- The Washington Times - Friday, November 28, 2003

President Bush’s determination to win the war on terrorism and establish democracy in Iraq was powerfully illustrated by his surprise Thanksgiving Day visit to American troops in that country. While pundits and politicians at home may be divided over the conduct of the war, that certainly can’t be said for the 600 stunned soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division and the 1st Armored Division who greeted Mr. Bush at the mess hall at Baghdad International Airport on Thursday. Once they got over their initial shock at the fact the president was visiting, they stood on chairs and cheered wildly. “I’m proud to have him as the commander in chief,” one soldier said. “You can’t beat it.”

The trip had been in the planning stages for weeks. All but a few of the White House correspondents were unaware of the trip, and even the Secret Service Agents who guard the presidential ranch in Crawford, Texas did not even know that Mr. Bush had slipped away. Air Force One flew to Baghdad in radio silence with running lights off and fighter jets on either side. Eleven hours later, at approximately 5:30 p.m. Baghdad time, the president’s plane touched down.

The president was on the ground in Baghdad for only 2 1/2 hours. But the speech he delivered to the troops — and the jubilation they showed at Mr. Bush’s appearance — made the presidential visit an event that the soldiers won’t forget anytime soon. “Those who attack our coalition forces and kill innocent Iraqis are testing our will. They hope we will run,” the president said. “We did not charge hundreds of miles into the heart of Iraq, pay a bitter cost in casualties, defeat a brutal dictator and liberate 25 million people only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins.” The president’s remarks drew a standing ovation and shouts of applause from the troops.

“I bring you a message on behalf of America: We thank you for your service, we’re proud of you and America stands behind you,” Mr. Bush added. With characteristic bluntness, he reminded the soldiers exactly what is at stake: “You are defeating the terrorists here in Iraq, so that we don’t have to face them in our own country.”At the conclusion of his speech, Mr. Bush shook hands with each soldier and posed for pictures.

While the president’s visit was welcome news to the troops, the same can’t be said for some of the candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, who responded in most un-gracious ways. “It’s nice that he made it over there today, but this won’t change the fact that those brave men and women should never have been fighting in Iraq in the first place,” said Jay Carson, a spokesman for Howard Dean. Sen. John Kerry issued a statement saying that: “I hope our president will take the time to correct his failed policy in Iraq that has placed our soldiers in a shooting gallery.”

We think President Bush and the wildly cheering troops who greeted him Thursday have it right, and the complaining politicians at home have it wrong. Less than one year from now, the voters will render their verdict.

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