CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C.
The Marines and their families here at this sprawling base on the Carolina coast didn’t have much to say about the president’s State of the Union address. For many of them, his address the week before had been more important. It was then that they learned many more of them would be heading for Iraq — and that the tour of duty for those already there would be extended.
But amazingly enough, not one of them, despite Democratic bombast and mainstream media remonstrations to the contrary, expressed any anger at the commander in chief for the added sacrifice.
Camp Lejeune is the home base for the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, the unit our Fox News “War Stories” team was embedded with in Iraq for much of last month. For them, Al Anbar Province, Iraq is the “front line.”
For most of their families, Camp Lejeune is the “home front.” We returned here to interview them, and several of the wounded, recuperating in the Wounded Warrior Barracks. Their elan and perseverance give new meaning to the president’s words on Tuesday night: “In such courage and compassion… we see the spirit and character of America — and these qualities are not in short supply.”
Despite having spent most of my life in, and with, the armed forces and their families, it was personally moving to hear these young wives and mothers describe with grace and dignity — devoid of resentment — how they were dealing with the news of their husbands’ delayed return.
Equally compelling were the comments of the Marines themselves. None of them expressed anger or frustration with President Bush or their leaders. Several noted they had volunteered to go back to Iraq — some for a third trip to the war. Two wounded warriors baldly said that, despite their injuries, they looked forward to getting back to “finish the fight.”
After the president’s State of the Union address, Democrats claimed “the majority of the nation no longer supports the way this war is being fought, nor does the majority of our military.” Regrettably, no one in the so-called mainstream has bothered to challenge this unsubstantiated allegation about the members of our armed forces. There certainly isn’t a shred of evidence to validate that sentiment here — or with any of the scores of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Guardsmen or Marines with whom I stay in contact from my eight trips to the war.
To the extent that there is discontent in our military, it is aimed at how the war has been misreported by my “colleagues” in the media and is depicted by politicians in Washington.
In the days since the president’s address, it’s clear the media’s fixation on failure and the politicos’ penchant for posturing on the war is unabated. Though Mr. Bush has repeatedly made it clear “the consequences of failure would be grievous and far-reaching,” there is little indication the potentates on the Potomac really care for anything except reaping political advantage. Nurtured by a media willing as ever to ignore successes, the solons of the Senate followed up the State of the Union address with a bevy of draft resolutions rebuking the commander in chief for sending additional troops to the war zone.
The political posturing doesn’t stop with attacks on the White House. When Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, the new U.S. commander in Iraq, was asked by members of the Senate Armed Services Committee if such a nonbinding measure would have the effect of aiding and abetting the enemy, he replied, “Yes, sir.” For his straightforward, common-sense response, he was admonished by an erstwhile Republican to avoid being “too political.” This “gentleman of the Senate,” fond of referring to himself as his state’s “senior senator,” has of course introduced his own pet resolution disputing the president’s claim to be commander in chief.
A few hours after this odious exchange, an officer with whom I had spent many months in Iraq called me. “Do these people know what they are doing?” he inquired, clearly agitated. “Which people?” I asked.
“These politicians who think we can win a war by committee. Do they even know that in the last two weeks we have set AQI (al Qaeda in Iraq) and the Mahdi Army both back on their heels?” he said. I was silent, so he continued, “Is there anyone in Washington who understands what this means? AQI terrorists are running like rats out of Ramadi. And the Mahdi Army is being cleaned out of Baghdad. Do they know how much harder all this rhetoric makes our job?”
My response was equivocal. “It’s hard to tell what a member of Congress knows,” I replied. Having just returned from visiting wounded troops anxious to return to their units and the families of those who have been extended in Iraq, I didn’t have the heart to say that the more important question is: “Does anyone in Congress care?”