"What do I want for Christmas?" I repeated, somewhat surprised by the question. "I want you to get home safely."
The 21-year old Tennessean, girded in 65 lbs. of armored flak jacket, a night-vision equipped helmet, grenades and several hundred rounds of ammunition reflected on that for a moment and replied, "so do I."
Then, quietly, from the young Iraqi soldier beside us, words in broken English that stunned me: "As do I -- but not too soon."
That exchange -- just a few days ago in Iraq -- reflects a dramatic transition sweeping through this war-torn country and a fraction of the good news that is so under-reported from the war on terror. While politicians and the mainstream media here at home focus on negative news and attacks on President Bush, young Americans and their Iraqi counterparts are quietly going about the dangerous task of building a new nation from the ashes of Saddam's dictatorship and the ravages of Jihadist terror.
During six prior trips to Iraq, the cooperation between the U.S. military and the soldiers of the new Iraqi government has never been so evident. In Ramadi, the former terrorist stronghold, American and Iraqi troops now live and operate side by side -- sharing the hardships and dangers that once were the sole purview of U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. All of this bodes ill for the likes of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whose al Qaeda in Iraq failed in an effort to prevent this month's legislative elections.
The new government of Iraq, now taking shape in Baghdad, is an imperfect democracy in its formative stages. Though less vulnerable to homicidal suicide terrorists and improvised explosive device-makers than before, it could still be undone -- not by Jihadists seeking to exploit Sunni-Shia-Kurdish rivalries -- but by partisan political fratricide and a failure of will here in the United States. The young warriors manning lonely outposts in Ramadi would be shocked to learn that opponents of the Bush administration are condemning the president for eavesdropping on terrorist phone calls and insisting on an "immediate" withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
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.