RAMADI, Iraq -- "If everything went as planned, they wouldn't call it 'war.'" That was the tongue-in-cheek assessment of a U.S. Marine Major as to why our helicopter flight from Baghdad to Ramadi had been delayed for half a day. By the time we arrived on the LZ at this outpost of freedom it was the middle of an unusually cold, damp night. A proffered hot cup of coffee was gratefully accepted as the Major helped us load our backpacks, camera gear and satellite broadcast equipment aboard a dust-encrusted Humvee. Just hours later, this widely respected and much admired Marine officer and two brave U.S. Army soldiers were dead, killed by an IED -- an improvised explosive device -- the insidious weapon of choice for terrorists in Iraq.
The tragic loss of three more Americans in bloody Al Anbar province -- like the four who were killed in a CH-46 crash the day we arrived for this, our eighth "tour of duty" in Iraq -- will be cited by critics of this war as proof that it cannot be won. That's the essence of an exchange earlier this week between Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), soon-to-be chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Robert Gates at his confirmation hearing to become the next Secretary of Defense:
Sen. Levin: "Do you believe that we are currently winning in Iraq?"
Gates: "No sir."
Gates hastily added that, "we're not losing either," but also said he sees "the very real risk and possible reality of a regional conflagration." In short, his testimony was seized upon in Washington as yet another depressing appraisal of the war in Iraq.
To the so-called mainstream media and our political elites it hardly matters that President Bush disagrees with such dismal assessments. White House spokesman Tony Snow noted that the president still believes the United States is winning in Iraq. "What I think is demoralizing is a constant effort to try to portray this as a losing mission," Snow added.
The soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines with whom we're embedded here in Ramadi concur with their commander in chief. Not one of the many with whom we have spoken since arriving here believes that they are failing in their mission. They see the growing ability of the Iraqi army and police as proof of their effectiveness -- and evidence that this war is heading toward a favorable outcome for the country that they volunteered to serve -- and the people of Mesopotamia.
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.