Congressman declines to offer advice on Cindy Sheehan.


Though he continues to insist that President Bush rethink the nation’s current strategy in Iraq, Memphis congressman Harold Ford Jr. made it clear Friday night that he would not repudiate his original support of the president’s decision to intervene military in that Middle Eastern nation.

And, while praising as “a brave young lady” Cindy Sheehan, the Gold Star mother who has been keeping a well-publicized vigil outside the president’s vacation home in Crawford, Texas, Ford declined to second-guess Bush’s decision not to meet with Sheehan concerning the war in which her son Casey had lost his life.

Addressing the annual awards banquet of the University of Memphis Law School Alumni, Ford expressed his initial support of the war effort this way: “I support this war in Iraq. I supported it from the very beginning for one reason. Saddam Hussein was a bad guy. Now, there are those who criticize and quarrel with this, and make the point over and over again that perhaps we shouldn’t have done it the way we’ve done it, and I would agree. But I wouldn’t blame the president, or anybody else for that matter, from waking up on September 12th and wondering aloud what would happen if Saddam Hussein and bin Laden married.

"It would be very easy for us to sit back in the comfort of our own homes and say, Well, one is secular and one is religious and they won’t . It wou d be very easy for us to think that 9/11 wouldn’t happen, but it did.”

Bush’s “instinct” had been right, said Ford, who has visited Iraq three times in the last two years and plans a fourth visit, but there is “a lot of room for change” in how the president pursues operations in Iraq. “I love my president. I love him personally,” Ford said. “But he’s just wrong. – wrong for not being willing to admit that we’ve made some mistakes....It was right to take him [Saddam] down but wrong to think that we can’t right this course.”

In particular, Ford said, military action by itself cannot achieve our aims. He said it was incumbent on Americans to understand Islam and suggested the creation of university curricula to facilitate just that. “They understand us, and we don’t understand them,” he said.

Without naming Saudi Arabia as such, Ford was critical of the administration’s policy of “subsidizing the same group of people” who had suppressed women’s rights and otherwise curtailed freedom in their own country and had given financial support to Islamic extremist groups.

Spelling that out, in remarks after his speech, Ford said, “I’m not calling the Saudis bad people, My point is that it’s clear that the majority of the people on those planes were Saudis. It’s clear that the Saudi government supports the radical Wahhabism, as it’s called.”

Concerning Sheehan’s vigil in Crawford, Ford said, ”Americans have a right to express their views, and that young lady lost her son and wanted the president to have a conversation with her about that. It’s clear we really don’t have a strategy. I can’t answer for the president as to why he didn’t meet with her.”

Ford, considered the Democratic frontrunner in next year’s U.S. Senate race, added: “ If I were president, we’d be doing things a lot different than this president is doing them. I do know that we don’t seem to have a clear plan.”

Wharton, Chumney Propose Parks Solutions

Even as Memphis mayor Willie Herenton seemed ready to remove from the table both his proposal concerning Forrest Park and the whole issue of downtown parks, two other public figures have come forward with ideas of their own.

In an interview this week, Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton called for amending the sites of three controversial downtown parks – Forrest Park, Jefferson Davis Park, and Confederate – so as to provide “full disclosure”of the historical facts.

”In other words, you might have an elaborate plaque nearby the statue of General Forrest explaining all his wartime exploits and why it is he was venerated and thought a military genius, but also nearby you should have another plaque or memorial pointing out the criticism he’s received and the actual facts concerning it – the slave-owning, the possibility of a massacre, the Klan allegations, all of that.”

Wharton said it would be a good idea also to add in each of the Confederate-related parks plaques or prominent signs indicating other historical and tourist sites – for example, the National Civil Rights Museum – where visitors could acquaint themselves with another side of the historical context.

And city council member Carol Chumney, in an email response to the issue, also advanced some thoughts – some of them critical of Herenton.

Said Chumney: “First, I would like to know why Mayor Herenton proposed a resolution to lease the Forrest park to UT , with provisions that it could not be used for another purpose without his approval, and then withdrew the proposal with the added language that the Council would also have to approve any alternative use of the park? If the lease of the park is a good deal for the citizens of Memphis as originally proposed by the Mayor, then why isn’t it still a good deal for the citizens of Memphis under the democratic common-sense principles of a balance of powers by adding a Council review? Was there another agenda here all along to develop the park? Even so, this issue is bigger than who sits in any elected position….

And the outspoken councilwoman made her own proposal – one somewhat consistent with Wharton’s: “What has been left out of the debate altogether is a solid review and discussion on how to best market our image and history to attract tourists, bring jobs, and tell the full story of our history from divergent viewpoints. This could include broadening the presentation in the parks, identifying and restoring historical properties, and/or adding exhibits to the National Civil Rights Museum, Wonders, the Pink Palace, or other venues that will share the lessons we can all learn from the former days. The Convention & Visitors Bureau (which to my knowledge has been silent in this debate) can be charged with reviewing and making recommendations, along with the input of other tourism experts and community leaders. I am told that this is a billion dollar industry in some states.”

Such an approach, said Chumney might result in the achievement of “common ground, and a win-win for our community.”

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