CRAWFORD, Tex., Aug. 7 - President Bush draws antiwar protesters just about wherever he goes, but few generate the kind of attention that Cindy Sheehan has since she drove down the winding road toward his ranch here this weekend and sought to tell him face to face that he must pull all Americans troops out of Iraq now.
Ms. Sheehan's son, Casey, was killed last year in Iraq, after which she became an antiwar activist. She says she and her family met with the president two months later at Fort Lewis in Washington State.
But when she was blocked by the police a few miles from Mr. Bush's 1,600-acre spread on Saturday, the 48-year-old Ms. Sheehan of Vacaville, Calif., was transformed into a news media phenomenon, the new face of opposition to the Iraq conflict at a moment when public opinion is in flux and the politics of the war have grown more complicated for the president and the Republican Party.
Ms. Sheehan has vowed to camp out on the spot until Mr. Bush agrees to meet with her, even if it means spending all of August under a broiling sun by the dusty road. Early on Sunday afternoon, 25 hours after she was turned back as she approached Mr. Bush's ranch, Prairie Chapel, Ms. Sheehan stood red-faced from the heat at the makeshift campsite that she says will be her home until the president relents or leaves to go back to Washington. A reporter from The Associated Press had just finished interviewing her. CBS was taping a segment on her. She had already appeared on CNN, and was scheduled to appear live on ABC on Monday morning. Reporters from across the country were calling her cellphone.
"It's just snowballed," Ms. Sheehan said beside a small stand of trees and a patch of shade that contained a sleeping bag, some candles, a jar of nuts and a few other supplies. "We have opened up a debate in the country."
Seeking to head off exactly the situation that now seems to be unfolding, the administration sent two senior officials out from the ranch on Saturday afternoon to meet with her. But Ms. Sheehan said after talking to the officials - Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, and Joe Hagin, a deputy White House chief of staff - that she would not back down in her demand to see the president.
Her success in drawing so much attention to her message - and leaving the White House in a face-off with an opponent who had to be treated very gently even as she aggressively attacked the president and his policies - seemed to stem from the confluence of several forces.
The deaths last week of 20 Marines from a single battalion has focused public attention on the unremitting pace of casualties in Iraq, providing her an opening to deliver her message that no more lives should be given to the war. At the same time, polls that show falling approval for Mr. Bush's handling of the war have left him open to challenge in a way that he was not when the nation appeared to be more strongly behind him.
It did not hurt her cause that she staged her protest, which she said was more or less spontaneous, at the doorstep of the White House press corps, which spends each August in Crawford with little to do, minimal access to Mr. Bush and his aides, and an eagerness for any new story.
As the mother of an Army specialist who was killed at age 24 in the Sadr City section of Baghdad on April 4, 2004, Ms. Sheehan's story is certainly compelling. She is also articulate, aggressive in delivering her message and has information that most White House reporters have not heard before: how Mr. Bush handles himself when he meets behind closed doors with the families of soldiers killed in Iraq.
It's been several days now since Cindy began her vigil, and it appears that there is a literally a storm raining down on her - and that she's caught the flu. In addition she's been shifted around from place to place by the Sherriff's who seem unable to confirm exactly who own what part of the road leading the President Bush's ranch, and lastly there are rumors that she is scheduled to be arrested on Thursday.
Fortunately this will be after her appearance on the Bill O'Reilly show tonight. This following O'Reilly's discussion just yesterday with Micheal Malkin of how Cindy is being used and manipulated by the anti-war, anti-military, anti-american Far Left - represented by Michael Moore, CommonDreams.org and Code Pink. As Randy Rhodes of Air America was just saying, this is identical to the strategy used to assault Lila Lipschutz the mother of a fallen Iraqi veteran as she attempted to visit the White House during Micheal Moore's film Farenheit 9/11.
It may be true that Cindy and many of these organizations have common cause to ask why we went into Iraq when the intelligence and evidence of imminent threat from Iraq was so flimsy, and further why we have to remain when 136,000 Iraqi troops have supposedly been trained?
All Cindy wants to do is ask a question of the President - "What noble cause did her son die for?"
There's is little likelyhood that will give a straight an honest answer to that question, particurly when he already met with Cindy in 2004 and refused to answer any questions at all. Particularly, when you look at Condoleeza Rice's answer a question about the Downing Street Memo's.
From the June 19 edition of ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos:
STEPHANOPOULOS: As you know, there's also been a lot of talk back here in the United States about these Downing Street memos, the minutes of a meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair in the spring and summer of 2002 where they discussed their meetings with the United States. I want to show you what one mother, Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a U.S. soldier, had to say about that memo this week --
SHEEHAN (video clip): The so-called Downing Street memo, dated 23 July, 2002, only confirms what I already suspected. The leadership of this country rushed us into an illegal invasion of another sovereign country on prefabricated and cherry-picked intelligence.
STEPHANOPOULOS: How do you respond to Mrs. Sheehan?
RICE: Well, I can only say what the president has said many, many times. The United States of America and its coalition decided that it was finally time to deal with the threat of Saddam Hussein. There had been multiple resolutions against Saddam Hussein and his activities -- everything from concerns about his weapons of mass destruction programs and his continued unwillingness to answer the legitimate questions of the international system about those programs, his having used weapons of mass destruction in the past, everything concerning the way that he treated his own people. After all, we found more than 300,000 people in mass graves.
You know, people are talking about, in the U.N. [United Nations] reform, a responsibility to protect [people]. We happen to think that the Security Council is the place that that discussion ought to take place. When you consider what the Iraqi people had gone through in the Saddam Hussein regime's reign, what about the responsibility to the Iraqi people?
We finally undertook an action that got rid of one of the worst dictators in modern times, sitting in the center of the world's most troubled region. And sitting here today in Jerusalem, I can tell you, George, that this region is far better for it, and we now really have a chance to build a different kind of Middle East with a different Iraq in the center of it, with potentially a Palestinian state that is democratic and with changes taking place all over this region that are democratizing, that will be more stabilizing and that will bring greater security to the American people. Saddam Hussein is gone, and that's a good thing.