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It's a rare public opinion poll that even asks whether U.S. troops should be withdrawn -- although when the question is asked, Americans are more likely to agree with Sheehan than with Bush.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to the most recent CNN/USA Today Gallup poll, for instance, 56 percent of Americans said they want some or all troops withdrawn from Iraq now.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.

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