Iraqi restoration

John McCaslin
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Posted: Apr 25, 2003 12:00 AM

Contrary to left-leaning concerns that the United States will "occupy" Iraq, the U.S. Agency for International Development expects its involvement in rebuilding the nation to last only one to two years, compared with an expected 10 to 20 years in Afghanistan.

The simple reason is that Iraq was once a developed country with a large middle class, observes USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios.

A USAID information sheet explains that Uncle Sam's first priority in Iraq is to distinguish between the "competent technocrats" - doctors, lawyers and engineers - and Iraqi professionals who committed atrocities. The former will be counted upon to help rebuild the country and establish democracy.

Meanwhile, the Council on American-Islamic Relations Washington will host a forum today (Friday, April 25), "The War on Iraq and its Impact on U.S.-Muslim Relations." The discussion will feature Edward Peck, former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, and Al-Jazeera satellite television network Washington Bureau Chief Hafiz Mirazi.

WHAT A DOLL

Could Ann and Sean be the next Barbie and Ken?

"The Right Wing Barbie," in the likeness of the blond pundit and author Ann Coulter, is the newest creation of a California dollmaker, this column has learned.

The Ann Coulter doll, a perfect educational addition to any child's collection - boy or girl - will be ready for shipping by July, Talking Presidents.com co-founder John Warnock tells us (still no word on the identity of "the Right Wing Ken," if there will even be such an item, but several possibilities come to mind - TV and radio host Sean Hannity being one of them).

The Irvine dollmaker has been highly successful with its unique line of talking presidential action figures, the first being President Bush, which at the touch of a button recites 17 different phrases in his own voice - some political, some patriotic, others reflecting his comedic use (and misuse) of the English language.

LEAVE IT TO ABE

Rep. Trent Franks, a freshman Republican representing the southwestern corner of Arizona, says he tried to express his regret and abiding gratitude to three families in his rural 2nd District who lost their sons and daughters in the Iraq war.

"I have spoken to each and have been inspired by their unwavering faith and their enduring strength," he says, although "words fail me to truly express the unspeakable debt of gratitude that we all owe to these families of America who have sacrificed their own loved ones to the cause of freedom."

So he turned to Abraham Lincoln, "who found himself in a similar dilemma as he sought to offer comfort in a letter to a precious mother who had lost five of her sons on the battlefield."

Lincoln wrote: "I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming, but I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic that they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and a solemn pride that must be yours, to have laid such a costly sacrifice upon the altar of freedom."

GREEN THUMB

Anyone who's visited George Washington's estate at Mount Vernon has strolled along the 200-year-old serpentine walk, shaded by 13 large trees planted by the nation's first president.

Thursday (April 24), a 6-foot sapling clone of a white ash planted by Washington in 1785 was replanted on the U.S. Capitol grounds. The tree was an Arbor Day gift to the nation from the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association and the Champion Tree Project International, founded in 1996 to preserve the nation's oldest trees.

The white ash clone is the first successful re-creation in a project that will spawn exact genetic duplicates of each of Washington's surviving trees, according to the Mount Vernon ladies, who have owned and maintained the estate since 1858.

Although folklore likes to recall a young George Washington chopping down a tree, in reality he planted hundreds of trees at Mount Vernon.

QUEEN ROBB

It's been more that 40 years since her mom and aunt were crowned Queen Azalea, and now it's Jennifer Robb's turn.

The 24-year-old daughter of former Virginia governor and Sen. Charles Robb, and granddaughter of President Lyndon Johnson, assumes her throne this week during Norfolk's 50th International Azalea Festival (we're told Mr. Robb will conduct the coronation), which honors NATO. Each year, a queen is chosen from one of the 18 member nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

A high school math teacher and field hockey coach in Langley, Va., Jennifer is daughter of Lynda Johnson Robb and the niece of Luci Baines Johnson.

GROWING UP

Margaret Carlson, the first female columnist in Time magazine's 78-year history, has picked a clever title for her new book: "Anyone Can Grow Up: How George Bush and I Made it to the White House" (Simon & Schuster, $25).

"Bush wasn't an intellectual and didn't try to be," Carlson opines of George W. Bush's 2000 presidential battle with Vice President Al Gore. "Gore wasn't a wild and crazy guy, but occasionally he did try to be."

And not very successfully, we might add. Nor was Monica Lewinsky helping matters.

Unlike President Clinton's ladies in waiting, "neither Bush nor Gore had anything to fear on the woman front," the columnist writes, "except that Gore seemed to be saddled with Monica as if he were the one who'd invited the intern for a late-night pizza.

"Vice presidents have a hard time shucking the guy who brung them and look shaky when they try to do so. The more Gore ran from Clinton, the more Bush treated them as the same person, calling Clinton Gore's shadow. Every time Bush claimed he would restore honor and dignity to the White House, he scored a twofer."

Carlson said the Bush tactic not only reminded people of what they "hated" in President Clinton, "it tied Gore up in knots: he was angrier at Clinton over the whole Monica business than Hillary was."

EATING CROW

We're only four months into 2003 and it's already heading into the history books as the year of the protester.

Given the Iraqi war is all but ended, a demonstration planned for the Saturday (April 26) outside the White House Correspondents Association dinner will protest "liberal bias" in journalism - with an Iraqi twist.

The gathering will "commemorate the swift victory of American and coalition forces over the tyrannical regime of Saddam Hussein in the face of gale-force whining from 'antiwar' activists, pundits and politicians," explains Kristinn Taylor, co-leader of the D.C. Chapter of FreeRepublic.com.

As awards are presented to scribes inside the Washington Hilton, outside "ready-to-eat stuffed crows on silver platters will be awarded to those whose histrionic predictions of doom and gloom before and/or during Operation Iraqi Freedom stand head and shoulders above all others for their shrillness, certainty, and apocalyptic ravings."

Among the 39 nominees: Peter Arnett, his employment by National Geographic and NBC terminated while in Baghdad; Chris Matthews of MSNBC; Hollywood's Michael Moore, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon and Janeane Garofalo; and 20-term Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.)

FLYING CHICKS

Billboard magazine says the Dixie Chicks are "flying high," despite a degree of backlash for attacking President Bush.

"To be brutally honest, there has been no effect, other than the odd phone call to a building inquiring about a refund. There's a lot more noise than action," band agent Rob Light said.

Light told the magazine that of the 59 shows in the band's upcoming U.S. tour, only six have scattered seats remaining. In fact, in the first two days tickets went on sale, $49 million worth were sold.

Still, Billboard reports that the Dixie Chicks' latest album, "Home," tumbled down the music charts after singer Natalie Maines informed a London audience that she was ashamed to come from the same state - Texas - as Bush.

REMEMBER THE THRESHER

In the fall of 1961, the Navy's newest nuclear fast-attack submarine, the USS Thresher, performed beautifully in sea trials off the northeast coast of the United States. But barely a few months later, while moored in Florida, she was struck by a tugboat and had to limp to Connecticut for repairs.

One year later, on April 10, 1963, the sub was put to sea again. With her crew of 16 officers, 96 enlisted men and 17 civilian technicians, the Thresher was conducting deep-diving exercises more than 200 miles off the coast of Boston. Those on board would never see the surface again.

Fifteen minutes after the sub reached a target depth of 8,500 feet, something went terribly wrong. For a few moments the crew was able to communicate by underwater telephone with a rescue ship above, until the eerie sound of water was heard, drowning the stricken boat.

Underwater photos of the ocean floor would later show the sub had broken into six sections.

Now, 40 years later, freshman Rep. Jeb Bradley, a New Hampshire Republican (the Thresher was commissioned in New Hampshire), is calling on the Pentagon to erect a memorial to the Thresher crew at Arlington National Cemetery. Bradley has introduced a concurrent resolution honoring the 129 sailors and civilians lost aboard the sub.