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The Tentacle


February 13, 2007

John Warner's New Role

Roy Meachum

The present senior senator from Virginia first came in public view as the chairman of celebrations marking the 1776 revolution. I covered his appearances several times, usually in the company of AP's Don Saunders.

After the first couple of press outings, Don and I knew what to expect word-by-word. Without uttering a sound, he and I looked at each other and mouthed the gentleman from Virginia's memorized speech, obviously created by a professional political hack. We both understood his body language as the product of someone afraid to face the unexpected, such as reporters' questions. He didn't.

During those days, John Warner affected a movie star's adulation with Elizabeth Taylor on his arm; his customary stiffness could be interpreted as allowing his new wife to monopolize the entire spotlight. Another reason presented itself.

There were unverified sources that claimed she was not above tossing china when he made her angry. The usual scene, we were told, was a restaurant in one of those Virginia mansions refitted to become a high-scale Bed and Breakfast. The lady had a mouth capable of vulgar destruction. I learned this during her short marriage to Eddie Fisher, a former Army buddy.

Two years after the bicentennial events found me in Egypt, working on a documentary about King Tut; the boy pharaoh's splendid tomb artifacts were then touring the United States.

In any event, the 1978 elections' results were hard to come by on the banks of the Nile, even in Cairo. The Paris-edited Herald Tribune was a sometime thing; it arrived in two-day batches generally. There were times the newspaper vendors could only shake their heads and offer British papers, by way of solace. Time's European edition cut off the story, just before it reached the results of the Virginia senatorial race.

Among Washington's press corps at the time it was a given that superstar Liz Taylor was the real force behind hubby John Warner's reaching for William Lloyd Scott's senate seat. Mr. Scott did not try for re-election in 1978.

My home then was on Arthur Godfrey's extensive property near Leesburg; our postal address was Paeonion Springs. Virginia's politics were still run on a civilized basis. Mr. Scott's would-be successors never mentioned the senator's reputation for being the dumbest incumbent on Capitol Hill.

Several weeks after the voting, I found out what happened at the Swiss-owned Jolie Ville motel near the pyramids, when a tour group passed through the lobby, festooned with Washington & Lee logos. Mr. Warner graduated from the college.

Approaching one woman, I asked if she knew how the Virginia U.S. Senate race had turned out. She brightened considerably and smilingly said: "John Warner won! Isn't that wonderful!" That was no question, she felt strongly it was.

My instant reply left her slack jawed.

"Lady, we have just swapped the certifiably dumbest man in the Senate," I said, "with the most likely contender for that honor."

Virginia's now-senior senator has since given little cause to change my view. Ms. Taylor decamped soon after her husband's swearing-in. In office, he followed his bicentennial role of letting others compose what he should say. The recent past has demonstrated some change, perhaps because of his GOP's control of everything that moved in the District of Columbia.

The new John Warner called for a full debate on America's progress in Iraq. The old John Warner showed he had not vanished completely when the senator claimed the leader (Republican George W. Bush) must be supported. The gentleman from Virginia astonished his fans and his critics when he led the charge to kill the measure he had proposed!

Such blind faith led the Japanese on Iwo Jima to their deaths instead of surrender even after the battle results were obvious. Hundreds of civilians committed suicide by jumping into the ocean and that's how they met their fate, being faithful to the emperor.

Put simply: There can be no U.S. victory in the former kingdom; we can expect the slaughter of thousands of Iraqis and combat deaths among coalition forces will continue, as they have in recent weeks.

This is no Monday morning quarterbacking on my part; I wrote warnings months before March 19, 2003. To win, we needed a united Iraq behind us, willing to transform Saddam Hussein's dictatorship into a positive form of government for its citizens. We found and reignited factional fighting based on centuries-old grudges.

The civil wars and the deaths of hundreds of GIs by supposedly "friendly" forces were not surprising. Sending another 21,000 rates on a par with the original 130,000 troops, which had originally been questioned by Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki; he said before the invasion we would need several hundred thousand troops to be successful.

The Hawaii-born Japanese-American stands as this incident's real hero. He told the White House what the president and all his men absolutely did not want to hear. Four-Star General Shinseki was forced out of the Army shortly after.

As someone who wore a uniform for nearly seven years, I understand the overwhelming mood among U.S. troops: get-the-hell home. The war-lovers and compassionate hearts alike feel otherwise, to be sure.

In the Pentagon's E-ring offices, the brass-bound military mind sees victory around the next turn. In Vietnam it was the light at the end of a tunnel, which never really existed.

There's very little cowardice among the ranks in Iraq, but they face bullets and explosions; they could lose limbs and life. Among Capitol Hill's highest offices fear permeated the atmosphere. Lawmakers were afraid of losing the next election. They did not want the White House's heavy hand in their districts.

The ranks among congressional men and women who now have retreated to conceding the current war lost include presidential wannabes. Once ardent cheer leaders for the war Hillary Rodham Clinton and Joseph Biden lead the pack now opposed, save their political gimmes, of course. Although a life-long Democrat I would vote for none of them, given the opportunity. It comes in next year's primaries.

Although in the Illinois legislature at the time, Barack Obama has the cleanest hands on Capitol Hill; he has steadfastly questioned a war that is inherently racist. We invaded and attempted to conquer and rule with singularly lower numbers than experts said we needed.

At the highest level, the sentiment remains: one U.S. soldier can whip 50 brown-skinned Arabs. The same notion prevailed after Pearl Harbor was attacked by the "yellow skinned Japs." That attitude contributed to the reasons that it took nearly four years to win victory over the inherently "inferior" race.

I proudly pushed the button for Maryland's new senator last November. Ben Cardin opposed the 2003 invasion. While over the past 20 years we have differed on occasion, Mr. Cardin has given little reason to doubt his integrity. Some staunchly pro-war supporters also wear that label.

John Warner does not.

Switching back and forth, Virginia's senior senator patently has no clue what the word stands for. Obviously he does not understand what other people, like Ben Cardin, mean by integrity.

On this side of the Potomac, we can hope that Virginia voters send the gentleman back to his Middleburg plantation at the next election. Better still; John Warner could retire before 2008. That November marks exactly 30 years he has spent demonstrating his right to claim former Senator Scott's title - the dumbest man on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Warner's departure from Washington's highest precincts cannot come too soon.



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