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Antiwar sentiment gets champion

Cindy Sheehan's vigil outside Bush's Texas ranch brings focus to a protest movement that's been largely unseen and ineffective.

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In her high-profile vigil outside President Bush's Texas ranch, Cindy Sheehan has brought the face and the heart of the antiwar movement to the world.

The plain-spoken words and image of a mother carrying a wooden cross to commemorate the son she lost in Iraq have suddenly brought focus to what has been largely an unseen and ineffective protest movement in the US.

To be sure, this is still not Kent State in 1970. For a variety of political and practical reasons, today's antiwar movement may never approach the ardor of a generation ago. Moreover, many conservatives criticize Ms. Sheehan for being co-opted by the broader political left - itself a reflection of the crosscurrents of the time.

Yet the mother, hoisting her plaintive signs and vowing to stay in Crawford until she gets a one-on-one meeting with Mr. Bush, has become a potent personal symbol of opposition to a war now stretching into its third year. More important, her crusade comes at a time when doubts about US engagement there are clearly growing.

"One keeps hearing that the number of queries coming into conscientious objector advisory groups are on the upswing," says retired US Army Colonel Dan Smith, a Vietnam veteran now working for the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker lobbying group. "College campuses are stirring. Facts suggest a rising antiwar sentiment is in the making."

The depth of America's ambivalence is reflected in the polls. A CNN/Gallup/USA Today poll this month, echoing other surveys, shows that Americans by a 55-44 majority now believe the US "made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq." Some 56 percent say some or all US troops should be withdrawn now.

The hardening sentiment hasn't gone unnoticed in Washington. Many Democrats have become more vocal about the need for a definitive timetable for the withdrawal of troops, and they have been joined of late by some Republicans. The recent special congressional election in Ohio - where the Democrat was an Iraq war vet who nearly won in a heavily Republican district - has added to concerns about the war in some GOP circles.

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