Iraq is “spread[ing] the cancer of pax Americana, imperialism in the Middle East.” She thinks that her son “was killed for lies and for a PNAC Neo-Con agenda to benefit Israel.” She thinks that the foreign terrorists going to Iraq to blow up innocent people are “freedom fighters”. These thoughts may reflect the feelings of the Washington press corps of which Webb is a part, but they do not reflect the thinking of most Americans, regardless of how disillusioned they may be with Iraq at the moment. If you want to know whether the American public actually identifies with Sheehan and her views, you’ll have to ignore Webb and the BBC and ask Rasmussen.
Either Webb doesn’t know all this about Sheehan (in which case shame on the BBC for employing a man so vastly ignorant of the very person he purports to write about) or, more likely, he simply doesn’t want you to know about them because he knows they make her sound like a Michael-Mooresque moonbat, which hardly lends credibility to his portrayal of her as sympathetic “earth mother” talking about "love" who has captured the heart of the nation.
Regular watchers of Webb will know of his penchant for insulting various constituencies of Americans, and yesterday it was the turn of Texans, who, we are told, are ignorant, gun-toting war mongers. Of course, Webb would not be so crass as to put it quite like that, but when Webb describes Bush’s neighbors – “real Texans”, we are told – the message is undeniably, and condescendingly, clear.
The president's neighbours are not, in other words, a bunch of city slickers.
They are not sophisticated thinkers on world affairs, they are at home with guns.
…. Texans have traditionally never believed in getting the troops out of anywhere, much the opposite.
Like I said: ignorant, gun-toting, war-mongering Texans. Texas is so bad, Webb “…cannot imagine a more hostile environment in which to set up a peace camp.” Really? The BBC ought to send Webb to Baghdad to set up a “peace camp” there. And the reference to Sheehan’s “peace camp” is a particularly sly piece of propaganda. Wanting the troops out now, as Sheehan does, could conceivably be described as anti-war (or, at least, anti-American-involvement-in-war). But who in their right mind actually believes that the immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq will result in “peace”?
Webb’s political judgement is hardly any better than his journalistic accuracy. Citing Russ Feingold and Chuck Hagel (and their “presidential ambitions” – ha!) as bellwethers of their respective parties is absurd. In talking about how potential presidential candidates are going to have to start figuring out now how to bail out of Iraq (because it is “inconceivable” that someone could win with Bush’s policies), he says ridiculous things like “The next presidential election is only three years away.” Only?!? Three years in politics, especially in Washington, is an eternity. George Bush the first had an approval rating of over 80% just a year and a half before he proceeded to lose to Clinton in his re-election bid. In December 2003 Howard Dean was everybody’s favourite candidate for the Democratic nomination. Two months later he was toast. The views of the American people are extremely fickle. “Only” three years? Please.
Leaving his audience with little doubt about where exactly he stands on the decision to liberate Iraq, Webb concludes with what he no doubt sees as a sage observation:
President Bush cannot look Cindy Sheehan in the eye and tell her that her son died because the White House messed up.
But a future president will.
I see. Her son didn't die because of the terrorists roaming around Iraq trying to make life hell for everyone. Nor did he die because he decided to voluntarily re-enlist in an army already at war. No. It was because the White House "messed up". Hmmm.
In any event, pretending to see justified shame inside the president’s refusal to play along with Sheehan’s publicity seeking demand to “meet” with the president is foolish enough. But asserting with authority what an unknown president from an unknown party in an unknown political situation at least three years hence will have to say about the merits of liberating Iraqis from Saddam is simply delusional.