Hammer Time

So, what do you feed Dick Cheney when he comes to dinner?

Considering the vice president's heart problems, fish or chicken breast might seem the best choice. But you don't want to go too far with the light stuff or he might suspect you're one of those latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak shows that belong only in Vermont. One crucial tip: No French food. It only makes him angry, and you wouldn't like Dick Cheney when he's angry.

You could try Clay Shaw's route. The Fort Lauderdale congressman said that when Cheney supped at his Capitol Hill townhouse a couple of months ago, he fed the V.P. good American beef. Shaw recalled that Lynne Cheney, who worries about her husband's diet, didn't seem to approve as he devoured a cut of cow with gusto. "I think he enjoyed it," Shaw told me with a chuckle.

On March 29, the Cheneys had the Shaws over to the vice president's residence, and the second lady got her revenge: Salmon was the closest thing to red meat in the joint.

Why is Broward County's resident Republican dining with the former Halliburton honcho? Well, they're old chums, having met in the House of Representatives back in the early 1980s, when they were a couple of middle-aged huns for the Reagan Revolution.

Shaw is so close to the gray man behind the president that he probably knows where the undisclosed location is. So when I spoke with the congressman last week on the telephone, I figured he must have some insights into Iraq, his good friend's war of choice.

We spoke the day after Fallujans killed four American subcontractors, burned their bodies in the street, and hung the corpses up on a bridge. I asked Shaw, an ardent supporter of the war who is up for reelection this fall, how we should respond. "That area has been a constant problem, and I think we really need to drop the hammer on that whole community," he told me from his congressional desk at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington.

Drop the hammer?

"You go door to door and take away all their weapons," explained Shaw, who is otherwise a strong believer in the Second Amendment. "Then we have to look at the videotape and find the people who did it. We can't sit back and let them go. It would be a sign of weakness to do nothing. We need to let them know that in an occupied country, you can't do that. The newfound freedoms do not include anything like that.

"This has enraged many Americans, and we need to respond in kind. You cannot sit back and pacify terrorists. You've got to cut them off at the knees."

Let's just hope that Shaw's tough talk is just that: talk. Our congressman's proposal conjures up images of broken windows, trashed homes, and residential gunbattles. It doesn't look good. By Monday, American soldiers had surrounded the city.

The numbers alone show that taking the city by force is unworkable. Polls taken in Iraq indicate that 70 percent of Fallujans approve of attacks on U.S. forces. That comes out to, oh, about 350,000 "terrorists" -- or 700,000 knees.

And that's just one city. There's also the rest of the Sunni Triangle and, most important, a hell of a lot of angry Shia, who killed about 20 soldiers in an uprising over the weekend.

I asked Shaw if he still thought the war was a good idea, if he still believes Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat to us. "He would have been a threat potentially, yeah," Shaw answered rather half-heartedly.

That's a far cry from the Shaw who, before the war started, direly warned in the Sun-Sentinel that delaying an attack on Iraq would bring "potential horrific consequences for American lives." More than 625 American lives later, we're seeing plenty of horror.

The conversation veered back to Fallujans.

"We can neutralize them and disarm them and arrest those who were dragging corpses around," Shaw stated. "That will send a chilling message. Saddam Hussein kept them under control because they were scared of him -- and I think we need to put a little fear into them too."

That's the ticket. Saddam isn't a thuggish dictator anymore -- he's a role model. We're already a lot like him, if you think about it. We've killed many innocent civilians during this war and shut down an Iraqi newspaper for inciting rebellion, and we are arresting religious leaders for what they say. Hell, we even live in Saddam's old palaces.

"Those folks just aren't like us," Shaw said of the insurgents. "They have different values and a different view of life."

That's comforting. If they aren't like us, maybe they won't really feel it when we go after them like Dick Cheney after a rib eye.

When I saw the footage of those corpses hanging from the Fallujan bridge, my reaction was one of sickening recognition. Charred limbs contorted in grotesque angles, the cinderized torso suspended in air like a piñata from hell... where had I seen that before? I thought of those odd stick configurations in the Blair Witch Project. But that wasn't it.

Then it came to me: lynchings. On the Internet, I found the precise photograph I was flashing on, that of a 17-year-old black youth named Jesse Washington, who was killed by a Waco mob in 1916. The boy was coated in coal oil and slowly lowered into a bonfire. While the crowd cheered, his fingers and toes were cut off for souvenirs. His burned, almost legless corpse was strung up on a pole as proud townsfolk posed for pictures.

The power of such images is eternal, but you wouldn't know it if you rely on the Sun-Sentinel, where the editors decided not to run any of the graphic pictures from Iraq. We should expect such a spineless move from the Sentinel, which remains stubbornly mediocre as it grows into one of the largest newspapers in the country. The Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post rightfully published photos that revealed the horror of the situation. When asked about his decision by the Associated Press, Earl Maucker, the Sentinel editor, said it was a "tough one."

So naturally he took the easy way out -- and robbed readers of the ugly truth.

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Bob Norman
Contact: Bob Norman