- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 12, 2006

With the handover of power in Congress and the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, it might be a good time to wonder how the troops in Iraq are handling all this. Quick summary: It looks like we shouldn’t worry.

A London Times reporter interviewed a handful of U.S. troops stationed in Iraq and asked them about their feelings regarding the changes back home. As the Times reports, “Some members of the 101st Airborne Division and other troops approached by the Times as they prepared to fly home from Baghdad airport yesterday expressed concern that Robert Gates, Mr. Rumsfeld’s successor, and the Democrat-controlled Congress, might seek to wind down their mission before it was finished.” No one yet knows just how Mr. Gates might differ from his predecessor, at least until the Baker commission’s findings on the war are revealed. But the troops’ concerns that Democrats might follow through on their campaign rhetoric and abort the mission are certainly warranted.

As opposed to the glee felt in many quarters of the country following Mr. Rumsfeld’s resignation, the Times found a handful of troops who felt differently. Insisting that Iraq was better off than before the war, Staff Sgt. Frank Notaro said that Mr. Rumsfeld “made decisions, he stuck with them and he did what the thought was right, whether people agreed with it, like it, or not.” That’s clearly not an endorsement, but for the soldiers on the front lines resolute decision-making is preferable to second-guessing. Staff Sgt. Michael Howard was more forceful. “It’s a blow to the military,” he told the Times. “He was a good Secretary of Defense. He kept us focused. He kept leaders focused. It’s going to be hard to fill his shoes.”

Indeed, one gets the sense from the Times story that the troops’ biggest concern is that the changes in Washington might lead to a confusion in priorities on the ground. While they would accept a change in tactics, it seems unlikely they’ll accept defeat. “I hope history will judge that we did something good and stuck with it and saw it through,” said Major Mike Jason, “because it’s already been pretty damn costly.” As blogger Ed Morrissey has pointed out, the Times is not a pro-war paper. It should be commended for giving the troops a chance to speak their minds — something oddly missing in the U.S. media after Tuesday’s Democratic victories. And what the troops are saying to Washington is, “Let us finish the job we started.”

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