- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 7, 2006

A few days after returning from my seventh trip to Iraq for Fox News, I was called upon to comment on the most recent affront to those fighting terrorists in Saddam’s former fiefdom. The offense occurred during the Jan. 2 broadcast of ABC News’ “Nightline” when Rep. John Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat, a combat-decorated Marine veteran of Korea and Vietnam, was asked by interviewer John Donovan about the congressman’s willingness to serve in our Armed Forces:

Q: Would you join today?

A: No.

Q: And I think you’re saying that the average guy out there who’s considering recruitment is justified in saying I don’t want to serve.

A: Well, exactly right.

Set aside for a moment whatever might be happening in Mr. Murtha’s private, personal or political life that prompted him to become the point-man for the “surrender now” wing of the Democratic Party — and consider the latent effect of such an exchange on an all-volunteer military in the midst of a war. This is not just dissent. It is at best, discouraging to young Americans who consider donning a uniform to be a noble way of serving their country. At worst, it is potentially disastrous.

Mr. Murtha’s echo of the ‘60s mantra, “Hell no, we won’t go,” heard chanted on college campuses during the Vietnam War, is a step further into defeatism for the antimilitary, blame-America-first leaders of his party. Fortunately, few of the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines I have interviewed in Iraq ever heard of Mr. Murtha. Unfortunately, thanks to the efforts of the so-called mainstream media, his words may well prompt some here at home to dismiss military service.

In the midst of a war against brutal terrorists who fly airplanes into buildings, blow up trains and sever the heads of innocents, it undermines both America’s effort in Iraq and presents problems for our overall national security.

Discouraging young Americans from joining our Armed Forces has implications well beyond Mesopotamia. The young men and women who have chosen the honor of wearing this country’s uniform also serve around the globe. There are 100,000 troops in Europe, roughly 35,000 in both Korea and Japan, and 15,000 more in Afghanistan. Our Air Force has aircraft — and personnel — on every continent. The U.S. Navy has ships and sailors in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, the Mediterranean Sea, the Persian Gulf and off North Korea and China. Marines routinely deploy to every theater. All are volunteers. All are, at minimum, high-school graduates — members of the brightest, best-educated, -trained, -equipped and combat-experienced military force in history. If the “don’t serve now” movement takes hold in the opposition party, defending America’s interests around the world could soon become impossible.

Mr. Murtha’s defenders say he is just being “sincere” in opposing the war he voted for in 2002. That may be, but it doesn’t make him right, nor should his prior military service inoculate him from criticism. The leaders of his party denigrate not just the leadership of the commander in chief, but the courage and perseverance of those doing the fighting by claiming “we cannot win” in Iraq.

The congressman is quoted saying the U.S. Army is “broken, worn out” and “living hand to mouth.” All this would come as a surprise to the members of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines and the 2nd Combat Brigade of the 28th Infantry Division — of the Pennsylvania National Guard — I recently covered in Iraq.

These remarkably heroic and highly skilled troops think they are winning — and by any definition of victory, they are. U.S. and coalition efforts have rid Iraq of a brutal dictator. The Iraqi people have voted in three democratic elections in less than a year. They drafted and ratified their own pluralistic constitution — an unprecedented act in an Islamic country. In last month’s nationwide legislative elections, the turnout was a stunning 70 percent — about 10 points higher than our own most recent presidential election.

A new government is being formed — to hunt down, with our help, the very terrorists who would otherwise be killing us here at home. In the former terrorist-stronghold of Ramadi, capital of Al Anbar Province and the heart of the “Sunni Triangle,” Iraqi troops are taking charge. This week, reflecting the growing strength and capabilities of Iraqi security forces, President Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced U.S. troop levels in Iraq will drop by more than 7,000 this year.

None of this would have been done without the force of American arms borne by the bravest of the current generation. Regrettably, these measures of success have not placated those in the media and Washington more interested in winning partisan political victories than winning a war.

Those, like Mr. Murtha, who now recommend young Americans ignore the call to serve in uniform to “get” this president, would do well to recall the words of one of his predecessors:

“What you have chosen to do for your country by devoting your life to the service of your nation is the greatest contribution any man could make.”

Those were the words of President John F. Kennedy — spoken at my alma mater — the U.S. Naval Academy. Too bad there aren’t more people in his party who feel that way today.

Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist and is the host of “War Stories” on the Fox News Channel and the author of “War Stories III: The Heroes Who Defeated Hitler.”

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