WASHINGTON -- Five years ago this week, American soldiers and Marines liberated Baghdad from Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard and the foreign fedayeen who had flooded into the despot's capital. For those of us who were there, it was an unforgettable event. But as Ambassador Ryan Crocker so cogently noted this week while he and Gen. David Petraeus were testifying before Congress, "The euphoria of that moment evaporated long ago." The assembled lawmakers, perched on their raised daises, barely noted the anniversary -- while subjecting the warrior and the diplomat to a 16-hour spectacle. For the general and the ambassador, it had to be an excruciating exercise in patience and bladder control.
The hearings -- two in the Senate and two more in the House -- all were choreographed carefully to give maximum exposure to the potentates on the Potomac. The masters of the mainstream media all were gathered. Professional protesters were present. The solons, all carefully prepared by their staffs, made their little speeches and then shamelessly angled for the best "gotcha" question to win the sound bite sweepstakes -- and the honor of being replayed repeatedly on the news and entertainment channels. Like so many of these hearings, it was a bit like Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's "Greatest Show on Earth" -- without a ringmaster. I know -- as they say -- I've "been there, done that."
Sadly, the attending members of Congress evinced little interest in hearing from a decorated general fighting a bloody military campaign or a skillful U.S. ambassador trying to help a democratically elected government survive against brutal foreign and internal foes. Rather, it seemed as if our elected representatives would have preferred hearing from soothsayers who could read palms and interpret horoscopes. That our Congress has sunk to such a level is a sad testament to the state of our political process.
One of the inquisitors demanded to know, "Is success truly almost at hand? Or is this, you know, a commitment without end?" Not satisfied with Petraeus' response that further troop reductions would be "conditions-based," the senator insisted on a "rough estimate." The general's no-nonsense reply: "It is just flat not responsible to try to put down a stake in the ground and say, 'This is when it will be.'"
When will it end? When will we be out? When can we take the money we're spending on the war and divert it to bailing out our constituent borrowers and lenders caught up in the subprime mortgage mess? Petraeus and Crocker came equipped with facts, maps, charts and progress reports, but for this crowd, they should have brought Ouija boards, tarot cards and a crystal ball.
In the long and bloody autumn of 1944, no congressional committee chairman challenged Dwight Eisenhower to set a "reasonable timetable for a change of mission and redeployment of our troops" from Europe. Nor did any member of Congress summon Adm. Chester Nimitz in the aftermath of the battle for Iwo Jima to answer inane questions, such as: "Can you give us any idea as to how long it will take" to defeat imperial Japan? Such timorous bleating would have been unthinkable then, and it should be today.
At the close of his remarks, Petraeus noted, "Nothing means more to those in harm's way than the knowledge that their country appreciates their sacrifices and those of their families." That sentiment may have been lacking on Capitol Hill, but it was abundantly evident at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
While Congress was berating the general and the ambassador, the commander in chief was honoring one of the more than 4,000 Americans who have made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq. In an Oval Office ceremony, President Bush presented the Medal of Honor -- our nation's highest award for valor -- to the parents of Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael A. Monsoor, a Navy SEAL. Mike -- as his fellow SEALs called him -- was killed Sept. 29, 2006, in Ramadi, Iraq, when he threw himself on top of an enemy grenade in order to spare the lives of his fellow SEALs.
His platoon commander, now a lieutenant commander with whom our Fox News team has been embedded, said of the 25-year-old hero, "He made an instantaneous decision to save our teammates." Though wounded by shrapnel in the explosion, one of those with him that terrible morning said of Monsoor's unhesitating action: "He never took his eyes off the grenade. His only movement was down toward it. He undoubtedly saved mine and the other SEALs' lives."
Monsoor is just the fourth member of our armed forces to be awarded the Medal of Honor since war was declared against us Sept. 11, 2001. Call your grandstanding members of Congress and ask whether they know the four names.
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.