- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 1, 2009




The Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, Calif., is a dusty, windswept installation, high in the Mojave Desert. Though it is more than 150 miles from blue water, it is the world’s largest U.S. Marine Base. Perhaps that is appropriate since this is the place where Marine units prepare for deployment to Afghanistan - which is more than 250 miles from blue water.

Twentynine Palms - yes, that’s how they spell it - is also “home” to, among others, the legendary 7th Marine regiment. Last summer our Fox News documentary team was embedded with the 2nd Battalion of this celebrated unit in the shadow of the Hindu Kush. This week I spent time with them as they remembered their fallen comrades - and prepared for another deployment. Though they aren’t allowed to say where they are heading, it’s very likely to be back to Afghanistan.

Late last week, Gen. James Conway, the Marine commandant, suggested that as many as 20,000 U.S. Marines could be committed to the campaign in Afghanistan. Last Wednesday, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden went to the Pentagon for a “Getting to Know You” gathering with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Nothing that leaked out of this “off the record” meet and greet disputed the proposal that the Marines be phased out of Iraq - and sent to battle the Taliban and al Qaeda.

The timing for such a move would seem to be right. This week millions of Iraqis lined up to dip their fingers in purple ink and cast ballots in the country’s first free and fair provincial elections in the history of Mesopotamia. Not only are half the voters women – but among the candidates vying for 450 seats in the assemblies of 14 of Iraq’s 18 provinces, more than 200 are women. Had radical Islamists - Sunni or Shi’ite - had their way, none of this would ever have occurred. Importantly, it happened only because young American soldiers, sailors, airmen, Guardsmen and Marines persevered in Iraq.

Failing to declare this election a major victory in the war being waged against us by radical Islam is a mistake. Mr. Obama could have mentioned the Iraqi elections in his “first formal television interview” - given last Monday to Hisham Melhem of Saudi-owned, Dubai-based, Al Arabiya satellite network. Regrettably, he never mentioned it.

Instead, he talked about “communicating a message to the Arab world and the Muslim world, that we are ready to initiate a new partnership based on mutual respect and mutual interest.” He also responded to his interlocutor in ways that denigrated his predecessors with phrases like, his desire “to listen, set aside some of the preconceptions that have existed and have built up over the last several years.”

During the interview Mr. Obama also spoke wistfully of the “respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago,” and added, “there’s no reason why we can’t restore that.”

Some will say it isn’t fair to make our new commander in chief stick to the facts. That’s the trouble with television interviews. They are on tape - and stay around for years. If you are going to do them, it helps to know the facts. Let’s see, 30 years ago - 1979 - the year that the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned to Iran, the “Islamic Revolution” was proclaimed, the United States was first described as “the Great Satan,” our embassy in Tehran was sacked and 53 Americans were held hostage for 444 days. That’s probably not the kind of “respect” Mr. Obama had in mind.

How about 20 years ago - 1989: While investigators were still combing the wreckage of PanAm flight 103, in Lockerbie, Scotland, Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi sent MiG-23s to attack a U.S. Navy Carrier Battle Group in the Mediterranean. Final score: U.S. Navy 2, Libya 0. The Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa to kill Salman Rushdie. Islamic radicals murdered the president of Lebanon, and Saddam Hussein issued mobilization orders in preparation for invading Kuwait the following August. Some “partnership.”

Unfortunately, the Al Arabiya interview isn’t the only troubling talk coming from the Obama administration that could well leave members of our all-volunteer force wondering just what is expected of them. In congressional testimony this week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that even though Afghanistan was the new commander in chief’s “top priority,” we also “ought to keep our objectives realistic and limited in Afghanistan.”

I have spent my life in and around our military. Everyone I’ve ever known in our Armed Forces believes in “realistic” missions and goals. But I’ve yet to meet a man or woman in uniform willing to sacrifice all for “respect,” a “partnership” or a “limited objective.”

Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of “War Stories” on the Fox News Channel, author of “American Heroes” and founder and honorary chairman of Freedom Alliance.

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