WASHINGTON -- The commander in chief's surprise Labor Day visit to Iraq has buoyed our troops, reassured an anxious ally and confounded America's adversaries in radical Islam. Whether the president's on-site evaluation will change the political dynamic in Washington or alter the behavior of Iraq's neighbors remains to be seen.
For several months now, this column has urged President Bush to put Iraq on his travel itinerary. This week's six-hour visit to the front -- his third since U.S. troops entered Mesopotamia in March 2003 -- is particularly important to the upcoming congressional debate on the future of our commitment to a stable and independent Iraq. His trip comes just one week before the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, and the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, are scheduled to testify before Congress with their assessments of the war effort thus far.
The venue Bush chose for his on-scene evaluation is also important. Al Asad Air Base in western Al Anbar is the headquarters for the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force, the 3rd Marine Air Wing and home to the Iraqi Border Patrol Academy. It's also the largest coalition facility in a province that just a year ago was written off as un-winnable by most of the so-called mainstream media, political opponents of U.S. policy, and even some in our military.
Just one year ago, a classified Pentagon intelligence assessment leaked to The Washington Post reportedly stated that "the prospects for securing the country's western Anbar province are dim and that there is almost nothing the U.S. military can do to improve the political and social situation there." The paper went on to quote anonymous analysts who maintained that Iraqi government institutions were totally dysfunctional and that al Qaeda had filled the void, becoming "the province's most significant political force." Now, Bush has seen for himself what we have been reporting on FOX News since last December -- that Al Anbar, the heart of Sunni Iraq, is a model for what the rest of the country can become.
Five of my eight trips to cover U.S. troops in Iraq have begun and ended at Al Asad. And most of my in-country time has been spent in Al Anbar -- much of it in Ramadi, the once-tumultuous provincial capital that had been an al Qaeda stronghold. Last December, I spent days with the same Sunni leaders Bush met last Monday. I came away from those meetings convinced -- as the president now seems to be -- that sectarian rivalries can be overcome and security restored in places previously thought to be hopeless.
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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