- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 2, 2004

BAGHDAD, Iraq.

Maybe it’s something in the water. Perhaps it’s a disorder created by the political silly season back home in the U.S. Whatever the cause, it’s pretty clear Sen. John Kerry and many of my “colleagues” in the so-called mainstream media have been infected with a very bad case of Gloom and Doom.

Based on Mr. Kerry’s comments during the Great Debate last week — and the punditry of his press pals — we’re in deep trouble here in Southwest Asia. To hear him and his buddies, the barons of bombast, spin it, President Bush “took his eye off Osama” in Afghanistan and let him “get away” just to embroil America in the “quagmire” of Iraq. Where have these people been windsurfing? Madrid?

Fortunately, the pessimistic prognostications that infect the Kerry camp and his cronies who pass for correspondents have yet to adversely affect the troops here or in Afghanistan. Last week at the coalition base at Bagram, north of Kabul, I listened to soldiers and Marines who have been pursuing the remnants of al Qaeda — and helping bring about next week’s Afghan election — the first real democratic ballot in the country’s history. Set aside for a moment the belief of many, from Kandahar to Kuwait, that Osama has been dead for years. The most frequent complaint I heard at Bagram was that the “good news from Afghanistan never gets reported.” Nobody grumbled about inadequate resources for hunting Osama.

At Bagram, where U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Eduardo Aguirre welcomed dozens of our military personnel as new U.S. citizens, I asked several if having more U.S. troops would help catch bin Laden. No one said, “Yes,” but many asked: “Where would they look? Pakistan?”

Interestingly, these new citizen-soldiers serving in the shadow of the Hindu Kush seemed to believe: “These elections are a critical step forward in Afghanistan’s transition to democracy. After years of suffering under a brutal and repressive Taliban regime, Afghanistan is free from tyranny and no longer a safe haven for terrorists.” Those are the words of their commander in chief. Perhaps that’s why folks at home haven’t heard them.

It’s practically the same grievance I’m hearing now, on my fifth trip to Iraq since the war began. The soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines I talk to here are downright angry about how their war is being “reported” — and the way those “reports” are used as political fodder back home, in Europe, even in Iraq.

A young Army captain vehemently said: “Ernie Pyle would laugh at what passes for reporting in this war. The networks set up their cameras on a hotel balcony and send out an Iraqi producer to buy videotape from Al Jazeera. Then the reporters all sit inside the ‘green zone’ and concoct their bad news stories. The next thing you know, it’s being used in a political ad back home. For me, this isn’t political — it’s personal. We’re a whole [expletive] lot better than what people back home are seeing.”

Tough words from an angry young man twice wounded leading his soldiers in action against terrorists who are trying to prevent Iraqis from doing what millions of people in Afghanistan will do just days from now — casting a vote. He wasn’t alone.

After Thursday’s presidential debate, a U.S. Navy SEAL, serving in Baghdad, spoke about the negative CIA National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq that got so much political attention: “That document was sent to the White House, State, DoD [Defense Department] and Congress in July. It was based on information collected while you were covering the April battles in Fallujah and Ramadi. It was a pretty depressing time. It’s not any more.

“Despite what’s being written, we, the Iraqis and the Coalition, are getting ahead of the terrorists’ game. The Iraqi people want to have an election, and we’re going to help make that happen. Terrorists like [Abu Musab] Zarqawi and Muqtada al-Sadr are doing everything in their power to stop it. They can’t.

“After you were out here in July and August, we helped the Iraqis clean up Najaf. It was an al- Sadr stronghold. His goons dragged Iraqi citizens off the streets, put them in front of his ‘courts’ — then beheaded and shot men, women, even children for infractions of ‘Islamic law.’ That isn’t happening any more. The people of Najaf helped us fight back. They are now free to walk their streets, shops and businesses have reopened, and al-Sadr’s thugs are either dead or looking for a new line of work.

“Remember Samarra? You’ve been there. A few weeks ago, Samarra was off-limits to U.S. troops. It’s not any more. The locals got fed up with living in fear of terrorists and foreign radicals, let them know they weren’t welcome, and today Samarra is again a thriving city — all without us firing a shot. You would never know that from the press.”

In Najaf and Samarra, ordinary citizens sided with the interim government against the “Jihadists.” The result: 25 Iraqis are now dying for every American casualty — partly in retribution and to derail January’s elections. Yet, despite the danger, young Iraqis continue volunteering for their National Guard and police forces. And they are the ones who now talk openly of subduing “hot spots” like Sadr City, Ramadi and Fallujah.

Meanwhile, Mr. Kerry and much of our press continue talking about the “disaster” of having to fight terrorists in Iraq. Before carrying that line of argument too far, they might consider the words of a Marine major here in Iraq who reminded me, “In war it’s always better to play ‘away games’ than ‘home games.’ ”

Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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