Wednesday, April 2, 2008

War and misremembrance

The siege went on for years. They threw everything they had at us. The White House became a bunker.


By DAVID REINHARD

· The Hill, March 25, first blood: the don't ask, don't tell military coup of 1993.

My first combat while serving under Commander in Chief William Jefferson Clinton came on a chill Washington morning in January 1993. I remember it well. We had only been "in country" a short time; we'd barely laid out our bedrolls in the Lincoln Bedroom.

We were just kids. Hadn't wiped the Arkansas mud off our boots and all hell broke loose. Across the Potomac came the battle-hardened forces of the U.S. military. Oh, how they came. Wave after wave. It was awful. We were outmanned and outgunned that first winter.

We waited for reinforcements, and none came. Days turned to weeks, and weeks turned to months. At night, all we heard were the cries of the wounded.

The call came at 3 a.m. Doesn't it always? Our position was untenable. I was ordered to retreat. We had fought like tigers and forged bonds that would serve us in times ahead. But defeat it still was. In our first encounter with the enemy, we came up short.

· On the offensive: my splendid little war over healthcare reform.

Offensive operations commenced on the night of Sept. 22, 1993. Our mission: nothing less than the takeover of an entire sector of the U.S. economy. The first battle came at a place called Capitol Hill. The natives call it Pork-Barrel Ridge. Many of us in Billy Jeff Clinton's army call it "hell without the fire."

Preparations had begun months earlier. I had convened a secret task force and produced a war plan that historians study to this day. Our plans had plans, soldier. We would vanquish all who stood in our way. The White House even set up a healthcare "war room." Neat.

The night before my charge up Capitol Hill, the president unleashed a nonstop air bombardment. Bombs, missiles and anti-aircraft guns split the night. In the end, however, "Shock and aw-shucks" didn't have its intended result. There would be no quick surrender. This gal's army would have to fight for every inch up that ridge.

Months later, we were still taking heavy fire on all flanks. We tried to move forward. Nothing. How none of us was killed I'll never know.

We fought gamely over the long months, but the enemy was dug in. A true warrior comes to respect her enemy. Two soldiers, named Harry and Louise, showed real steel. The opposing general, Bob Dole, fought as though this was not his first live-fire drill.

The end came when the phone rang at 3 a.m. Doesn't it always? I was called to the "war room." Aye, God, I still love the sound of that phrase. Anyway, Billy Jeff said we had bigger enemies to worry about. Newt Gingrich's Republican Guard was gathering in the provinces. We would pull back from Capitol Hill and fight again another day. He assured me I wasn't to blame and would keep my post. He even urged me to publish my war diary with the title: "Alone on Capitol Hill with Hillarycare."

· The Big Lewinsky: How I came by the nickname "Bunker Hill."

"Incoming!" Nothing stirs a soldier's blood like word that the fight's on. "Incoming"—it's time to strap on sword and buckler and throw on the old camouflage pants suit. Duty calls.

We had been well briefed on the enemy's capabilities, but nothing prepared us for the firestorm that hit the White House in early 1998. A vast right-wing conspiracy had managed to insert someone—I think her name was "That woman, Miss Lewinsky"—into the Oval Office and hold the president hostage.

The siege went on for years. They threw everything they had at us. The White House became a bunker. We existed on K-Street rations. Then, the call came at 3 a.m. Doesn't it always? The president was all ripped up. He had a gaping hole in his side. We had to get him out. As Al Gore laid down a line of fire, I dodged snipers' bullets and got him to the helicopter on the White House lawn. We were on our way to the safety of Martha's Vineyard.

I still limp from that encounter, but I'm not griping. Some gave the ultimate sacrifice. Gore was one. As I once told Billy Jeff, never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so few to so many.




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