What Next for Sheehan Saga?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, August 16, 2005; 12:12 PM

Cindy Sheehan is now in her 11th day camped outside President Bush's Texas estate, waiting for a chance to confront the man who launched the war that took her son's life.

But the real drama is not whether Bush will relent and meet with her. It's almost certain that he won't.

The burning question is where does the Sheehan story go from here?

The White House is certainly hoping that the answer is nowhere -- and that the press will just get bored and move on.

Almost as good for the White House would be if the story becomes all about Cindy Sheehan, rather than her cause. (This just in: Her husband is divorcing her! The neighbors are sick of her!)

The big danger for the White House, however, is if Sheehan incites the public, the press and political leaders to actually begin a national conversation about what a pullout from Iraq would look like and what would be the advantages and disadvantages.

Thus far, the only real discussions about tactics in Iraq have been held in secret, among administration officials. Behind the scenes, military and political officials have apparently been going back and forth a lot lately about how soon American troops can be drawn down, and by how much. But those proposals are at best gradual, distant and may have taken a big hit yesterday with the failure of the Iraqi leaders to meet their deadline for drafting a constitution.

In public, the discussion about how to get out of Iraq has been oddly muted.

It's a rare public opinion poll that even asks whether U.S. troops should be withdrawn -- although when the question is asked, Americans are more likely to agree with Sheehan than with Bush.

According to the most recent CNN/USA Today Gallup poll, for instance, 56 percent of Americans said they want some or all troops withdrawn from Iraq now.

In a recent Newsweek poll, respondents were asked how long they would personally support keeping large numbers of U.S. military personnel in Iraq. They weren't even given the option of saying bring them home now -- but 12 percent of respondents volunteered that answer anyway. Some 38 percent more said less than a year. Only 26 percent echoed Bush's amorphous position: As long as it takes.

Rupert Cornwell writes in the Independent: "On one level, the attention generated by 48-year-old Cindy Sheehan -- from the hitherto obscure town of Vacaville, an hour's drive north-east of San Francisco -- merely proves the old adage that, like nature, the news business cannot tolerate a vacuum.

"Obedient to the tradition that an American President must be covered 24 hours a day, 365 days a year (including holidays) dozens of White House reporters are having to spend this sweltering August on the plains of central Texas as George Bush takes his customary extended summer vacation.

"Normally, hard news barely extends beyond barbecue fund raisers, a few minutely choreographed but content-free trips to 'meet ordinary Americans,' and the odd Presidential excursion to a little league baseball game. This year however manna has descended in the desert for the media mini-horde."

And yet, Cornwell concludes, "her 'camp-in' is anything but a hollow summer stunt. Never has the Iraq war been so unpopular. Most Americans now think the US-led invasion of 2003 was a mistake, and by a margin of almost two to one disapprove of Mr Bush's handling of it. Like Ms Sheehan, they want some or all of the 138,000 US troops in Iraq brought home, and soon."

Foreign Affairs Concerns

Holly Yeager writes in the Financial Times: "Growing public dissatisfaction with both the war in Iraq and US relations with the Muslim world could soon lead the American public to demand a change of course by the administration, according to a new poll of foreign policy attitudes.

"Nearly six in 10 Americans are worried that the US may not be meeting its goals in Iraq, and they hold the Bush administration responsible, says the survey. . . .

"That combination of strong public opinion and the belief that the government is responsible for addressing it makes the Iraq war 'the foreign policy issue that most clearly appears to have reached a tipping point', said Daniel Yankelovich, a pollster and chairman of Public Agenda, a nonprofit research group that conducted the poll."

Here are the group's findings.

The Blown Deadline

Peter Baker and Robin Wright write in The Washington Post: "The failure to draft a new Iraqi constitution by yesterday's deadline represents another blow to President Bush's attempts to show progress that would pave the way for U.S. troop withdrawals, some analysts said yesterday, but U.S. officials called it a temporary setback and hailed Iraqi leaders for staying at the negotiating table.

"Bush, who last week expressed confidence that the deadline would be met, issued a statement applauding 'the heroic efforts of Iraqi negotiators' as they continued to talk."

Here is the text of Bush's statement on the delay.

Here was Bush just last Thursday: "We have made it clear that we believe that constitution can be and should be agreed upon by August 15th. And so I'm operating on the assumption that it will be agreed upon by August the 15th."

Barry Schweid writes for the Associated Press: "The postponement appeared to be a rebuff to U.S. officials, who were pressing for a deal, if even an incomplete one, to maintain political momentum in face of a deadly insurgency. . . .

"Larry Diamond, a Hoover Institution scholar who was an adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority that ran postwar Iraq, said, 'We set ourselves up for political embarrassment by pressing so obsessively for this one particular deadline, and I think we need to listen more to our Iraqi interlocutors,' he said."

Furthermore, there are signs that a one-week delay won't do the trick.

Ellen Knickmeyer and Omar Fekeiki write in The Washington Post that the recent debate "appeared to have widened rifts among Shiite, Sunni, Kurdish and secular groups."

Dexter Filkins and James Glanz in the New York Times, quote an administration official saying "there's a lot of nervousness" within the administration over the situation.

Plame Developments

There have been lots of interesting, if not earth-shattering, developments in the Valerie Plame case in the last 10 days or so. To recap:

Mark Sherman writes for the Associated Press: "David Margolis, a lawyer at the Justice Department for 40 years, was named Friday to oversee a special prosecutor's investigation of who in the Bush administration disclosed the name of an undercover CIA officer.

"Margolis, whose title is associate deputy attorney general, is taking the place of Deputy Attorney General James Comey, whose last day of work was Friday. . . .

"Comey made the designation of Margolis. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has stepped aside from the probe because he was White House counsel when Valerie Plame's name was leaked in 2003 and he has testified to the grand jury investigating the unauthorized disclosure."

Murray Waas writes for the Village Voice about how the decision to appoint a special prosecutor was made in the first place: "Justice Department officials made the crucial decision in late 2003 to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the leak of the identity of undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame in large part because investigators had begun to specifically question the veracity of accounts provided to them by White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, according to senior law enforcement officials.

"Several of the federal investigators were also deeply concerned that then attorney general John Ashcroft was personally briefed regarding the details of at least one FBI interview with Rove, despite Ashcroft's own longstanding personal and political ties to Rove, the Voice has also learned. The same sources said Ashcroft was also told that investigators firmly believed that Rove had withheld important information from them during that FBI interview."

Waas expands on one alleged Rove assertion in his blog: "What has not been previously reported until now (a blog breaks news!?), is that not only could Rove not remember the name of the journalist who purportedly might have told him of Plame's CIA employment, but he also claimed to remember virtually nothing about the circumstances of the purported conversation. He could not even recall whether the conversation took place on the phone or in person."

Richard B. Schmitt writes in the Los Angeles Times that special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald "has a history of invoking perjury laws and related statutes to buttress his investigations.

"So it may not be surprising that he is considering perjury charges in his current assignment -- as a special prosecutor investigating whether anyone in the Bush administration illegally leaked the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame to journalists. . . .

"Fitzgerald's tendency to invoke the laws against lying comes from two things, colleagues say: the particular way he uses grand jury testimony when he conducts an investigation, and his deep-seated aversion to being lied to.

"Many prosecutors go before a grand jury only after they have a case pretty well wrapped up. But Fitzgerald's approach is to use the grand jury as a tool for compelling witnesses to disclose information. And if he thinks a witness has fiddled with the truth, associates say, he becomes indignant."

Waas also wrote in the American Prospect last week: 'I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, has told federal investigators that he met with New York Times reporter Judith Miller on July 8, 2003, and discussed CIA operative Valerie Plame, according to legal sources familiar with Libby's account. . . .

"In her affidavit, Miller also asserted: 'I have never written an article about Valerie Plame or Joe Wilson. I did however contemplate writing one or more articles in July 2003, about issues related to Ambassador Wilson's op-ed piece. In preparation for those articles, I spoke and/or met with several potential sources. One or more of those potential sources insisted as a precondition to providing information to me, that I agree to maintain the confidentiality of their identity.'"

Blogger Atrios writes: "I can't think of any reason that Judith Miller shouldn't answer the following question: 'Did you inform Karl Rove or Scooter Libby that Joe Wilson's wife was a CIA operative?'"

Walter Pincus wrote in The Washington Post last week that evidence suggests that Plame did not in fact recommend Wilson for the Niger trip.

The CIA maintains "that Wilson was chosen for the trip by senior officials in the Directorate of Operations counterproliferation division (CPD) -- not by his wife -- largely because he had handled a similar agency inquiry in Niger in 1999. On that trip, Plame, who worked in that division, had suggested him because he was planning to go there, according to Wilson and the Senate committee report. . . .

"Senior Bush administration officials told a different story about the trip's origin in the days between July 8 and July 12, 2003. They said that Wilson's wife was working at the CIA dealing with weapons of mass destruction and that she suggested him for the Niger trip, according to three reporters."

So where might they have gotten that idea? Pincus traces it to a June 2003 memo by the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research -- the same secret memo that Fitzgerald has apparently asked a lot of questions about.

And Elisabeth Bumiller wrote in the New York Times last weekend all about the incident in Texas in 1992 when "Mr. Rove was fired from the state campaign to re-elect the first President Bush on suspicions that Mr. Rove had leaked damaging information to Mr. Novak about Robert Mosbacher Jr., the campaign manager and the son of a former commerce secretary."

No Veto?

Josh Burek writes in the Christian Science Monitor: "Like pardons and executive orders, vetoes are among the cherished privileges of the Oval Office. Ike liked them. So did presidents Truman and Cleveland - and both Roosevelts.

"But apparently not George W. Bush. In fact, well into the fifth year of his presidency, he has yet to issue a single veto.

"It's a streak unmatched in modern American history, one that throws into question traditional notions of checks and balances."

Watch Out for the Raging Grannies

Tony Seskus writes in the Calgary Herald: "U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney is to jet into Alberta next month for an oilsands tour, further cementing the vital role Canada will play in supplying crude to the world's biggest energy consumer.

"Premier Ralph Klein surprised his aides Friday by revealing at the premiers meeting in Banff that U.S. President George W. Bush's right-hand man would arrive in September for a primer on the multibillion-dollar oilsands projects in northeastern Alberta.

Max Maudie writes in the Edmonton Sun: "Local environmental and antiwar groups are planning a hostile welcome for the American vice-president when he visits Alberta next month.

" 'He's not welcome as far as I'm concerned,' said Louise Swift, of Edmonton's Raging Grannies."

Bush's Reading List

Warren Vieth writes in the Los Angeles Times: "According to the White House, one of three books Bush chose to read on his five-week vacation is 'Salt: A World History' by Mark Kurlansky, who chronicled the rise and fall of what once was considered the world's most strategic commodity.

"The other two books he reportedly brought to Crawford are 'Alexander II: The Last Great Tsar' by Edvard Radzinsky and 'The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History' by John M. Barry. . . .

"Kurlansky said he was surprised to hear that Bush had taken his book to the ranch: 'My first reaction was, 'Oh, he reads books?'

"The author said he was a 'virulent Bush opponent' who had given speeches denouncing the war in Iraq.

" 'What I find fascinating, and it's probably a positive thing about the White House, is they don't seem to do any research about the writers when they pick the books,' Kurlansky said."

Dot Org

What could be funnier than people confusing the parody whitehouse.org Web site with the real whitehouse.gov Web site?

How about their e-mails?

Long archived here, a select number of the e-mails to whitehouse.org have now made it to the New York stage.

"Dear Dubya: Patriotic Love Letters to Whitehouse.org," now in an extended run at the Brick Theater in New York, consists of dramatic readings of some of the more credulous and nutty e-mails sent by actual people.

Rob Kendt reviews the show in the New York Times today.

According to the Web site's promotional material: "Whitehouse.org, the internet's most loathsome political parody, serves up a chillingly hilarious glimpse inside the minds of dot-com era voters -- in their own surprising voices. Dramatic readings from whitehouse.org's actual e-mail bag include outraged complaints confusing absurdist satire with federal policy, bizarre misaddressed letters to President Bush, and stunningly vicious hate mail threatening bodily harm and God's vengeance on the site's hopelessly deviant creators!"

And speaking of suffixes, since when did Whitehouse.com stop being a porn site?

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