GULFPORT, Miss. -- "We're the heart of the U.S. military. Our sons and daughters serve, and our neighbors build military ships." That's how a fan put it this week as I autographed a copy of "American Heroes" for him during a book-signing session. Then he added, "I hope that doesn't change." He has reason for concern, as do those who work at nearby Pascagoula Naval shipyard or Keesler Air Force Base or who serve anywhere in our nation's uniform.
President-elect Barack Obama said on election night that "change has come to America." Though the next commander in chief has yet to announce exactly how he will do it, he clearly intends to change the commitments, capabilities and cost of America's military.
--Commitments: Candidate Obama made "ending the war and getting out of Iraq" the centerpiece of his foreign policy platform from the very beginning of his campaign two years ago. He never has recanted on his goal of "bringing our troops home within 16 months of taking office." He is also adamant that more U.S. and NATO troops are needed in Afghanistan.
Thanks to the courage and perseverance of young Americans in flak jackets, helmets and flight suits, the campaign against radical Islam in Mesopotamia is all but over. Iraqi soldiers and police now carry out most combat operations against Sunni and Shiite terrorists and militias. A phased pullout from Iraq will indeed free up U.S. combat units for Afghanistan, where they are needed.
But a "total pullout" from Iraq invites the theocrats in Tehran, who are the world leaders in exporting terror and are intent on acquiring nuclear weapons, to further ambition and adventure in the region. This week, Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshiyar Zebari, obviously concerned about a premature U.S. retreat, said that candidate Obama "reassured us that he would not take any drastic or dramatic decisions." In case the point was missed, he added: "When there is a reality check, I think any U.S. president has to look very hard at the facts on the ground. The gains that we have attained and won with hard struggle and a great deal of sacrifice need to be sustained."
Let's hope that before he pulls the plug on the "Land Between the Rivers" the new commander in chief will listen carefully to the counsel of Gens. David Petraeus and Ray Odierno in Iraq and David McKiernan in Afghanistan. Making decisions now about force dispositions after inauguration may well placate his far-left base but could well prove disastrous for the nation.
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.