- The Washington Times - Monday, December 25, 2006

Good news is worth hearing, even if it does not sell papers. I recall once completing a long run with a twisted ankle. By the time I got home, it was swollen into a pomegranate. My face must have given me away, because my then-young son asked what was up. I explained I had wrenched an ankle, making my run harder than expected. He studied the situation closely. He then announced happily, “Well, Dad, the good news is, the other one is fine.” And so it was. Good news is worth hearing.

So, as the media counts America’s casualties in Iraq, here is some good news. Character is built in many ways. In hundreds of nations, including Iraq, one way is through the Boy Scouts. You may think the Boy Scout contribution to civic order necessarily small, insignificant, even quaint. You may say, with all that violence, how can any youth organization hold a candle? But hold a candle they do.

At 96 years old, the world’s Boy Scouts are a genuine wonder. In America, they have trained more than 100 million young men to be courageous, caring citizens, lifesavers and life examples.

Among America’s Eagle Scouts, you will find the first man to set foot on the moon, Neil Armstrong; the calm commander who nursed a crippled Apollo 13 spacecraft back to Earth, Jim Lovell; the oldest living former president of the United States, Gerald Ford; U.S. lawmakers like Republican Sen. Richard Lugar and former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn; former FBI Director William Sessions and former Drug Czar William Bennett.

As you watch television or movies at the holiday season, you may pause to note that America’s Eagle Scouts included the man who stars in “Its a Wonderful Life” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” Jimmy Stewart; the renowned journalist, Walter Cronkite; and celebrated movie producer, Steven Spielberg, as well as Pulitzer Prize winners, corporate board chairmen and ordinary solid citizens.

For what it is worth, two Eagles — both of relevance to Iraq — are outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and incoming Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Whatever one thinks of them, they learned young the importance of setting and achieving goals, demonstrating leadership under pressure, and struggle without complaint.

But there is more. Against all odds, the Iraqi Boy Scouts are at work. They are a force for Good in a world of fear. Against a downdraft of pessimism, their raw faith in goodness lifts your heart. It is a marvel.

As I corresponded this week with a friend in Iraq, he told me a secret. “The Iraqi Scouts continue to march and are quietly successful.” Hundreds of thousands of young Iraqis have ties to World Scouting. They practice the timeless virtue of being trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent — the Scout Law.

Their context is different from that of American Scouts — or Scouts in Great Britain, France, Spain, Thailand, Japan, South Africa, Colombia, Belize, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Australia or any other international outpost — but the principles are the same.

Iraqi adult volunteers are part of a burgeoning Scout program. Religious leaders seem to accept its innate value. While mortars fall and car bombs interrupt childhood, these young people shelter the candle of decency against the winds of misfortune.

To date, tens of thousands of dollars have poured into Iraq to help train Iraqi Scout leaders, many of them Arab dollars. The aim is to lift the organization back to prominence in small towns and nervous cities. As a result, scouting is alive and well, even in Baghdad. Arab neighbors have helped, but the Iraqis drive this train. Trained Iraqi Scout leaders are active “in all 18 provinces and Baghdad,” and their ranks are growing.

A leading Iraqi Scout commissioner estimates that, as of December 2006, some “250,000 boys and girls are registered in the Scout program around the country.” So, while adults take aim at each other, young people show the kind of commitment that brought millions of Iraqis to the polls in 2005. They are not giving up.

Perhaps most remarkably, according to Iraqi sources, the goodwill engendered by the Boy Scouts cross-cuts differences of tribe, geography, social status and religion, allowing the movement to gain approval among “religious leaders of Shia, Sunni, Christian, and Kurdish groups.” So, even amid chaos, work of the heart goes on. Is that not a miracle?

Will the Boy Scouts and larger Scouting movement somehow miraculously strain order from chaos, banish Iraq’s manifold tensions, and cause peace to break out? That is unlikely.

But someday, because all wars do end, Iraq will awake from its nightmare. And when it does, against all odds, a Boy Scout will be standing there. Candle in hand, he will be ready to lead. In such young men and women there is hope. In such courage there is timeless honor. In a twisted, painful world, the Iraqi Boy Scouts are — good news.

Robert Charles, former assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement, 2003-2005, is president of the Charles Group in Washington, D.C. and Maryland.

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