WASHINGTON, D.C. -- When I returned from Iraq last spring, President George W. Bush was being pilloried in the so-called mainstream media for landing on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln and congratulating the crew for their 10 month deployment in the Persian Gulf. As I stowed my backpack at home after being embedded for months with our troops, Sen. Robert Byrd was on television castigating the commander in chief for being a "deskbound president who assumes the garb of a warrior" and accusing President Bush of "flamboyant showmanship" and "self congratulatory gestures."
Last week, I returned from another trip to Iraq for FOX News, and as I made my way home, the barons of bombast in our Fourth Estate were blasting President Bush -- this time for his secret Thanksgiving trip to Baghdad where he served dinner to the troops he leads. Once again, the rhetorical assault ran the gamut from merely mean-spirited to downright vicious. His visit to those serving in harm's way was variously described as "an unnecessary risk for a campaign photo-op," to "lying to the press regarding his whereabouts," all the way to the ludicrous claim that he went all the way to Baghdad to "upstage Sen. Hillary Clinton."
Thus far, the White House has largely refused to dignify these political and media jibes with a wholesale counterattack. "President Bush," one senior aide assured me, "has the hide of an armadillo." The president's father even went so far as to present Ted Kennedy with a "humanitarian award" after the Massachusetts liberal described Operation Iraqi Freedom as "a fraud cooked up in Texas."
But this isn't just a matter of hurt feelings in the Oval Office. These political and media attacks are part and parcel of a pattern that goes well beyond any legitimate critique of policy to an assault on the personal motivations of the man responsible for protecting the nation -- and the safety of more than 130,000 young Americans fighting a war far from home.
During World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam, there were frequent heated debates over the wisdom of certain strategies, resource allocations, troop levels, the national debt and even postwar reconstruction. But none of it was aimed at the motives of Presidents Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy or Johnson in prosecuting the wars that occurred during their tenure. Even the volatile clash that led to President Nixon's resignation wasn't focused on his handling of the Vietnam War -- but on his re-election activities. That's not the case today.
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.