- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 24, 2005

BOISE, Idaho — President Bush said yesterday that anti-war protesters such as Cindy Sheehan, who camped out in front of his Texas ranch for much of August to demand that U.S. troops pull out of Iraq, are “advocating a policy that would weaken the United States.”

“She expressed her opinion. I disagree with it,” the president told reporters in Donnelly, Idaho. “I think immediate withdrawal from Iraq would be a mistake. I think those who advocate immediate withdrawal from not only Iraq but the Middle East are advocating a policy that would weaken the United States.”

Mrs. Sheehan, who had a cordial meeting with the president a year ago but has since become a vehement war critic, has coordinated a protest near the Bushes’ Prairie Chapel Ranch since Aug. 6, calling the U.S.-led war in Iraq “senseless.”

The woman — whose son, 24-year-old Army Spc. Casey Sheehan, was killed last year in Iraq — has been demanding another meeting with the president and says most military families want the United States to withdraw from Iraq.

But Mr. Bush, who has talked with more than 900 family members of 272 soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in 24 meetings across the country, said Mrs. Sheehan is wrong.

“I’ve met with a lot of families. She doesn’t represent the view of a lot of families I have met with. And I’ll continue to meet with families,” Mr. Bush said, adding, “I appreciate her right to protest. I understand her anguish.”

The president also said that in addition to his own meeting last year with Mrs. Sheehan, he dispatched two top aides — Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagen and National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley — to meet with her on the day she set up camp on the road leading to his ranch.

The lengthy protest by Mrs. Sheehan spurred a clash in California yesterday as Bush supporters faced off with anti-war activists.

Conservative activists and military families embarked Monday on what they call their “You Don’t Speak For Me, Cindy” tour, which stopped in Mrs. Sheehan’s hometown of Vacaville, Calif. A confrontation erupted yesterday when the caravan arrived in Sacramento and was met by anti-war protesters chanting for Bush to bring home the troops.

The pro-Bush caravan planned rallies in several California cities before heading to Crawford to counter Mrs. Sheehan’s group there.

The president spent yesterday at the Tamarack Resort, an exclusive Idaho resort about 100 miles from Boise, with Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, a Republican. Today, he will deliver a speech in the Boise suburb of Nampa to members of the Idaho National Guard. Mr. Bush will meet later today for two hours with families who have lost loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan.

White House aides said Mr. Bush was getting frequent updates on the Iraqi constitutional process from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. In Baghdad, representatives of the major factions — Shi’ites, Kurds and Sunnis — continued negotiations on a national constitution after Sunnis angrily rejected the draft presented to parliament on Monday only minutes before the midnight deadline.

Mr. Bush yesterday urged patience, saying, “The fact that they’re even writing a constitution is vastly different from living under the iron hand of a dictator.

“As Americans watch the constitutional process unfold, as we watch people work to achieve compromise and unity, we ought to remember our own history. We had a little trouble at our own conventions writing a constitution,” he said.

The Bush administration was closely watching the debate because a Sunni negotiator on the constitution said the passage of the document — which is expected today — could provoke a widespread Sunni uprising.

But the president said he is “hopeful” that will not happen.

“There’s more than one Sunni involved in the process. … I don’t know if this is a negotiating position by the fellow or not,” he said.

“We’re watching an amazing event unfold. And that is the writing of a constitution which guarantees minority rights, women’s rights, freedom to worship in … a country that had only known dictatorship,” Mr. Bush said. “And so you’re seeing people express their opinions and talking about a political process.”

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