WASHINGTON, D.C. -- "To me, it is an affront to the Americans killed or injured in Iraq for the president to exploit the trappings of war for the momentary spectacle of a speech." So charged Robert C. Byrd, the so-called "Dean of the Congress," referring to President George W. Bush's historic visit to the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1 as it was making its way home after 10 months at sea.
Byrd, who in his salad days spent more time in white sheets than in camouflage uniforms, just doesn't get it. He doesn't understand that the respect and admiration America's soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines have for this president is deep. He's grown too cold and cynical after 50 years in Washington to realize that the affection this commander in chief has for his troops is genuine. It's a welcome change from a previous occupant of the Oval Office, who "loathed" the dedicated young men and women of the armed forces.
Late last December, the sailors of the USS Abraham Lincoln were headed home after a six month deployment to see their spouses and children who were eagerly awaiting their arrival. At that time, already exhausted, they received orders to turn around and return to the Persian Gulf to prepare for war.
For the next four months, the crew of 5,500 aboard the Lincoln served with distinction. They launched 597 combat sorties in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan; 975 sorties in support of Operation Southern Watch in Iraq; and 1,558 sorties in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. They did it all without casualties. When their mission was completed, they had been deployed for 290 consecutive days and traveled over 100,000 miles -- the equivalent of circling the globe four times.
Their work supported the efforts of Marines, soldiers and special operations teams on the ground in Iraq, who themselves made history by traveling farther, faster and with fewer casualties than any military force in history.
Recognizing the extraordinary skill and dedication required to achieve victory, the president decided to say "well done" -- not only to the sailors on the Lincoln -- but to all of his troops in a way that they would appreciate. A former pilot, the president flew in on a Navy S-3B Viking and took the controls for part of the trip. By landing on a moving carrier -- an extraordinarily difficult feat -- he paid the crew on board the Lincoln the ultimate compliment -- he put his life in their hands. He never expressed a doubt that they would bring him in safely.
And yet Robert Byrd has the nerve to dismiss the president's tribute to the troops as that of "a deskbound president who assumes the garb of a warrior for the purposes of a speech."
What Byrd derides as "flamboyant showmanship" was the kind of leadership the people of West Virginia -- the state with the highest per capita service in the armed forces -- appreciate. Actions speak louder than words, and the president's "self-congratulatory gestures" are exactly the kinds of actions which endear this president to the troops he commands.
Truth be told, "flamboyant showmanship" far better describes Byrd's half-century career. For all his oratorical pretensions to Roman senatorial dignity, in actuality Byrd is the Don King of the Senate. With a safe seat in West Virginia and a singular mission to direct federal largesse back to the Mountain State, Byrd has used taxpayer's money to put his name on more buildings than Ronald McDonald. The Pork King's love of federally funded roads and bridges in West Virginia caused him to once remark, "You might as well threaten to slap my wife as take the highway money from West Virginia."
The Government Accounting Office would do the taxpayers a favor by investigating how much of their money has been wasted on pork barrel spending by Byrd. But that's unlikely to happen, since members like Henry Waxman, D-Calif., prefer to launch politically motivated investigations like the one to probe the cost of President Bush's tribute to the crew of the USS Abraham Lincoln.
Waxman insists that the event had "clear political overtones" and may have cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. But Waxman expressed no such concerns about the revolving door his buddy Bill put on the Lincoln Bedroom and the "political overtones" of Hollywood starlets turning the White House into the East Coast version of the Playboy Mansion.
Democrats' investigations, criticisms and calls for "regime change" are the kinds of nasty and bitter politics that don't sell in a time of war and only show just how desperate they are to put a chink in this president's armor. Such attacks on the president show their insensitivity to the armed forces he commands and remind the public of Democrat efforts to throw out the absentee ballots of military personnel during the 2000 Florida election.
Since Bill Clinton's tenure, Democrat efforts to win the trust and respect of our men and women in uniform has been a labor of Sisyphus. It just became more complicated with Byrd's attack.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.
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