Not Exactly Your Father's 'Armies of the Night'

“Are you with the press?”  the lady in sunglasses wearing a sandwich board sign asked as I came out of the gate at the White House tonight, minutes after watching the President deliver his message of the Iraq supplemental legislation with withdrawl for troops that Congress had passed.

When I told her I was and who I was with, MaryLou Greenburg of Washington D.C. launched into a tirade against the Bush veto, saying she not only opposed the veto but “I don’t like the bill he vetoed because it still provides funding for the war.  There should be no funding for this war — none at all.”

Ms. Greenburg was one of half-a-dozen placard-bearing protestors, saying she worked for an organization called “World Can’t Wait” (roughly) and has “been involved in the movement to drive out the Bush regime” even before the U.S. went into Iraq.  One of her protester companions shouted at my colleague Kelly O’Donnell, “When’s CNN going to cover the protests?”  (Kelly is NBC’s White House correspondent; she did not take the bait and moved on to her next appointment).

Out in the street, the counter-demonstration of three waved signs calling for victory in Iraq.

All told, this was not a remake of Armies of the Night, Norman Mailer’s Pulitizer Prize-winning book about the 1967 march on Washington that attracted six-figure numbers of demonstrators calling on the US to get out of Vietnam.  Indeed, police guarding the White House and ushering out the reporters who covered the President outnumbered the demonstrators calling on the US to get out of Iraq.

Inside, at 6:10 p.m., the President appeared in Cross Hall at the White House to deliver his long-expected veto message.  Flanked by portraits of his father and Bill Clinton, the 43rd President appeared alone at a lectern and told the cameras and reporters that Congress had substituted the opinion of politicians “for the judgment of military commanders.”  Blasting the measure passed by Congress as “rigid” and “unacceptable,” the President succinctly laid out his reasons for the veto.

These, of course, included his long-stated belief that it made “no sense to tell the enemy when you’re withdrawing,” that it was “setting a date for failure.”  In addition, he said, fighting orders were being issued by “politicians in Washington DC, 6000 miles away” and that it would undercut General David Petraeus and his new strategy.  Finally, the President blasted the “billions of dollars in non-emergency spending” that was included in the package passed by Congress — his latest attack on lawmakers packing legislation with non-germain pork.

As he closed the announcement, President Bush noted that tomorrow, he had invited “both parties to the White House” to discuss a new package, one under his terms.

Clearly, this was not the last of the clashes between both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue over Iraq — or the mini-demonstrations by the Greenburgs I talked to.